Plastic comes in different sizes, types, colors, and with different material characteristics. The wide variety of plastic makes it a crucial material for manufacturers interested in producing both prototypes and end-use parts for use. Thermoforming is a manufacturing process that empowers manufacturers with a versatile solution for processing plastic sheets.
In this comprehensive guide, learn about the various thermoforming processes, materials, equipment, and how you can create molds for thermoforming, including advanced processes like 3D printing.
Thermoforming is a plastic manufacturing process that involves heating a plastic sheet and forming it using a mold to specific shapes. The shaped plastic then gets cooled down and trimmed to result in the finished part. The process is executed using a thermoforming machine to heat and stretch the pliable thermoplastic sheet over the mold. Modern thermoforming machines are generally equipped to handle the trimming and cutting process, while for more conventional machines, trimming and cooling may be done externally.
Thermoplastics are the materials used for thermoforming. These materials include ABS, polystyrene, polycarbonate, PETG, etc. The choice of material depends on the manufacturing project and the required characteristics of the produced item.
Thermoforming is used in manufacturing packaging for agricultural products, pharmaceutical products, consumer goods, domestic appliances, and more. It is also used in manufacturing durable end-use parts such as aircraft components, material handling equipment, automobile interiors, and medical equipment.
Compared to other conventional manufacturing processes, thermoforming enables manufacturers to produce small to large volumes of packaging at an affordable cost. The ability to utilize almost all thermoplastic types to rapidly produce high-quality end-use items is another important advantage of thermoforming.
The disadvantages of thermoforming include its restriction to producing thin-walled designs, uneven thickness, and limited versatility for manufacturing parts with complex geometry. Manufacturers interested in leveraging thermoforming can use this guide to gain insight into amplifying its benefits and limiting its disadvantages to improve productivity and reduce costs.
Thermoforming is an all-inclusive manufacturing process that embraces all the different ways manufacturers may choose to form heated sheets of plastic. A manufacturer which chooses the vacuum forming process or pressure forming process is taking advantage of thermoforming.
Read more: Guide to Thermoforming