How Thermoforming Tools Are Made

thermoforming tools being made

Exploring the process behind the product; learn more about how thermoforming tools are created.

Many times, the process is just as important as the product. An intricate design process is something we pride ourselves on here at KFI. One of the important steps in that process is tool making.

Our thermoforming tools are made by sand casting while others are created as machined billet tools. The big difference is sand casted tools require a pattern for the foundry process, while machined billet tools do not. All tooling requires the use of a CAD model to create the tool with a temperature control system added as part of the machining process. For this blog, we will focus on sand-casted tools, as these are what KFI uses.

To kick off the process a pattern is created by a 3D printing or CNC cutting of a material like wood, foam, or a synthetic REN. This pattern is then used to create a void in the sand in the foundry. Once the pattern arrives at the foundry the forming surface of the pattern is put in a foundry flask. A foundry flask is a frame that holds the sand. The pattern is then covered with a mix of silica sand, binder, and a catalyst that work together to harden and create a negative impression of the pattern; this process is called ramming.

thermoforming process

After ramming is complete, the pattern is then taken out of the hardened sand and a layer of   3/8” to 1/2” of clay is applied to the sand surface. Once the entire surface is covered with clay, stainless steel water lines are then applied on top of the clay. Another foundry flask is placed on top and filled with the same mixture of silica sand, binder, and catalyst as before. Once this hardens the top flask is removed along with the clay. The reaming void between the two flasks is where the molten aluminum is poured to create the tool-forming surface.

thermoforming workers

At this point the tool is ground, sanded, and polished to remove rough spots. At this point in the process is where KFI differentiates itself from other thermoformers. Our temperature control system is fabricated to produce uniformed tool surfaces, “The internal temperature control system is constructed and laid out to optimize tool creation. Our system assures that we can achieve a high cycle rate along with a uniform temperature-controlled forming surface,” Tooling Engineer, Steve Gardiner said.

internal sand cast vacuum form tool

Small vacuum holes are then drilled through the entire aluminum tool to make it functional for forming the plastic part on the thermoformer. The entire surface of the tool is then sandblasted to give it a uniform texture and assure uniform vacuum dispersion. After this, a bottom plate is fabricated to create a sealed chamber for the forming process, and the tools are sent to our KFI plants.

thermoforming plate

Although this only captures an overview of this process, our tooling and design engineers have extensive knowledge and industry experience in creating, optimizing, and evaluating thermforming tools. If you would like to speak with any of our design, engineering, or sales teams about thermoforming tools feel free to contact us today!

CAD: Where Concept Meets Reality

rendering software up on a computer screen

How Computer-Aided Design Programs help create every product at TriEnda.

A significant part of our design process here at TriEnda is the creation of a product design in a Computer-Aided Design (CAD) program like Solid Works, Seimens NX, or Catia. CAD is a vector-based software that allows engineers to design product outlines in a three-dimensional virtual environment.  

At its base, designs in CAD are math data, “This data is a mathematical representation of a part in the physical world,” Senior Design Engineer, Chad Dimock said. “CAD creates a virtual representation of a part. It has size and shape and can be made as an assembly with custom parts. It can be measured and added to simulations to make sure it will meet requirements.”

When the TriEnda team works on a project for a specific customer we start with understanding the need, this means that if we are creating packaging for a specific product, we put together all of the information, dimensions, and testing requirements for that product. From there, our design engineers work in CAD to design a packaging solution that will fit the product perfectly and stand up to rigorous testing. “The first step is to get all of the product information from the customer so we can make sure we create a design that meets the need of the product and the customer.” Design Engineer, Thomas Bloom said.

a cad drawing of a pallet
Delivery Cart CAD Design

When our team creates a completely new product to the market, our design engineers work with the New Product Development team. They discuss what the product should look like, how it should function, and what testing it needs to pass to meet our quality standards. “When we create a design for a new product we don’t start from scratch. We start with research and a joint effort between NPD, Studio 540, and Engineering to create a basis for the outline,” Thomas Bloom said. From there engineering uses CAD to assign dimensions, weight, and thickness to the outline until it creates our first three-dimensional product model.

a cad drawing of a pallet
Delivery Cart CAD Design

Now, we briefly mentioned the cross-over between engineering and our in-house design team, Studio 540, above. Studio 540 uses these CAD designs from engineering in the next step of our process. Once engineering has created the product design, the CAD file is handed over to our industrial designers to take that math data a step further. Studio 540 designers focus on the visual impact of the product in addition to the functionality, they do this by creating realistic rendered images of the product by working off the CAD data. This means adding texture, color, grooves, hardware, accessories, and many more features to transition this item from a mathematical outline to a realistic product image. “Design as we know it would not exist without CAD. CAD allows engineers and designers to accurately build any conceivable 3D shape exactly as it will appear in the real world. In the past, this process required sluggish methods such as manual drafting, hand-sculpting and model making. The development of CAD technology has exponentially increased the efficiency of design and engineering,” Industrial Designer, Alex Greene said.   

boxes on a cart
Delivery Cart Rendering by Studio 540

Once the math data and industrial design artwork have been combined, tools are designed in CAD by our engineering group and sent to the toolmaker to be cast. The production team then gets to work on samples and product testing. This process can be repeated several times for a single product if necessary and CAD designs are often edited, revised, and re-done before a final product is created. While the design process has many steps, CAD helps to join design and data, “The most important step in a design is the match between concept and reality. This is the point at which the dream of the idea meets reality in an engineered concept. When the bugs of the design are worked out in CAD and the part can be created that is the ‘AHA!’ moment where the customer, the designer, the engineer, and the sales representative breathe a sigh of relief knowing that what they want is achievable,” Chad Dimock said.

The design process has come a long way over the years and employing CAD in our engineering and design departments has allowed TriEnda to break ground into new industries and create products faster than ever before. If you would like to work with someone on our design or engineering teams for your next project, feel free to contact us today!

How to Choose the Right Design Partner for your Project

Designer drawing on tablet

Follow these steps to ensure you choose the right design partner for your project.

Finding the right partner for your production project can feel daunting. One of the most important parts of this decision is making sure you pick the right partner in design. The design stage of any project is extremely important and acts as the base for your product. Make sure to consider the steps below when choosing your design partner. 

Commitment to Your Project

Your design partner’s commitment to your project should be apparent and definite. This means that your designers should be easy to get into contact with, respond quickly to inquiries, take your concerns and opinions into account when completing the design, and complete all necessary preparations and research before beginning the design.

Studio 540

Dedicated Team

A dedicated design team means applying years of experience to every project. This involves both industrial designers and engineers that are consistently in contact with your project team and provide an open and clear channel of communication throughout the design project. One great way to make sure that a design team is dedicated is asking for references, looking at past projects they have completed, asking how they keep in contact with their project teams, and the complexity of past projects they have done. Asking these questions will set your team and your project up for success. 

designer drawing up a design

Understanding of your Needs

Being on the same page with your design partner is one of the most critical aspects of creating a product you are proud of. This means that both your team and your design partner share an understanding of the following aspects of your projects:

  • Goal Product
    • This means sharing the same vision for what your final product will look like, how it will function, and who will use it.
  • Testing Results
    • Whether you are testing for strength, rigidity, load-bearing limits, or something else; being on the same page with your design partner about what you would like those test results to be and designing a product that will accomplish the results you are looking for is key.
  • Functionality
    • While this may seem obvious, knowing the end function of the product is an important part of the discussion with your design partner. Knowing what you see as the end-user for your product, how it is expected to function daily, if/how often it will need to travel, the size parameters for this project, etc. are extremely important to discuss upfront with your design team.
  • Material Quality
    • Knowing what type of material you expect to be included in your project and the quality of that material is critical to the design process. This means discussing the type of material you would like to use, other materials that can be incorporated if needed, the cost of those materials, the reusable nature of the material, the look of the material, and so much more needs to be considered at this early step as well.
designer working on a tablet

Design and Engineering Capabilities

Lastly, but perhaps the most important part of the process, is knowing your design partner’s capabilities. This doesn’t just mean the design programs they use; it also means understanding how your design partner communicates their designs with the engineering team on the project, what projects they have completed in the past, the scale of projects they have worked on, and their timeline for small and large projects. Evaluating these capabilities from the start helps you to know whether your processes are aligned.

rendering software up on a computer screen

Choosing a design partner can be difficult but when you follow these steps it should make it a little easier. Be sure to keep in mind that your designer should show commitment to your project, have a dedicated team with plenty of experience, have a good understanding of your project needs, and demonstrate exemplary design and engineering capabilities. If you would like to learn more about our Studio 540 design team feel free to read more here and contact us!

A Peak into our New Product Development Process

the product studio

From ideation to creation, a look into how the new product development process works at TriEnda.

The new product development team’s motto here at KFI is from an African proverb, “If you want to go fast go alone, if you want to go far go together.” This speaks to the NPD team in the sense that creating new products is no easy process, but it is one of our favorite parts of the business because it truly employs every team in our company and calls on teamwork to make it happen. Come along with us as we speak with our New Product Development Manager, Heidi Bulgrin, to discuss the new product development process from ideation to creation.

Ideation

“It all starts with an idea,” Heidi said.  Sometimes this idea will come from a customer need, sometimes from an improvement we know we can make to an existing product; or sometimes it is a product missing from the world that we believe would change lives, efficiencies, or processes.

a cad drawing of stacked wheeled carts

Research

Research is a key part of the process because this allows us to understand what market we think this product would fit into, what features this product needs to have, what similar products may already be out there, and where we can improve on what is already created. 

“We make sure we fully understand and document the product requirements and design inputs for design, performance, longevity, and technology that could take the product to another level,” Heidi said. 

Alignment

Once the research is compiled, a business case is presented to our leadership team for approval.  The business case includes a project timeline, specifications, features and benefits, options, and even details of which KFI facility is best suited for production, shipping expectations, and core competency evaluation. Our team also focuses on making sure that the new product idea is aligned with the KFI company values and strategy.

Once the new product idea is approved, a cross-functional team across all departments kicks off a new project. At this point, NPD converges with Marketing to evaluate findings from the research stage, and they collaborate and present a direction for the product.

Design

The next step connects us with Engineering and Studio 540 to create a quote, models, sketches, renderings, and other visual assets for our team and customers to review.  With over 25 years of technical experience in design and engineering, our Studio 540 and engineering teams know that making these visuals for a customer is a great way to share the product before any further development costs are spent.  

Once these concepts and quotes are approved by our internal team and the customer, a design is then kicked off and another review of the requirements is completed to ensure they are being met.  An initial FEA analysis is also completed to ensure the design is structurally functional. 

a cad drawing of a wheeled cart
a cad drawing of a wheeled cart

Samples

After the design is complete, patterns are built to create sample parts. This step is critical for initial testing, part fit-up, evaluating the parts, and making sure they meet all pre-determined criteria. Adjustment can be made at this step as needed. Adjustments can also be made as a result of test results or criteria changes at this time. Some examples of tests that are often run on our thermoformed products included RC9 and ASTM 1185 tests which are pallet standard tests, other predefined testing requirements for automotive products, drop tests, required department of transportation tests for automotive packaging, and many more.

Once sample part testing is complete, we move on to production tooling.  Samples from the new aluminum production tooling are again tested, go through part fit-ups, evaluate the parts, and make sure they meet all pre-determined criteria. Adjustments may be made here as needed.

carts stacked

Creation

Cross-functional teams including engineering, design, marketing, sales, manufacturing, quality, purchasing, warehouse management, and finance review all the production processes, quality check requirements, cost, and component availability to ensure a successful product launch. Detailed documentation of the entire process is also recorded ensuring many successful production runs in the future.

The production kicks off with marketing creating the materials and tools needed to help our customers understand the function and features of the new product, and finally we conduct a training for our sales team so they fully understand the uses, capabilities, and features of the new product. 

pallets with wheels stacked
boxes on a wheeled cart

Customer-Specific Products

Some of our new products are made specifically for a certain customer. For a proprietary product, we also begin to develop marketing tools including web pages, spec sheets, technical literature, videos, renderings, and more soon after project kick-off. For a customer product, we will work with them on any support they may require.

While this is just a quick run-down of what is involved in the NPD process, it encapsulates the steps we try to follow and complete when creating a new product. If you are interested in learning more about our new product development process, feel free to contact us!

An Overview of TriEnda’s Product Offering

TriEnda logo graphic

Explore the products we design, manufacture, and distribute here at TriEnda!

As the industry’s leading thermoformer, TriEnda manufactures a multitude of products. With experience in everything from material handling solutions like pallets and sleeve packs, to cargo protection systems and emergency hospital beds, our team is well versed in a variety of products and applications.

Pallets

TriEnda’s pallets are a testament to our thermoforming process and the strength of our HDPE material. Our variety of pallets have been designed, tested, and improved upon to work in many industries and be a friend to the environment. All our pallets are reusable and 100% recyclable, meaning less waste ends up in the landfill. Let’s take a quick look at some of the different pallets we offer:

  • Distribution Series- These twin sheet plastic pallets are available in five sizes, each equipped with our TriMax™ impact-absorbing design. These are designed with a 4-way forklift and forkjack entry as well as an oval leg design. This series is fully nestable to conserve space and reduce shipping costs.
  • One-Way Pallet- This lightweight pallet has been specifically designed for domestic and global companies looking to avoid the hassle and cost of wooden pallets in one-way shipping. This pallet is sanitary, easy to clean, and ideal for international shipping.
  • Tough Pallet- This powerhouse pallet is created with single sheet HDPE material and has molded-in, no-rust steel bars for added strength and rigidity perfect for the food processing industry.
  • Automotive Pallet- This durable, twin sheet pallet has been designed specifically for the automotive industry. Featuring an anti-jam feature to keep nested pallets from resting on retractors during shipments and constructed with a mirror-image design, these pallets are ready for any automotive organization.
Plastic Pallet
one-way pallets stacked
Tough Pallet bottom side
Automotive Pallet

Sleeve Packs

Reusable bulk containers help lower costs and improve convenience, TriEnda has designed our very own BigPak® Sleeve Packs in a variety of sizes to work for any organization. These lightweight, low-cost bulk containers come with interchangeable pallets and lids and are available in six sizes and configuration options. You can depend on durable, hygienic BigPak® Sleeve Packs to keep your cargo safe over multiple uses, protecting your products and your bottom line.

Big Packs stacked

Wheel Packs

Our automotive material handling team works tirelessly to design and create durable and impact-resistant Wheel Packs. These standard AIAG Wheel Packs are the superior solution for shipping and storing automotive wheel packaging.

PC SERIES wheel pack

Pod Containers

As a long-time leader in automotive material handling solutions, we are revolutionizing plastics packaging with the development of our Battery Packs. TriEnda’s Battery Packs are designed for both standard and EV/Hybrid vehicles and offer total enclosed protection at a lower weight and cost than traditional steel containers.

Battery Pack

Emergency Products

During the Covid-19 Pandemic, it quickly became clear that there was a need for emergency hospital beds and room partitions. The extreme overcrowding in hospitals meant a lack of beds and a lack of space, by partnering with our sister company, Penda, our team created emergency disaster relief beds and room partitions. These beds can be quickly made, are durable and long-lasting, and are easy to sanitize. The wall dividers are similar in that they are simple to clean and crafted with strong HDPE material. 

hospital bed
room partition

While we haven’t covered anywhere close to all the products TriEnda has to offer, we have given you a quick look into the products we make, what we are passionate about, and the industries we have experience in. For a deeper dive into any of these products and more, view our full product brochure or visit our products page!

Meet Our Team: Jack Subel

Jack Subel

The Meet Our Team blog series gives you an inside look into our team members’ careers, exciting new projects, history with KFI, and a general introduction to some of our key players! We hope you enjoy this, and many more blogs, that give you a better idea of the people behind the operation here at KFI.

Our third chapter in this series highlights our Vice President of Sales on the Non-Automotive OEM side of the business, Jack Subel. Jack heads up our non-auto OEM sales team and is constantly looking to help clients with unique needs and working on exciting new product development projects.  

Q: What is your job title?

A: I am the Vice President of the Non-Automotive OEM team. 

Q: How long have you been with KFI?

A: I have been with KFI for 6 years. 

Q: What do your day-to-day responsibilities look like?

A: My daily responsibilities have changed over time.  For several years, I was tasked with growing our Heavy Truck business.  Now, I focus on business development in Heavy Truck, and other industries.  I also look for new opportunities in order to diversify our company’s customers. 

Q: What is your favorite part of working for KFI?

A: KFI has scale.  By that I mean, we are staffed to do big things.  Most of our competitors do not have the Marketing, Engineering, Operations, and Sales reach that we do.  Chasing opportunities that leverage this scale to “move the needle” is challenging and can be fun too!

Q: Can you share a project that your department accomplished that you feel proud of?

A: Prior to Covid, we put together a presentation that for Navistar.  They were looking for a new bunk system for a new design for the interior of their Class-8, over-the-road heavy-duty truck.  We designed it, developed a virtual reality tour of the interior with our parts in it, and presented it to their Engineering team.  I was very proud to represent KFI after that presentation.  I feel, we really showed what we’re capable of if given a “blank page”.

Q: How does your department embody KFI’s values?

A: Each day we look to grow our business and move the needle.

Q: What is your favorite memory from working at KFI?

A: Our resilience during Covid is a great memory.  This time was perhaps one of the most uncertain and challenging times I’ve seen in my 30+ year career.  Our approach to “lean in” and attempts to navigate this time with the emergency and disaster relief bed product was a great memory…although, I’m happy we’re past that difficult time!

Jack’s experience in the industry, wealth of knowledge, and positive attitude makes him an amazing colleague and leader at KFI. We are thrilled to have Jack as a part of the KFI team! Check back soon for more Meet Our Team Blogs! Interested in being a part of our team? Apply today, we can’t wait to meet you!

Thermoforming Versus Injection Molding

Themroforming graphic

What to take into account when choosing the best plastics process for your next project.

 

As the industry’s largest thermoformer, TriEnda focuses on creating durable thermoformed products. However, thermoforming is not the only process to create plastic products. We explore the differences between thermoforming and injection molding, covering everything from cost to lead time, this infographic shows a run-down of what you should take into account when choosing a process. 

Take a look at all of the factors that going into choosing a plastics process!

Themroforming graphic

Interested in learning even more? Feel free to contact us to more about TriEnda’s thermoforming process.

Meet Our Team: Nate Franck

Nate Franck

The Meet Our Team blog series gives you an inside look into our team members’ careers, exciting new projects, history with KFI, and a general introduction to some of our key players! We hope you enjoy this, and many more blogs, that give you a better idea of the people behind the operation here at KFI.

Our second addition to this series is our Vice President of Sales on the TriEnda side of the business, Nate Franck. Nate oversees all of our TriEnda sales teams across the world and has focused on launching new products, expanding our market, and driving new sales opportunities in a multitude of industries.  

Q: What is your job title?

A: I am the Vice President of Sales for TriEnda.

Q: How long have you been with KFI?

A: I have been with KFI a little over 3 years.

Q: What do your day-to-day responsibilities look like?

A:  Managing a team of sales managers across the world, setting the new product development direction for TriEnda, working on large sales deals, traveling around the world to see customers, and continual training for our sales professionals.

Q: What is your favorite part of working for KFI?

A: We are a very dynamic and agile company so that gives me and my team the freedom to make important decisions quickly that help grow the company.

Q: Can you share a project that your department accomplished that you feel proud of?

A:.I am very proud of the huge advances we have made in the battery packaging and grocery industries. These are two areas of business that have, and will remain, a significant part of growth for KFI.

Q: How does your department embody KFI’s values?

A: My team has been working very hard during the pandemic to move the needle! We have by far the highest backlog of orders in company history, plus we have a sales pipeline that will keep things going strong through the end of 2022!

Q: What is your favorite memory from working at KFI?

A: My favorite memory with KFI has been traveling to Portage nearly every week during my first year at KFI. These trips were fun and enlightening. I loved hearing stories from colleagues, meeting such long tenured employees, and hitting up local spots really made for a fun and eventful year!

It is apparent in speaking with Nate that he has a passion for this industry, TriEnda’s products, his sales team, and KFI. We are so happy to have Nate as a leader on our team! Check back soon for more Meet Our Team Blogs! Interested in being a part of our team? Apply today, we can’t wait to meet you!

A Day in the Life of a Thermoforming Machine Operator

Thermoforming process

Explore the day-to-day responsibilities of a Thermoforming Machine Operator.

There are so many people, machines, and materials that go into the creation of a final product. Today, we explore one part of that process by peaking into the day-to-day responsibilities of a Thermoforming Machine Operator at TriEnda.

What does a Machine Operator Do?

We shadowed Shannon Horkan, who has worked as a Thermoforming Machine Operator at TriEnda for 8 years. As an operator, this position is responsible for taking measurements of finished products, loading the thermoforming machine, solving problems that the machine might have, and sometimes filling in as a finisher or helping the production team in other ways. The machine operator is crucial to the final product’s integrity because this position also assists in maintaining excellent quality control. “I make sure everything’s running within specifications even if the other operator checks.” Shannon said, she always double checks and constantly measures the finished products. Overseeing the machines to make sure everything is running smoothly and accurately. She will also adjust the machine if it is not up to par, which assures that our products are created on-time and with the highest level of quality.

Thermoforming process

What does their schedule look like?

Thermoforming Machine Operators usually follow the 2-2-3 schedule. The 2-2-3 schedule means that the employee would work 7 am – 7 pm for 2 days on, then get 2 days in a row off, and then again 7 am – 7 pm for 3 days. This schedule is often one of the employee’s favorite parts of the work because it allows them to have a significant amount of time off with their family both during the week and one the weekends, because of the rotating schedule.

What are the challenges they face?

There are challenges to every position, Shannon discussed some of her biggest obstacles at work with us, “There is constant change, if there is a problem it’s hard to know what the problem is because of how complex the machines are, there are so many factors that go into solving the problem.” A normal day as a machine operator includes paperwork if there is a new tool, otherwise the main task is making sure that the team is using the right routers and drills.

Thermoforming process

What do they enjoy most about their job?

Luckily, there are many up-sides to this position as well. Shannon discussed the benefits of having insurance, a 401k, and the stability of her position at TriEnda which make all the hard work worth it. Part of why many employees love working at TriEnda is also the rigorous nature of our production jobs, not only physically but also the mental challenges and problem solving makes the day-to-day duties interesting and engaging. At TriEnda we cultivate an environment that is safe, fun, and enjoyable which Shannon also noted, “My coworkers are my favorite part of my job, I like everybody I work with.”

Every KFI employee is an asset to our complete operation and we are always looking for hard working, positive people to add to our team. If you are interested in working with us, take a look at our careers page.  

Meet Our Team: Sarena Krueger

Sarena Krueger

The Meet Our Team blog series gives you an inside look into our team members’ careers, exciting new projects, history with KFI, and a general introduction to some of our key players! We hope you enjoy this, and many more blogs, that give you a better idea of the people behind the operation here at KFI.

To begin this series, we will speak with our Vice President of Marketing, Sarena Krueger.
Sarena oversees all marketing and communications as well as business development and industrial design teams. Sarena has helped to build KFI’s
marketing and industrial design departments into one of the leaders in the thermoforming industry. Among other projects she has overseen the complete re-launch of all six of KFI’s brand sites.

Q: What is your job title?

A: Vice President of Marketing and Communications, all of our Business Development, Industrial Design and the Marketing teams all report to me.

 

Q: How long have you been with KFI?

A:  I have been with KFI for 18 months.

 

Q: What do your day-to-day responsibilities look like?

A:  It is different every day.  I work with the sales teams to execute new product launches and campaigns, planning for trade shows, directing our digital marketing tactics, and work on corporate initiatives, such as hiring campaigns and updating the look and feel of our corporate communications.

 

Q: What is your favorite part of working for KFI?

A: The people and the opportunity!  I see a long runway ahead for the company, and I like contributing to our successes and helping to improve our business.

 

Q: Can you share a project that your department accomplished that you feel proud of?

A: I love all of the videos that we have created.  They are such a fun and effective way
to display our products.  The end results are a clear result of
collaboration between engineering, sales, and my teams.

 

Q: How does your department embody KFI’s values?

A:   The key value that the marketing, business development and industrial design teams most embody is Get Things Done. In the year and a half since I have been at KFI, we have updated all of our websites, created countless new pieces of collateral, videos and images.
 

 

Q: What is your favorite memory from working at KFI?

A: Starting my career during a global pandemic and seeing how everyone banded together to come up with a very cool product that helped people in such an unbelievable time in our history.

 

While Sarena is one of our newer leaders, she has definitely embodied KFI’s values and brings
energy, experience, creativity, and drive to the team.
Interested in being a part of our team? Apply today, we can’t wait to meet you!