Welcome to “How I’m Starting a Toy Company” Blog. Where “I” is former tech entrepreneur D.S. I blog about manufacturing, start-up life, and my general day-to-day priorities.
This post is part of series on Manufacturing Plastic Toys.
If you are thinking about manufacturing something plastic, the first thing you will need to do is familiarize yourself with the various plastics manufacturing methods and the design limitations of each. For example, if you decide you want to go with injection molding, there will be design restrictions that you will need to consider when going back and designing your product. And, if you don’t abide by certain design limitations, then your costs can skyrocket.
I learned this the hard way. I started with a product design idea > hired a 3D CAD modeler to create a CAD file of our concept > approached a manufacturer > and learned I would need to go back to the drawing board and re-design the product.
For plastic toy production, the most common type of plastics manufacturing methods used are the following:
a) Injection Molding – Injection molding is a manufacturing process, the most common manufacturing method used today, which entails injecting melted materials into a mold to take the shape of that mold. A variety of materials can be used/injected: metals, plastics, glass, etc. Set-up or ‘tooling’ costs can be higher than rotational molding, but the cost per piece will be lower. One thing that we did not realize is the design limitations w/ injection molding. With injection molding, you will have an A side and a B side to the mold. One of the sides, the B side will have injector pins that will eject the finished part from the mold. Because the A side and B side will pull horizontally away from the mold, the part cannot have what is called ‘undercuts’. There is an exception here in that a manufacturer can accommodate undercuts by building out side cams. However, each undercut which requires a separate side cam will add several thousand dollars to your initial mold tooling costs.
b) Rotomolding or Rotational Molding (or even Rotocasting) – This is a manufacturing process for creating hollow parts that entails pouring liquid resin (AKA liquid plastic) into a hollow mold and then rotating that mold in an oven to allow the liquid resin to distribute across the mold and coat the inside of the mold cavity. Allows for lower set-up tooling costs, consistent wall thickness, and the ability to have undercuts in your design file (or combine multiple different plastic parts into a single molded part coming out of one mold).
A raw but accurate video of plastic doll heads being made using rotational molding:
c) Blow Molding – Like rotational molding, blow molding creates hollow pieces. But blow molding allows for very high quantities at costs that rotational molding is not able to compete with. The caveat is the upfront tooling costs required w/ blow molding can be 6x that of rotational molding (but the per unit cost drops).
Easy video to understand blow molding:
Some examples of what manufacturing processes different toys use:
Rubber Ducks – Rotational molding: http://www.adironduckrace.com/how-are-rubber-ducks-made.html
Legos – Injection molding: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zrzKih5rqD0
*Great! Video to understand end-to-end plastic toy making process and specifically as it relates to injection molding & making plastic dinosaur toys: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w5KRawOXy4U
Informational video re how the molds are made: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x3cKJpynX_c
Plastic ride-on toys for young children made via blow-molding: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dcRUE1MJE28
Simple round plastic toy balls made via blow-molding: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3sxxRF9XQAk
Thinking about the different types of plastics that we can use for our plastic toys and plastic toy parts. I know nothing about plastics. Starting from ground zero. And, of course, I want to pick something safe, and, preferably, environmentally friendly.
– EN 71 & ISO 8124
– #3 (to avoid PVCs)
– Choose recycled for environmentally-friendly?
If something has an ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) label it means that the toy meets US safety standards. But, I am not sure consumers would know what an ASTM label even means.
General low-down on the plastics labels commonly seen:
1. PET or PETE (polyethylene terephthalate)
Think: Plastic water bottles, cooking oil jugs, peanut butter containers
Properties: Thin, clear plastic
Safety: Safe for single use
Post-life: Can be recycled once
2. HDPE (high-density polyethylene) – SAFEST
Think: Plastic milk jugs, juice bottles, shampoo bottles, toys
Properties: Thicker, milkier, less see-through plastic
Safety: Safe to refill and reuse
Post-life: Recyclable once into stuff like #1 plastics
3. PVC (polyvinyl chloride) – AVOID
Think: Plastics used for mattress covers, squeeze bottles, cling wrap, some food and detergent containers
The manufacturing process of PVC plastics releases something called Dioxin into the environment. Dioxin is a strong carginogen. Some PVC plastics also contain phthalates (something commonly used to soften plastics). Phthalates are linked to reproductive problems and birth defects. Workers in PVC plants have high cancer rates.
# 4: LDPE (low-density polyethylene) – SAFEST
Think: Plastic grocery bags, plastic wrap, garbage bags, some toys
Safety: A safer plastic
# 5: PP (polypropylene) – SAFEST
Think: Yogurt containers, chocolate syrup bottles, drinking straws, diapers
Safety: A safer plastic
# 6: PS (polystyrene) – AVOID
Think: Opaque plastics like plastic cutlery, and in styrofoam (expanded polystyrene or EPS), such as styrofoam coffee cups, packaging peanuts, meat trays used for raw meats; a subset is High Impact Polystyrene or HIPS (for example, clear plastic CD cases)
Safety: Leaches styrene; classified by EPA as possible human carcinogen
Post-life: Difficult to recycle; Usually not recyclable as part of co-mingle recycling programs (because contaminated EPS is difficult to clean and recycle); some cities have special EPS recycling programs
#7: Other (polycarbonate or PC, nylon, acrylic, and other) – AVOID unless Bio-Based
AVOID polycarbonate (PC) but OK to AS, ABS, SAN and Tritan
Think: – All over the place –
Safety: Sometimes safe (#7s include bio-based plastics, including plastics made from corn, rice, potatoes, etc.); But also sometimes unsafe (polycarbonate falls in this category as well and polycarbonate is BPA based)
Post-life: Some recycling programs accept #7s and others don’t …
(I also want to look into TPE material – thermo plastic elastomer … )
On summer vacation, so had the prototype of my first plastic toy concept shipped to my mother-in-law’s in California. After comparing multiple print services (cost and color capabilities), ordered it from Sculpteo. Came all the way from Paris!
Does it look more like dog food or a pile of you know what! Hmm.
Not too long ago, I started to embark on this journey of developing a plastic toy accessory that would go with our line of stuffed animal toys. My first ever conversation with a plastics manufacturer put me on notice that I’d need a 3D CAD file – need to send them a CAD file to even proceed to a conversation around feasibility and a quote. So, I found and hired an industrial toy designer to take my idea from an idea to a 3D CAD file.
Well, I received the 3D CAD file rendition of my dog food concept. And, next step is to print it to see how it turns out! I thought it would be as easy as going to the public library and printing the file on the library’s new 3D printers. Well, I was wrong. Failed 4 times. MakerBots didn’t want to read our file types. Then we couldn’t get the file size low enough. I finally gave up. And, at the recommendation of our CAD designer, turned to these online printing services. Oh my goodness they are AMAZING! They are Etsy-esque marketplaces where creators sell their wares! Amazing jewelry selections! Shapeways. Sculpteo.
I just uploaded and ordered a prototype of our first draft concept from Sculpteo. Unlike Shapeways, they can print in the color brown. (For the record, I also looked at printing with Fathom, but there were more expensive at $300 and also could not print in brown …). Just a $100 with Sculpteo and it is on it’s way!
Thought I would print the first draft of our dog food file on our library’s 3D printer. Took my eldest daughter to watch and learn about 3D printing. This was the third time at the library trying to get this file to print. Thought this was going to be the day! But alas no, the printer would dispense the liquid plastic onto the molding plate, but it wouldn’t stick to the molding plate. So it would mess up the mold. Tried to adjust the molding plate, clean it down with rubbing alcohol, but kept having same problem. Gave up after 1 1/2 hours.
As I am starting to think about adding a plastic toy accessory to my line of stuffed animal toys, I’m just trying to wrap my head around the world of plastics. This is probably so stupid, but I’ve just never thought much about what plastic is, where it comes from, or how is actually made. Spent the day learning.
10 interesting facts about Plastics that I learned after reading the Plastics Scorecard:
1- Most plastics are made from fossil fuels
2- Fossil fuels are barrels of crude oil and cubic feet of natural gas
3- Fossil fuels are refined to create derivative chemicals
4- These chemicals are manipulated to make plastics
5- Not all plastics are the same, different types use different chemical additives at different stages
6- Some chemical additives are harmful and known as Chemicals of High Concern (CoHCs); others are not known to be very harmful
7- Plastics affect workers, local communities, the environment, and the end consumer
8- Generally speaking, if CoHCs are used (let’s say the commonly known BPA), then the plastic is more harmful to all four parts of the chain: workers, local communities, the environment during processing and end of life recycling or disposal, and the end consumer
9- Therefore, doing what is best of end consumer is also better for workers, local communities, and the environment
10- You can choose a plastic that uses less CoHCs and end up with an end product that is safer and less harmful
As I am starting to think about a plastic accessory for my line of stuffed animal toys, trying to wrap my head around plastic and plastic manufacturing. Had a quick conversation with Fathom today – a 3D printing and plastic manufacturing facility with locations in Seattle and San Francisco. They were super friendly.
Some tid-bits they shared:
1. 3D Printing
– Great for low volume batch runs of 50-100 units
– The 3D printing facility, like a Fathom, will make 1 room-temperature silicon mold. Then, they can do individual castings by injecting poly urethane or a hard plastic. However, each mold cast will cost approx. $20. Not sure how much the initial silicon mold would cost. (Also called urethane casting?)
3. Injection Molding
– This is a common plastics manufacturing method that is used for large runs. It is the most cost effective manufacturing method for mass production. Legos are made by injection molding.
– All plastic injection molding requires the initial creation molds made out of either (a) soft steel or (b) hard steel.
– Soft steel molds are quicker to manufacture (2-3 weeks), are less expensive to manufacture, but will corrode more quickly and thus allow a lower number of “molds” to be made over the course of its lifetime. In industry parlance, this is referred to as a mold’s “shot allowance”. As a rule of thumb, I have been told, is to use a soft steel mold, if less than 100,000 shots (again, think of shots as units) are needed.
– Hard steel molds are more time-consuming to manufacture (8-12 weeks), are more expensive to manufacture (8-12K), but have a longer lifespan (think 1,000,000 shots).
Random question I asked: How does someone manufacture a toy truck, if, the toy truck is made up of separate non-continuous plastic pieces that are only later assembled?
I saw a plastic firetruck toy for sale in my local Whole Foods supermarket, and I wondered: “Does this toy require the separate manufacture for molds for each truck part? A mold for the wheels, a mold for the chassis, etc.? With 4 separate non-continuous pieces compromising this toy truck, does this mean that a company would have sunk some 10Kx4 or $40,000 into just the development of moldings?” Answer: You CAN create a more complicated plastics mold that is compromised of separate mini-molds. This is called a FAMILY TOOL. But, family tools are complicated to make and therefore much more expensive. Usually, they see companies avoid these complexities by simply making a separate mold for each separate toy piece. These separate pieces get assembled later.
- With plastics manufacturing, you need to first invest in and develop steel molds, which will be used to form the plastic parts – your plastic toy unit costs will be low, but your initial steel molds can be expensive
- If we send them a CAD file (a 3D file typically created by an industrial engineer), they can quote us the cost for the steel molds in about a week (I didn’t know what CAD files were prior to today …). The complexity of the mold will determine the cost of the mold.
- After quotes are approved, it takes about 10 weeks to produce the mold. Their molds are manufactured in Korea by a family owned business. Molding costs for 1 piece will probably range between $8,000-$12,000. Wow. After molds are made, there is a process of ‘de-bugging’ (Errr, I don’t remember what de-bugging means).
So, …. I also made a point to find a 3D industrial toy designer. After some research, I figured out I could find this kind of talent on this site called Coroflot. I have used various sites for finding different types of talent. I don’t like Coroflot for finding illustrators. But, it seems like the spot for finding industrial designers.
Found, spoke to, and hopefully will start working with a 3D toy designer in San Francisco by the name of “CB”. Spoke to a second designer who is local – but he was not coming from a background in toy development – which I think is important with toy safety concerns. Next step, we’ll move onto signing an NDA, a short contract, and the development of CAD files.