ASK THE MXPERTS: THE COST OF MAKING NEW PLASTIC
I’m tired of hearing people complain that you can’t tell a 2017 Suzuki RM-Z450 from a 2008 model. Why doesn’t one of the aftermarket plastic companies design and build a better-looking set of radiator wings, side panels and fenders for the RM-Z450? Or 2018 RM-Z450 plastic that will fit on the older Suzukis. They would make a killing, and Suzuki owners could have newer-looking bikes.
First off, they wouldn’t make a killing. Suzuki has sold the fewest bikes over the last decade of all the modern motocross manufacturers. This means that the number of potential buyers for Suzuki aftermarket plastic is much smaller than for other brands. Here are some of the startup costs of making new plastic parts. The average cost per mold is $65,000. Note that a mold is for a specific piece of plastic, such as a rear fender only. If the bolt pattern changes from one year to the next, that means that a new mold is required. By the time they make the molds for the front fender, rear fender, radiator wings, side panel, front number plate and fork guards, the total plastic tooling cost for one bike is $300,000. Why is a mold so expensive? Each mold starts with two blocks of solid tool-grade steel that each weigh 1500 pounds. It can take up to several weeks for a mold to be completed on a CNC milling machine. Fortunately, a mold can produce hundreds of thousands of parts in its lifetime, which could be over 20 years.
Once the molds are finished, the process of injection molding a plastic part starts with feeding polypropylene into a heated barrel, where the materials are mixed as the temperature is raised to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Once the plastic is at the proper consistency, it is squeezed through a tube into the clam-shell steel mold. The whole process takes around 200 seconds for one piece of plastic to be formed.
Cycra Racing has seven injection-molding machines, ranging from 70 tons to a 650-ton press, as well as thermo forming and CNC routers. The purchase price for each injection-molding machine averages $400,000, which means that Cycra has invested almost $3,000,000 in machinery. An operation that size has to have some assurance of return on investment. Thus, plastic companies like Cycra, R-Tech, Acerbis or Polisport can’t just make a part because a couple hundred people might buy it. The need to know that it will sell in big enough numbers to offset the costs. But, you must admit that thy do a good job of supply consumer with a wide variety of products.