When flash memory first started gaining popularity as a marketing product it was primarily content owners needing high quality compact flash and SD cards duplicated with promotional or retail content. Users included major mobile phone manufacturers looking to include free content on their phones as a marketing exercise and digital signage specialists needing fast turnaround times on timely content for in store use.
USB manufacturers realized that by offering a low volume custom printing option on what were now being called Keyring USB, they could tap in to a much wider market than just those companies requiring content delivery.Off the shelf USB designs could be customised by screen printing and laser engraving.
The initial saturation of cheap plastic designs has settled to leave a diverse range of promotional USB of varying quality, the most popular of these keyring USB probably being the twister. A classic plastic casing with a metal sheath that spins round to reveal the USB plug. This metal sheath offers a good branding area, both screen printed and engraved.
In addition to supplying the more standard products, a custom moulded design service is also a major part of this new offering. From CAD designs or product photos a realistic 3D custom moulded USB stick can be created that not only truly reflects a brand’s values but is also guaranteed to be a unique promotional item in the sea of similar looking USB promotions. With materials such as recycled PVC, a custom USB promotional flash drive can be made for not much more than an off the shelf variety. PVC is malleable and easily coloured so it makes an ideal material for use in custom moulded USB shells. With an additional benefit of being more ecologically friendly than standard off the shelf designs, PVC has gained tremendous popularity in this use.
An additional benefit is that the moulding process required for working with PVC is far less intensive than that required for ABS or other plastics. A mould can be made in a matter of days, compared to the weeks required for a heavy duty ABS mould. This results in prototype samples being turned around in a matter of a week or two rather than the month or two required for ABS prototypes. Modern laser cutting mould creation techniques allow for an incredible amount of detail to be incorporated onto even small designs. Examples include tiny mobile phones with buttons and lettering designed to look identical to a regular mobile phone. Miniature vehicles have also been produced for haulage companies decked out in the company’s livery using PVC. The process of moulding using PVC also allows for hand painting of the rubber during the moulding stage, this allows additional detail to be added that could not be achieved using moulded PVC alone.
The small scale process also means that as moulds and prototypes are quicker and less costly to make, it is possible to repeat the prototype stage to refine a design without either breaking the budget or extending the lead time to unreasonable lengths. Although a 3D render can give a great deal of information about the final product it is never going to be as good as holding a prototype in your hand. Once quantities get to the high hundreds of units then the custom moulded options increase to include ABS plastic. This is a process that requires a heavier duty mould to be made which increases costs at this stage of the process.
The advantages of ABS are both in hardness of the material and in cost savings on higher volumes of custom moulded USB. Once the high initial cost is accounted for the unit cost of manufacturing in ABS comes down due to the less labour intensive nature of this process. Custom USB casings are stamped out using a heavy duty mould at high speed, meaning that not only is the actual manufacturing process more efficient but it is possible to manufacture more product in a short space of time. The maximum number of USB housing that can be manufactured from a typical PVC mould per day will be in the region of 500 or so whereas a stamper for ABS shells will be able to run off several thousand in a day. The hard plastic of ABS is also more versatile in terms of reproducing different material effects. It is possible for example to cover the plastic in a reflective chrome finish to mimic metal.
The final option for custom USB and the most expensive is die cast metal. Here a mould is made from aluminum alloy in a similar process to the process required for ABS moulding. Moulding from molten metal is of course a much more intensive process and requires a mould that can cope with the increased heat and pressures required for metal moulding. This in turn will naturally increase costs, resulting in a prototyping phase that is roughly twice to three times more expensive than ABS. The timescales are also lengthened and it is not unusual for metal moulding to take several months from CAD design stage to final product. Metal moulding is not a route to be taken lightly as the complexity and tolerances of the processes involved means that there is far more to go wrong. With the flexibility and possibilities of both PVC and ABS it is rare for a design to require genuine metal to be successful.
Whichever route is taken it is important to have a company with the experience and technical skills required for the smooth running of a custom moulded USB promotion.
Post time: 02-04-2017