How Does Thermoforming Work?
At its core, thermoforming is the manufacturing process where a plastic sheet is heated to the point where it’s pliable, formed to a specific shape in a mold, and trimmed to create a usable product.
Learn more about the steps to thermoforming below:
Typically, thermoformed plastic is used as a part of a larger product: frequently, it is the outer protective and aesthetic covering for a piece of equipment. Most thermoformed plastic products start as a CAD model or drawing, and at Ray Products, our engineers will work with you to perfect the model into a shape that will work with our plastics manufacturing process.
ABS plastic is the most used plastic material for thermoforming machining. Although, there are quite a few other choices that can be chosen for either aesthetic or functional reasons, not to mention fire-rated and high-heat materials. With plastic materials having a range of distinctive physical properties and benefits, the versatility of thermoforming allows for a selection of colored and textured resin materials that can significantly boost the appearance of the final product. Here at Ray Products, we work with you to select the plastic material that is correct for your project.
Ray Products’ large-scale thermoforming machine makes tooling a persuasive choice for many of our customers. Tooling is the process of creating the mold the plastic will be heated to and is the next step in the thermoforming machining process. Often, an application will combine different plastic parts into a single mold. Combining plastic parts helps to reduce tooling costs, material costs, and production times, depending on the size and complexity of the materials used in the project.
After the material selection process and the tooling creation, the next step is to form the plastic into the mold. First, the plastic sheet is heated to a malleable temperature; next, it is shaped into the mold through vacuum pressure, air pressure, or a combination of both processes. After being formed into the mold, it is cooled and detached from the mold, where it retains its final shape. The completed parts have zero residual stress, given the final project cools against the mold surface under ambient temperatures.
After thermoforming a part, some of the original material may remain, which requires trimming. Using fully robotic 6-axis trimmers, Ray Products can quickly cut complex and precise shapes, leading to faster production times and more accurate and flexible cuts. Our robots at Ray Products also conduct ancillary operations such as cutouts, using holes, and other features that require material to be removed.
You may think the story ends when a custom plastic piece has been thermoformed and trimmed, but not at Ray Products. In-house painting, silk-screening, EMI/RFI shielding, installation of inserts and other fastening devices, assembly of hinges, handles and hardware are some of the many secondary operations we offer. These services, paired with our time-tested supply chain management, allow us to work as a single-source partner for many of our customers. As soon as our customers receive the finished part from Ray Products, it is ready to be incorporated with their remaining manufacturing process.