Thermoforming is a diverse process famous in the plastics and manufacturing industries for its simplicity and cost-effectiveness. The term "thermoforming" highlights any process utilized by thermoforming companies to take a thin plastic heated sheet and develop a part or product. This process is part of a manufacturing strategy and may not necessarily be an end-to-end solution. The advantages of thermoforming are that it can act as the cover for another product or create components within a larger piece.
When considering the thermoforming process, it's essential to understand the following advantages of thermoforming before adding them to your strategy.
Can Fit Client’s Requirements
Thermoforming can produce variations in plastic parts' complexity, size, and shape, so it's no surprise that a single manufacturing style fits them all. However, the methods ensure that all applications have an ideal fit. The most common approaches include:
Matched Mold Forming
This thermoforming process utilizes male and female folds that link together to create a desired shape. Since two molds are used, the cost is higher than the other options, but the specificity and detail are excellent.
Pressure forming involves pressing the heated plastic sheets into a specific shape based on the mold. Since there is direct pressure, the corner radii can be smaller, thus creating a sharper look. Also, this is not the ideal process for products requiring tight tolerances.
Twin Sheet Forming
To create a shape, the twin sheet forming process utilizes two pressure-welded plastic sheets. This process is used in double-walled or hollow products to provide additional support.
During the vacuuming forming process, the heated plastic is placed in a mold, and a vacuum sucks the plastic around the mold to create a shape. This process is ideal when high-cost sensitivity and parts are needed quickly.
Can Use Different Materials
One of the greatest benefits of thermoforming is the ability to use different materials, including sustainable options. Each material has various properties specific to an application, such as chemicals, durability, and flame resistance. Polyethylene is best for products that need high chemical resistance and cold applications. ABS is a common material for impact strength and stiffness and is available in various textures and colors. Polycarbonates are great for products that require temperature resistance and high-impact strength. Polypropylenes deliver excellent chemical resistance with a high impact strength and high rigidity. Acrylic is a thicker material that's abrasion-resistant and easy to fabricate.
Although not all plastics are biodegradable, many can be recycled at the end of their life cycle. To improve waste management, thermoforming manufacturers gather excess materials, granulate them, and add them to new resin to create plastic sheets called post-industrial recycled (PIR) materials. This process reduces the amount of waste sent to landfills by manufacturers.
Quicker Than Injection Molding
Liquid plastic polymers are injected into molds through pressure and high temperatures in the injection molding process. The plastic solidifies once these polymers are cooled and the molds are removed. The amount of time it takes to fill and eject the products is significantly slower and less efficient than thermoforming.
The prototyping, lead times, and cycle time of thermoforming are significantly faster, and the tooling time can take as little as three weeks, depending on the part complexity. Adding in production, companies can have parts within eight-to-14 weeks. On the other hand, the average injection molding tooling and production lead time is around 24 weeks, depending on the part complexity.
Used Across Almost All Industries
The final benefit is that thermoforming is used across almost all industries due to the process's versatility. Given the range of materials, thermoforming is flexible, so it's used by the following major industries:
Although this is only a partial list of industries, plenty of others utilize this technology. Also, plastic thickness is adjustable to fit different application requirements in various industries. For instance, thick gauge thermoforming uses this process for products between 0.06 and 1.0 inches, while thin gauge thermoforming creates products under 0.06 inches thick.
Thermoforming is a versatile process with numerous applications across many industries due to the diversity of materials suited for this molding type. If you're considering utilizing the thermoforming process, it's crucial to understand the product type, required plastic properties, application, and cost before committing.