Thermoforming in a Nutshell

Friday, October 30, 2020

Thermoforming is a process that embodies its namesake. Heat is used to carefully shape thermoplastic sheets. The end results are precise and replicable designs that satisfy any number of projects and plastic part needs. Though the overarching process is simple at a glance, the detail work that goes into thermoforming with Industrial Custom Products is when the impressive technology really begins to shine.

Heat and Pressure

The thermoforming processes of Vacuum Forming and Pressure forming utilize vacuum pressure, air pressure, or some combination of both to consistently manipulate heated materials. With Once shaped, parts are cooled in order to retain the shape of the design. But shape isn’t the only thing that thermoforming facilitates. During the heating process, additional features can be “baked in” to the part including applied texture, tapered edges, and undercuts that allow for stacking or detents. Following the heating and cooling and application of these features, careful trimming and alterations are next.

Vacuum Forming with a Male Mold

The material is heated, stretched over a male mold, and vacuum sucks the sheet down to form into a part.  With this process, the texture is already on the sheet.

Vacuum Forming with a Female Mold 

The material is heated, stretched over a female mold, and vacuum sucks the sheet down to form into a part.  With this process, you can get texture on the finished part two different ways:

    • If the primary surface touches the mold, you can have to mold textured to a wide variety of different textures.
    • If the primary surface is away from the mold, then the texture will be on the sheet.

Cooling and Finishing

After the cooling process a variety of precise alterations are made to ensure that each individual part matches exactly to the required dimensions. This may involve trimming by hand to save cost, or for many modern projects, robotically with a CNC machine. CNC machines are numerically programmed cutters that handle tolerance trimming and cutting. Though professional hand-cutting is perfect for some project needs, CNC machines come with the added benefits of extreme accuracy and precise trimming tolerances for delicate or high-yield parts.

The Limits of Thermoforming

Ultimately, thermoforming relies upon the malleability of its materials and the experts who manage the product dimensions and needs prior to forming. But, even if it’s limited to certain materials, the actual limits of thermoforming are extremely broad. Thermoplastics and the materials best suited for thermoforming are available in a wide variety of colors, textures, and thicknesses. From PE to TPO and everything in between, our thermoforming services can manage materials up to a 40” draw or .437” thick.

Contact Thermoforming Experts

If you’re interested in learning more about thermoforming for your project, contact Industrial Custom Products today at (612) 781-2255, or request a quote online. You will receive a prompt response.