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The Surprisingly High Cost of Cheap Tooling for Small Plastic Parts

[fa icon="calendar"] Jun 16, 2017 2:59:33 PM / by Jon Gelston

Hint: Cheap tooling can cost you a lot in the long run!

There are two truths that are clear in virtually every industry today: capital can be hard to come by and companies are under intense pressure to control costs in order to maximize profits. Organizations that use plastic injection molding to produce parts for their products may be tempted by the lure of cheap tooling. However, as a leading molder of small plastic parts in the Denver area, we know that the reality is that sometimes lower-cost alternatives can end up costing more in the long run.

Budget, Value, or Premium

Both in service and product industries, there are often three segments: budget, value, and premium. Depending on your means and your desires, you may make your personal purchases in more than one of these segments. For example, your hotel selection might be different when you're solo and stranded versus when your family is on vacation in Hawaii. You're able to comfortably make that choice because you are able to discern what you will get for your money and how it will suit your needs.

In contrast, few people will be responsible for buying hundreds or even dozens of injection molds. When making an infrequent purchase, it can be hard to evaluate one vendor's offer from another's. After all, you assume each proposal offers a part that will look exactly like your CAD model without blemish or warping. Of course it will, right? Or maybe you've been down this road before and, this time, you specify SPI Class 102 tool construction and the toolmaker assures you that they can do it.

But when all the numbers come back and are plopped into the spreadsheet, it's hard to rank your "faith" that you will get what you need. Maybe there's a conversation about which vendor asked the most questions and seems to understand your needs better. Maybe. But, the upfront cost is often the final determining factor.  And if it were reasonable to assume that you would get the same quality of output with the same durability across all proposals, that choice would make a lot of sense.

When "Budget" Tooling Makes Sense

The toolmaking industry is highly competitive. It's global. The dream of finding premium tooling at budget pricing is as strong as the hope of finding the next stock about to take off. Other than on-shore vs. off-shore sourcing (which comes with its own set of trade-offs), price is often a valid indicator of whether you are looking at a budget, value, or premium proposal when the tool designs are the same.  If you have limited functional needs, limited cosmetic requirements, limited production volume, or simply need to test the market, then budget, low-cost tooling could be the right choice for you.

The “Budget” Tooling Option that Comes Back to Bite You

Problems happen when the spreadsheet guides decisions toward a budget selection even though the actual needs may be in the value or premium segments. When it comes to using “more affordable” plastic injection tooling, there are some serious issues you should be aware of. They include: 

  • Cosmetic disappointment. Unless you've had a detailed discussion about where your gate vestige will be located and the potential for gate blush, you could be disappointed when you look at your first part.  Gate location and cosmetic requirements can cause significant differences in the tool cost because they will require different tool designs.  Worse, the cost of fixing these oversights can be as much as a new tool.
  • Poor consistency. In budget tooling, craftmanship isn't at the level that it is for other tooling segments. Low-cost molds can produce parts that can have dimensional or flash issues. Consequently, there may be extra time and expense involved in post-molding operations like trimming.
  • Increased downtime. Using “budget” tooling, not durable to the task, could halt your supply chain if they fail.
  • Failure to launch. Ultimately, cheap tooling may impact more than the quality and quantities of your production runs. It might actually make the difference between launching your product and not launching it. Very hard to put a cost to that.

Buying What You Need

Your plastic injection molding company should help you get what you need from your tooling—not more, but not less. We work with some of the best mold makers and tooling specialists in the industry and can help you find the one perfectly suited to your needs. We’ve been producing small plastic parts in the Denver area for more than two decades, and we’re happy to share our insights on tooling. Please give us a call to discuss your next project.


Talk to Our Plastic Parts Specialists!


Topics: Plastic Injection Molding Tooling

Jon Gelston

Written by Jon Gelston