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What is thermoforming?
Thermoforming is a generic term used to describe a group of processes to produce plastic parts from a flat sheet of plastic under temperature and pressure. A plastic sheet is heated to a pliable forming temperature, formed to a specific shape in a mold, and trimmed to create a usable product. The trimmed material is reground and recycled.
If you are unfamiliar with thermoforming you would be greatly surprised to find out how many thermoformed products you come across in daily life. Thermoforming differs from injection molding, blow molding, rotational molding, as well as other forms of processing plastics.
Contact us to see if your part can be thermoformed.
What are the benefits of thermoforming?
Thermoforming has several advantages over other processes. Thermoforming is efficient and very cost-effective for the production of many plastic parts depending on size, shape, and quantity. Unlike other processes, thermoforming has a much shorter lead time, initial project costs are usually much lower, there is a large freedom of design, small details can be added, pre-colored plastic is available with extensive choice of patterns, textures, and finishes, and provides an excellent part volume/quality ratio.
What is vacuum forming?
Vacuum forming is a process in which a thermoplastic sheet is heated to the appropriate temperature, stretched around or into a mold/pattern, and conformed to the mold by applying vacuum pressure between the mold surface and the plastic sheet. Because heating of the material to be formed is required, vacuum forming is considered a thermoforming process.
What is the difference between thermoforming and vacuum forming?
Vacuum forming is a type of thermoforming; both processes require heating plastic to a malleable temperature and then cooling the plastic into a new form. Vacuum forming is an additional process during thermoforming in which vacuum pressure is used to conform plastic to the mold during forming.
What type of plastics can you thermoform?
Plastics that lend themselves best to thermoforming are: acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene copolymer (ABS), high-impact polystyrene (HIPS), high density polyethylene (HDPE), high molecular weight polyethylene (HMWPE), polypropylene (PP), polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polymethyl methacrylate (or "acrylic") (PMMA), and polyethylene terephthalate modified with CHDM (PETG). Fiber Pad, Inc. will match custom colors and custom textures and will specify other requirements such as FDA approved medical and food material, electrostatic discharge material, and fire retardant material.
When and where does plastic forming fit?
Large panels, housings, enclosures, and similar parts are especially well-suited to the thermoforming process. Tooling costs for these parts is considerably less than injection molding, which may have cost-prohibitive tooling costs. Parts with features mostly confined to one side of the part are best suited to thermoforming, but features on the uncontrolled side of the part may be addressed by trimming or fabrication and assembly.
What kind of cosmetic features can be achieved with thermoforming?
Sharp, crisp detail with close tolerances can be achieved. Undercuts, formed-in texture, formed-in logos, formed-in hardware, and custom colors are just a few of the many features that can be accomplished with thermoforming. This subject is covered in more detail on our design parameters page.
What kind of forming and trim tolerances can Fiber Pad, Inc. hold for my parts?
The following table lists our standard tolerances:
CNC Trimmed Features:
Machined features from a formed surface ± .030"
"Cut to cut" ± .020"
Hole Diameter ± .010" < 2"
How thick of materials does Fiber Pad, Inc. work with?
We typically deal with materials ranging in thickness from .015" to .500".
What types of tooling are used in thermoforming?
Three types of tooling are commonly used:
a) Machined Aluminum Molds
Machined aluminum molds are usually done on CNC machines from generated CAD files and can be either male or female. Typically built for shallow parts with small draw ratios they hold very close tolerances and can be mounted on temperature control bases and used with or without plug assist molds.
b) Cast Aluminum Molds
Cast aluminum molds are cast at a foundry from a pattern machined by Fiber Pad, Inc. from a composite material. The temperature controls are cast into the back and sides of the molds at the foundry. Cast aluminum molds typically are built for parts with large draw ratios and may be male or female and vacuum-form or pressure-form. Features such as texture, loose and pneumatic cores, and inserts are available.
c) Composite/Temporary Molds
For prototyping and short production runs, cost-efficient composite materials are used for mold construction. These molds produce parts that are to be evaluated for fit, form, and function and may be modified to evaluate possible design changes. These molds are for vacuum-forming only and are not temperature controlled. These molds have a limited life.
i) What are male and female molds?
Male and female molds are the only two fundamental types of forms, but they yield significantly different finished parts. The least time consuming and cheapest method is the male or positive mold. This is a form that mimics the final shape of the part, but the part is fabricated over its outer surface. Male molds should be used when fewer than 5-10 parts are being produced. Larger runs usually warrant the time and cost of female molds.
Female or cavity molds are generally more costly, but they offer numerous advantages for medium to large production runs. Finishing time is significantly reduced because every part emerges with a smooth outer surface. Female molds also lend themselves to use with core materials because the outer skin is always a smooth regardless of how inconsistently the core is used inside the part.
What other tooling is required in the thermoforming process?
A vacuum fixture is required when a part must be CNC trimmed. Vacuum fixtures are constructed by taking a reverse impression of the part and mounting this impression into a vacuum box. The trim fixture then holds, under vacuum pressure, each part being CNC trimmed to ensure consistent results. Other tooling specifically required in the forming, trimming, fabrication, and assembly of each part is designed by Fiber Pad, Inc. engineers and constructed by the Fiber Pad, Inc. tooling department.
What is lean manufacturing?
An overall methodology that seeks to minimize the resources required for production by eliminating waste (non-value added activities) that inflate costs, lead times and inventory requirements, while emphasizing the use of preventive maintenance, quality improvement programs, flexible work forces, and production facilities.
What is the typical lead time for a project?
Fiber Pad, Inc. works efficiently to get your perfect product out the door quickly. A typical project can take anywhere between 4-10 weeks to start production. However, lead times can vary based on the complexity of the projects, the lead time of raw materials, and the needs and requirements of each customer. Some extensive projects have taken months to get to final production while our regular customers can enjoy one week turnaround on an order. The best way to determine what your lead time will be is to contact us regarding your project.
What are the typical stages of a project from concept to completion?
The typical steps to a project are as follows:
Design Stage: The customer supplies their own design and Fiber Pad, Inc. generates 3D presentations for their approval. Once a concept is approved, mold engineering drawings are generated.
Prototyping Stage: If required by customer, a prototype mold is generated and samples of the parts are made to judge fit, form, and function and to determine applicable plastic material and color. R&D is done at this stage.
Final Tooling Stage and material ordering: Precision aluminum tooling and all forming and trim fixtures are made and material is ordered based on the size of the tooling.
Production: Upon arrival of custom extruded material, production commences. First time production runs usually take a longer time then re-runs since it takes time to register and document the machine and the set up procedure.
Shipping: Products are shipped either in one lot or warehoused for lot releases as established by customers.
Why should I choose Fiber Pad, Inc. for my plastic forming needs?
Fiber Pad, Inc. has been exceeding customer expectations for over 30 years. We have the experience, expertise, and technology necessary to bring your custom thermoformed part into reality. We pride ourselves on product quality and can provide your turn-key part with minimal lead time. All of these reasons make Fiber Pad, Inc. an excellent choice for your thermoforming provider. We are your best choice because the people of Fiber Pad, Inc. have the desire to provide you with exceptional customer service.
How do I get a free quote?
You already have your product designed. You probably have it as a drawing or CAD and know the dimensions and material that you want to use. We are happy to provide you with a free quote! Just click here.