Survey Reveals Plastics Manufacturing Customers' Top Priorities

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A survey of device manufacturers has revealed quality as a top priority when selecting a custom plastics manufacturer, closely followed by price and communication.

The survey from custom plastics manufacturer Ray Products was distributed in March 2013 to more than 2,000 customers and contacts in the device manufacturing industry. The single largest group of respondents was engineers (38 percent), followed by managers (21 percent), purchasers (16 percent), administrators (3 percent) and “other” employees (21 percent).

55 percent of survey takers indicated that they had used a thermoforming plastics manufacturing in the past, and the same number indicated having used injection molding in the past.  35 percent indicated that they had used both thermoforming and injection molding.   Smaller numbers indicated having used structural foam molding (14 percent) and reaction injection molding (15 percent).

The Importance of Quality

Survey takers were asked to rank the importance of 11 attributes they evaluate when selecting a custom plastics manufacturer.

"Quality" received the highest ranking of any attribute in the survey, earning a 4.73 out of a possible 5 points. Next came "Price" and "Communication," both earning a 4.44 out of 5.

Next, in order or importance, survey takers ranked “Technical Capabilities,” “Engineering Expertise,” “Reputation,” “Equipment Quality”, “Finishing Capabilities,” “Past Experience,” “Location,” and finally “Sales Process.” 


"When we got the results back, we weren't surprised to see these attributes at the top of the list," said Brian Ray, president of Ray Products. "Lots of things have changed in our industry since my grandfather founded our company in 1949. But I'll bet that if he had given his customers the same survey back then, those same three attributes would be at the top of the list."

High Quality Products, For Less

Survey takers were also asked to select the key selling point of the products they make using custom plastics manufacturing. The most common selection was "Quality", chosen by 32 percent of respondents, and correlating to the top attribute they look for in a plastics manufacturer.

However, even though "Price" was tied as the 2nd most desired attribute in a plastics manufacturer, only 10 percent of survey takers indicated that it was the key selling point of the products they were creating.

28 percent of respondents chose “Appearance” as a key selling point of the products they were using custom plastics manufacturing to create, 23 percent chose “Performance” and 7 percent chose “Other.” 

The combined picture is of customers who are looking for ways to cut costs, while still delivering a very high quality, attractive and high performance final product to the marketplace. 

Selling Points

Key Advantages of Thermoforming

Price was again an important feature when comparing alternative manufacturing processes. Survey takers indicated that "Cost at Lower Quantities" is a key advantage of thermoforming over injection molding, followed by "Lower Tooling Costs," "Reduced Lead Times" and "Materials Options."

While injection-molding can have low per-part costs in very high-volume production runs, in annual production quantities of between several-hundred and a few thousand, thermoforming is generally a more cost-effective plastics manufacturing process. 

This is largely due to the tooling costs of the processes.   Thermoforming uses a single-sided tool, while injection molding requires the production of a significantly more expensive double-sided 3D mold.  Thermoforming’s cost advantages over injection-molding become more pronounced in the production of large-scale parts. 

Thermoforming also gains a cost advantage in its finishing process.  Unlike many other plastic manufacturing processes, thermoformed parts can be molded in color and texture with a high-quality finish.  This gives customers the option of using unpainted parts in aesthetically critical applications. 


The Value of Engineering Expertise

An open-ended question asked survey takers to list what they appreciated about their primary plastics vendor. Many responses mentioned themes covered elsewhere in the survey like quality, price and turnaround times. A number of survey takers also indicated that they appreciate value added by a plastics manufacturer who is willing to share their engineering expertise in product and tooling design.

A manufacturer’s expertise in these areas can help to improve the quality of the final product, reducing production delays and significantly lowering the overall cost of the project.


While the survey showed that customers cared about some aspects of a manufacturer’s capabilities more than other, there wasn’t a wide disparity between their highest and lowest ranked attributes.  For example, survey takers gave the top-ranked attribute,  “Quality,” a 4.73 out of a possible 5 rating.  The lowest ranked attribute, “Sales Process,” still received a rating of 3.08 out of a possible 5.

"In some ways, the takeaway from the survey is that custom plastics manufacturing customers want it all," said Ray. "And it's absolutely true. In today's marketplace, you can't be a one-trick pony. To earn your customer's business you have to deliver on quality, pricing, communication, turnaround times and a whole lot more."

Additional details from the survey are available on the Ray Products blog