When you’re a member of the public who just needs some plastic for a home project, dealing with a plastics distributor can be a little awkward. They’re not like a “store” in the traditional sense, with product neatly displayed with nice little price tags. Product is quoted based on specific needs – and often, you don’t even know what those needs are! Sure, you may have an application in mind, and you might have heard of a plastic that works well in that application. But how do you know for sure? In addition, industrial plastics are a premium material and the cost can be a surprise to some people. Here are three “insider” tips from those of us in the plastic industry which will help you have a more satisfying experience with your DIY application:
1.) Be open-minded – and don’t care about looks
Many people have an idea that, like with products made of consumer or “commodity” plastic, that a wide array of colors, textures, and sizes are available. This is not the case at the level of industrial plastic. Most plastics only come in one color per grade and the color is often just white or black. Colorful plastics like frosted acrylic are hard to come by in small quantities. You need to place the needs of your application beyond color matching or other aesthetics.
Also, be open-minded about material. It’s quite possible a knowledgeable salesperson will recommend a different material. If you’re worried about the increased costs, ask for some clarification on why the suggested plastic might be better and what other options you have available.
2.) Ask about offcuts
For many smaller projects you don’t need a lot of material but plastics will commonly be offered in 4′ x 10′ or 4′ x 8′ sheets. One potential option is to ask your distributor if they have some offcuts they would be willing to sell. Many plastic distributors will have companies under contract to buy their offcuts, but some are usually kept on the shelf and either way the distributor usually makes a bit more by selling offcuts for cash. You may have to take a slightly larger piece, but it could save you money, and it’s worth an ask.
3.) Arrange your own pickup/freight
“Quote and include the freight” is a common request a plastic distributor gets but do you know what you’re actually asking for? True, to get a contract done industrial supply companies will mostly quote the freight. But what they’re doing for the most part is contacting a freight broker and getting them to spit out a quote, which is then marked up to you by 10-15%. The time a salesperson takes away from their primary job needs to be compensated for. Your best option is to just ask for the product weight and dimensions and contact a logistics provider yourself. Or make a UPS, Purolator, or Loomis account for the smaller orders.