Advanced Thermoforming Solutions

An Overview of Thermoforming: From the Design Guide


This is the first post in a series that comes straight from our Thermoforming Handbook, a guide that, until now, was only available to our customers and partners.  We’ll be releasing the whole thing in a series of posts, right here on our blog.

If you’re someone who uses custom plastic manufacturing professionally, and you’re interested in getting your own copy, just send us a message and we’ll be happy to send you one.

 

The Process of Thermoforming

Both pressure forming and vacuum forming are processes that are easiest to understand when they’re explained visually.

 

Step 1

First, a sheet of thermoplastic is heated until it becomes pliable and moldable.

Thermoforming - A Sheet of Plastic is Heated

 

Step 2: Vacuum Forming

In the vacuum forming process, the plastic is stretched over a single male mold, and air is vacuumed out from underneath the mold.
Vacuum forming illustration.

 

Step 2: Pressure Forming

In pressure forming, the heated plastic is placed between male and female molds, which are then pressed against the plastic sheet using compressed air at a pressure that ranges from 20 to 100 psi.
Pressure Forming Illustration

 

Step 3

Finally, the now molded plastic part is removed from the mold and allowed to cool. It’s then moved to a trimming station where the excess plastic is removed with a six-axis fully robotic trimming machine.

Thermoforming final step.

 


 

Key Advantages of Thermoforming

Cost at Quantity

If your part requirements range from the low hundreds to the high thousands, thermoforming is almost always the chosen process.

Large Part Capability

Our thermoforming equipment, the largest on the West Coast, can create single pieces up to a full 10 feet x 18 feet, with up to 40 inches of depth.

Huge Thermoplastic Material Selection

Any color, including metallics, fire-rated, impact resistant, UV resistant, antibacterial properties, ROHS/REACH compliant, recyclable and so much more.

Complex Geometry Without High Costs

Make complex shapes without high tooling costs.

Part-to-Part Repeatability

Consistency and precision from part number 1 to part number 5,555; with no warpage, improved flatness and zero residual stress.

Molded-In-Features for Easy Assembly

Make assembly cheaper and faster with undercuts, molded-in attachment points, tabs, slots and more.

Beautiful & Flexible Finishing Options

Mold in color and texture, paint, silk screen, EMI/RFI shielding and more. The choice is yours.

Lower Cost Design Changes

Make changes quickly without spending thousands on new or reworked tooling.

Pick a Texture, Any Texture

From high-gloss to matte to custom, you’ve got options for textures.

 


 

Comparing Vacuum Forming & Pressure Forming

 Vacuum FormingPressure Forming
DescriptionA sheet of plastic material is heated to pliability, then pressed against a 3D mold by vacuuming out the air between the sheet and the mold.A sheet of plastic material is heated to pliability, then pressed against a 3D female cavity mold by vacuuming out the air between the sheet and the mold, and applying compressed air from 20 to 100 psi above the plastic sheet.
Common Applications
  • Outdoor UV-resistant projects

  • High-gloss surfaces

  • High-impact applications

  • Recycled materials applications
  • Complex shapes

  • Parts with vents or louvers

  • Projects with tighter tolerances

  • Molded-in attachment points
Often Used to Create
  • Point-of-purchase displays

  • Automotive aftermarket, interior/exterior

  • Recreational vehicles

  • Pool and spa components

  • Dunnage material handling trays and pallets

  • Fitness equipment

  • Reusable medical trays or bins
  • Medical device enclosures

  • Office equipment

  • Vented equipment enclosures

  • Scientific instruments

  • Detailed components

  • Control panels

  • Multi-part assemblies

  • Kiosk/POS enclosures

  • Mass transit components

  • Equipment enclosures, bezels, housings and
    covers
DimensionsMale tool, vacuum formed parts to be dimensioned to the inside surfaces of the part.Female tool, pressure formed parts to be dimensioned to the outside surfaces of the part.

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