In this installment of “Understanding Polymer Manufacturing,” we will investigate the process of thermoforming plastic materials. In addition, we will look at how AxisNorth can help you with your next thermoforming project by matching your company with the perfect supplier.
What is Thermoforming?
Thermoforming is a unique plastic process that allows manufacturers to take a plastic sheet and mold it into some sort of three-dimensional shape by utilizing heat, a vacuum seal, and pressure. Thermoplastic sheets are heated to a set softening point, the sheet is then stretched across a single-sided mold. After the plastic has cooled it maintains the shape of the mold.
Thermoforming plastic materials has numerous applications throughout multiple different industries. Whether that’s powersports, such as side panels for snowmobiles, or food storage containers. These two applications lead to some variation in the thermoforming process. Thick versus thin gauge thermoforming.
- Thick Gauge: Thick gauge thermoformed parts are typically between 0.060”- 0.500” in thickness. Thick gauge parts are more robust and offer much higher impact resistance versus thin gauge. Think of snowmobile panels, yes, they can break, but they can be put through some heavy abuse without breaking.
- Thin Gauge: Thin gauge produces parts with thicknesses below 0.060”. Parts produced during the thin gauge thermoforming process are typically disposable items. Such as the packaging for cosmetics, food transfer containers you get at restaurants or different types of display packaging. Most of these items have one-time use and are disposed of after. They do not need to be robust; they just need to serve a purpose for a short amount of time.
Thermoforming Materials Process
During the thermoforming process, a thin plastic sheet called a thermoplastic is heated until it has reached a point where it is flexible enough to be molded. The heated sheet is placed over a mold where it takes the form of the final object, the thermoplastic sheet is left on the mold for a set amount of time to cool, the plastic is then removed from the mold, and it has now been molded to the desired shape.
Different types of mold cavities
There are two different types of molds in the thermoforming world. A positive tool and a negative tool.
- Positive Tool: A positive tool, also known as a male tool, is an intrusive type of mold. Meaning that the thermoplastic sheet that was previously heated is positioned on top of the mold and it drops down encapsulating the mold within the plastic.
- Negative Tool: The negative mold, also known as a female mold, is a concave mold. The thermoplastic sheet that was heated previously is pulled down into the mold and given its shape from the irregularities on the interior of the mold.
Forming Plastic with AxisNorth
AxisNorth is your single-source solution for all your thermoforming needs. Whether it’s thick gauge or thin gauge thermoforming we have trusted vendors that will help you develop a high-quality product. AxisNorth provides more than just thermoformed plastics, we have capabilities in every single plastic or rubber process. On top of manufacturing processes, we offer additional services such as assembly services, warehousing and logistics, and unbiased global solutions. Ready to start thermoforming plastics for your company?