Productive Ideas Blog

Thermoplastics in Transit Interiors – Weighing the Advantages

Advantages of plastic thermoforming for transportation interiors

Requirements for greater fuel efficiency, the desire of riders for high-quality riding experiences, and the need for enhanced safety have altered mass transportation (mass transit buses, railcars and aerospace) design and manufacturing processes.  Using buses as an example, design teams and OEMs have replaced steel and aluminum components with thermoplastics and thermoplastic composite materials.  Upgrading to thermoplastic components typically results in a 55% weight savings and meets the static loading requirements of the American Public Transportation Association.  With material options that are industry compliant, rigid, and durable, and a manufacturing process that enhances design capability and lead time, thermoplastics are being used more and more in transportation.

Why Reduce Weight?

Because the mass of any vehicle has a direct relationship to fuel consumption, designers continually seek materials that reduce the overall weight of the passenger buses, railcars, aircraft, and other transportation units.  Reducing vehicle weight leads to decreased energy consumption, less brake and tire wear, and lowered emissions.  For example, cutting vehicle weight by 110 pounds reduces 5 g of carbon dioxide emissions per kilometer and increases fuel economy by two percent. (Source: “Vehicle Weight Reduction for Optimal Performance” – DuPont

Modern transportation vehicles are becoming lightweight and fuel-efficient because of the use of thermoplastics for many interior components. Door, wall, and ceiling panels, dashboard surrounds, window masks or shrouds, seatback shells, armrest shells, bulkhead components, luggage racks, and display housings are just a few of the interior components that can be manufactured with the heavy gauge thermoforming process.  While the materials industry as a whole has focused on lightweight solutions, thermoplastics offer a complete answer through a combination of strength, rigidity, and low density.  For example, thermoforming produces components that weigh 30% less than comparable components made from fiberglass and 250%  less than aluminum components. Interior components made from thermoplastics may make up nearly half of the volume of an automobile.  However, those same, now lightweight components, contribute less than 10 percent to the weight of the vehicle. (Source: “A Lighter Future with Thermoplastic Solutions”, Lightweighting World.)

Industry-Compliant Thermoplastics with Emphasis on the Environment

The benefits of thermoplastics go beyond lightweighting.  Interiors for aircraft, coach and city buses, trucks, and passenger rail cars require the use of flame retardant materials that meet smoke and toxicity standards.  More specifically, all coach and city buses in the United States must meet the U.S. Department of Transportation Docket 90 safety specification for flame spread and smoke emissions. Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 302 Fire Test requirements apply to interior trim parts used for trucks.  One example of a material now commonly used for interior aircraft components and interior rail applications is amorphous polyetherimide (PEI). This superior thermoplastic material complies with flame, smoke, and toxicity standards while providing strength and aesthetic appeal Along with meeting compliance standards, PEI thermoplastics also resist damage caused by exposure to halogenated hydrocarbons, alcohols, and aqueous solutions.  In addition, PEI thermoplastics resist warpage when exposed to heat for long durations because of a heat distortion temperature rating of 350o F.

The manufacturing process for fiberglass emits high levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs).  In contrast, the use of very long fiber-reinforced polypropylene (PP VLF) thermoplastic compounds reduces levels of VOCs to compliance with the open air and enclosed application specifications set by international legislation and automotive OEMs. In addition,  the PP VLF thermoplastics meet or surpass standards for odor and fogging.

Parts manufactured from fiberglass cannot be recycled.  However, parts made from PP VLF thermoplastics can be recycled, have a lower life-cycle energy footprint and a lower life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions. Manufacturers of mass transportation components use PP VLF thermoplastics for instrument panels, overhead and center consoles, seating, and storage bins.

Achieve Aesthetic Appeal On Time and Within Budget

Thermoplastics can improve the aesthetic design features of interior components used for mass transportation vehicles at a fraction of the cost required to obtain the same level of complex designs with other manufacturing processes. Low or high gloss surface finishes, custom surface texturing, complex geometric part design, and coloration are all capable, cost feasible, and can be manufactured quickly with the thermoforming process.

In-mold design and decorating enables the manufacturing of these high-level design features, resulting in part construction with consistency, precision, and a negligible impact on part cycle time. While in-mold texturing and pre-textured plastic may require a slightly higher initial investment than a simple design, the process ensures consistent part-to-part aesthetic detailing and minimizes cost by eliminating additional labor or processing.  As a result, in-mold design can produce complex designs and custom surface finishes with a minimal impact on cost and lead time.

The use of thermoplastics in component production also provides the option of producing plastics with coloration.  Thermoplastic providers can produce integral colored materials that resist stains, graffiti, and chemicals and that do not chip or vary in tone or color.  Moreover, using integral colored plastic eliminates the added cost and lead time of post-production painting. Coloration allows manufacturers to achieve a desired color finish and precise color matching along with durability.  The technique also allows providers to offer thermoplastic components that have specialty finishes, such as wood grain or metallic patterns and overlays, for a greater range of design capability.

Aesthetic appeal also is achieved through geometry and a seamless appearance.  Thermoformed materials respond to the desire for design freedom through the versatility in the fabrication process, pliability, and the capability to transfer imaginative design to a usable product. Manufacturers can take advantage of the thermoforming process to build complex geometric designs with precise part mating and give the appearance of nearly seamless multi-part assemblies.  Again, these complex designs are accounted for within the part’s tooling, with minimal impact on cost or lead time.

Productive Plastics is a heavy gauge thermoforming custom components manufacturer, with vast experience with thermoplastic manufacturing for transportation applications. Contact us for more information.

 

Please contact Productive Plastics for more information on the thermoforming process
Please download our complimentary thermoforming design guide for more information on the thermoforming process

Plastic Thermoforming for Transportation Interiors

Plastic Thermoforming Applications for Transportation InteriorsIf you have traveled within North America on mass transportation in the last 3 to 4 decades, specifically on rail or bus, then you are familiar with the typical outdated interior layout and design of most transportation vehicles in the USA.

Often you will see off-white or beige-colored fiberglass wall paneling, seating, and window masking, likely chipped or cracked at many corners or high traffic areas. Some of these components may be constructed from scratched and dented sheet metal with exposed fasteners and attachment points. The design features are lacking aesthetic appeal or any integrated technology. Boxy, straight-lined components cover the interior with large gaps between mated parts. This is all standard fare for commuter mass transit, railcar, or passenger bus interiors and has been for the past 30 years or more.

Most of the transportation interiors in the USA, except for aerospace, were designed and manufactured in the mid to later part of the last century. These interior components were most commonly manufactured from materials such as fiberglass and sheet metal. The old parts are heavy, require frequent maintenance due to durability issues, and lack modern design aesthetics. In short, the time has arrived for major updates and upgrades in this market.

In fact, over the past few years, the upgrade trend has already started as industry and environmental compliance standards have evolved and the demand has increased for more efficient, lightweight, and modern passenger transportation vehicles and interior designs. Rail, bus, and other mass transit manufacturers are now looking to take advantage of available new processes and innovations to develop the next generation of transportation interiors.

Thermoplastic materials and the plastic thermoforming process are uniquely suited to the emerging needs of the transportation interiors industry, offering extremely lightweight and durable materials that meet industry standards such as FST, Doc 90, and FMVSS 302. The thermoforming process also enables a much higher design flexibility for interior components at a very attainable cost. Features such as undercuts, advanced tooling, and tooling imbedded surface finish options make benefits like complex geometric parts, closely mated component assemblies, surface texturing, and a wide variety of paint free pre-colored material options available to designers and engineers. Such benefits are not achievable or cost prohibitive with many other manufacturing processes.

This blog and our email newsletters will take a deeper look into plastic thermoforming and its applications for the transportation interiors industry over the next few months.

Also, if you haven’t already done so, please download our Fiberglass to Plastic Thermoforming Comparison and Conversion Guide, Metal to Plastic Thermoforming Comparison and Conversion Guide, or Heavy Gauge Plastic Thermoforming Process and Design Guide for more comprehensive information on plastic thermoforming capabilities and solutions.

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Download Metal vs. Plastic Thermoforming - Comparision and Conversion Guide from Productive Plastics

Download our NEW Metal vs Plastic Thermoforming Comparison and Conversion Guide

 

Download Productive Plastics Metal vs Plastic Thermoforming Comparison and Conversion Guide

The team at Productive Plastics has put together a comparison guide for converting parts and components from metal to plastic thermoforming. The guide is full of useful information from basic overviews to technical comparison data on materials and processing.

What you will find inside the guide:

  • Metal and Plastic Thermoforming Process Overviews
  • Material Weight Comparison
  • Process and Material Performance Comparisons
  • Materials and other Considerations
  • Upgrading your Metal Application to Plastic Thermoforming

Follow the link below to instantly download a PDF copy of the Metal vs Plastic Thermoforming – Comparison and Conversion Guide

Download Metal vs. Plastic Thermoforming - Comparision and Conversion Guide from Productive Plastics

Metal vs. Plastic: 5 Key Comparisons

Metal vs. Plastic - 5 Key Comparisons
Metal versus plastic is an old argument and it’s likely that you or your company have previously compared them for past projects. However, innovations in both plastic materials and process capabilities, coupled with changes in industry demands have closed many of the physical and cost performance gaps that once existed between metal and plastic.

Many industries, such as aerospace, medical devices, and mass transit, are realizing the potential of the updated advantages of replacing large scale, interior, or enclosure metal parts with plastic materials and manufacturing processes, such as thermoplastic materials and the plastic thermoforming process.

Below are 5 key comparisons to consider for METAL VS PLASTIC:

1. Weight

Heavy weight equals heavier costs. Fuel efficiency, maintenance costs, logistics, installation – all see significant cost reductions in tandem with a decreased part weight. Referencing the chart below, you can see that this is a major advantage that plastic has over metal.

If you were to take a part made from steel and compare it to the same part made from thermoplastic, the plastic part could be more than 6 times lighter.

Take that same part, now manufactured with aluminum, and the plastic version would be approximately half the weight.

Plastics / Composites Specific Gravity
Acetal copolymer 1.41
Acetal, 20% glass composite 1.55
High-impact ABS 1.03
Polycarbonate 1.19
Polyethermide 1.27
Polymethylpentene 0.83
Metals Specific Gravity
Aluminum 2.55 – 2.80
Carbon Steel 7.8
Cast Iron 7.03 – 7.13
Cast Rolled Brass 8.4 – 8.7
Copper 8.89
Stainless Steel 7.7
Titanium 4.5
Tool Steel 7.70 – 7.73
Tungsten Carbide 14.29

The Specific Gravity – SG – is a dimensionless unit defined as the ratio of density of the material to the density of water at a specified temperature.

(There are a multitude of grade and alloy variations of steel and aluminum, and there are just as many diverse formulations of plastic material. For more accurate weight comparisons, reference the specific material manufacturer’s data sheets for the applicable materials for your project – view plastic material datasheets.)

2. Strength-to-Weight Ratio

In the past, one of the biggest roadblocks to replacing metal parts with plastic was that plastic, while much lighter, could not compete with the strength characteristics of metal. Now, with advances in plastic composites and the addition of carbon fiber or other glass fibers to plastic material formulations, thermoplastic products can perform as well as and in some cases even outperform metal in ratios such as strength-to-weight and strength-to-stiffness.

Strength-to-Weight Ratio, also known as Specific Strength, is a material’s strength (force per unit area at failure) divided by its density.

When referencing the chart below note that examples of thermoplastic reside in the composite and polymer categories and that this data may not include all thermoplastic material products, many of which are specially formulated to compete with metal and alloys in strength and stiffness. Data for these materials can be found on thermoplastic material manufacture websites.

Source – By Nicoguaro – Own work, CC BY 4.0

3. Strength-to-Stiffness Ratio

Strength-to-Stiffness Ratio, also called Specific Modulus, is a material’s property consisting of the elastic modulus per mass density of a material.

4. Production/Lead Time

Whether you’re trying to meet a deadline or fill orders for an increase in demand, time to market can be an essential factor to the success of any project. With a dramatically less labor intensive process, plastic thermoforming can save production time, energy, labor, and cost compared to manufacturing components from metal processes.

 

Plastic Thermoforming Process Metal Fabrication Process
Plastic Thermoforming Process metal vs plastic thermoforming process
• Programing

• Tooling construction

• Automated part forming

• Robotic part trimming

• Part finishing (bonding attachment points)

• Fixture/die construction

• Programing

• Cutting, bending, welding

•Cleaning welds, finishing

• Paint preparation

• Painting

5. Design Capability and Cost

You don’t have to watch the sheet metal fabrication process for very long to take away the fact that metal can difficult to work with and shape. Even with today’s technology, metal’s inherent characteristics prohibit complex part designs or shapes, such as compound curves or fluid designs from either a material capability or cost limitation.part complexity cost comparison chart metal vs plastic

Shaping a metal part can require die work, welding, grinding, rework, or bending on each individual part produced to achieve design specifications and desired look. In addition to greatly increasing production and lead times as mentioned above, as part design complexity increases, part cost increases at an exponential rate.

The same increase in part design complexity has a relatively minimal impact on the cost of a part manufactured with the plastic thermoforming process.  This is because complex designs, shapes, branding, and surface textures can be incorporated directly into a part’s tooling. While this may add a slight increase in the upfront tooling cost of the part’s production, it will not add any additional secondary or shaping labor operations that would affect part cost or production time. This method and the nature of thermoplastic also offer a much larger scope of design complexity capabilities and options that are unavailable to metal manufactured parts (see Thermoforming Material Selection: 5 Ways Thermoplastic Materials Can Influence Product Appearance).

Productive Plastics is a heavy gauge thermoforming custom component manufacturer, including vacuum forming and pressure forming processes. Contact us or request our complimentary thermoforming design guide for more information.

Please contact Productive Plastics for more information on the thermoforming process
Please download our complimentary thermoforming design guide for more information on the thermoforming process

 

Should You Upgrade Your Sheet Metal Parts and Enclosures to Plastic Thermoforming?

Plastic Thermoforming vs Metal
The heavy gauge thermoforming process offers key advantages as an upgraded replacement for many parts currently manufactured from metal. Weight reduction is a key advantage – plastic parts are lighter than metal. Further, custom plastic thermoforming can be used to produce complex geometric part shapes that are not possible with sheet metal at a feasible cost, allowing greater design freedom. This versatility gives manufacturers faster design and production cycles, while also providing the opportunity for innovation with structure and design. Additionally, thermoforming can eliminate the need for secondary part finishing. The industrial market demands lightweight and durable products and high levels of customization, with an eye towards environmental concerns about the use of recyclable materials. Custom heavy gauge thermoforming meets these demands better than sheet metal.

The Impact of Thermoplastics on Industries

Thermoforming can present a substantial upgrade over traditional sheet metal fabrication, metal stamping, metal spinning, and metal casting manufacturing processes and materials. Although sheet metal fabrication exists as a low-cost method for producing parts, the use of sheet metal sacrifices flexibility in design, capabilities, and application. Complex parts manufactured with sheet metal require secondary processes that can involve cutting, bending, welding, and bolting. Producing the same part with thermoforming can eliminate these secondary processes by easily incorporating complex 3D part designs, mating points, and various surface finishes and branding directly into the part’s tooling.

Medical Device with Plastic Thermoformed Enclosure

Large medical device with plastic thermoformed enclosure. Complex shape design and continuous design lines spanning over multiple parts.

The same differences become apparent when comparing metal stamping, metal spinning, and metal die-casting with thermoforming. Manufacturers use bending and stamping to produce low-cost parts that have a simple geometry. Any attempt to add complexity to a part requires additional assembly steps and cost. The unique process of metal spinning forms complex shapes from aluminum, steel, alloys, and other metals. Rotating a disc or tube of metal at high speeds produces axially symmetric parts and improves the tensile strength of the metal. Metal die-casting produces parts that have high heat resistance, high strength and stiffness, and low thermal expansion qualities.

In contrast, thermoforming provides higher rates of production with a level of detail and complexity that greatly exceeds the capabilities of metal processes. For example, the application of plastic thermoformed enclosures, housings, and covers for medical diagnostic equipment shortens the development and production cycles. Moreover, the use of thermoformed materials establishes lower cost tooling for applications that must comply with global safety standards.

Weight Considerations – Plastic Thermoforming vs. Metal

Plastic thermoforming allows manufacturers to use materials that have a lower density and thinner walls. Both qualities allow weight-conscious industries such as automotive and aerospace manufacturing to achieve significant weight reduction while retaining strength and durability. The use of thermoplastics improves fuel economy and reduces emissions with decreased weight and lowered friction losses in the powertrain. Reducing the weight of gears causes a reduction in inertia and an increase in automotive efficiency. The use of thermoplastics also reduces noise and vibration levels.

For electrical components, the capability to produce strong, lightweight parts also promotes the production of lightweight, wall-mounted or pole-mounted enclosures. Using thermoformed plastics for the electrical enclosures allows easier lifting than seen with aluminum or steel enclosures. When comparing the weights of thermoformed objects to metal objects, noticeable differences exist. With two same-sized objects constructed from polycarbonate and fiberglass, the polycarbonate object weighs approximately ½ pound less. An aluminum same-sized object will weigh twice the amount, an object made from steel will weigh more than six times as much.

The following chart depicts the differences in specific gravity density for different types of thermoplastic and metal materials. Specific gravity equals the ratio of density of the material to the density of water at 39°F. Because the thermoplastics shown in the chart have superior strength-to-weight ratios than the metals, the lighter thermoplastics have equivalent strength and stiffness.

Material Specific Gravity
High-impact ABS 1.03
Polycarbonate 1.19
Acetal copolymer 1.41
Aluminum 2.55 – 2.80
Cast Iron 7.03 – 7.13
Titanium 4.5
Cast Rolled Brass 8.4 – 8.7
Stainless Steel 7.7
Copper 8.89
Carbon Steel 7.8
Tool Steel 7.70 – 7.73
Tungsten Carbide 14.29

 

Durability Comparisons – Plastic Thermoforming vs. Metal Manufacturing

Polycarbonate has become a popular alternative for enclosures because of its strength and durability. The durability and impact resistance of polycarbonate allows the use of enclosures in all types of weather and environmental conditions in industries such as oil exploration, agricultural irrigation, wind turbines, and maritime. A polycarbonate enclosure has a tensile strength of 900 pounds per square inch and has a high impact resistance. In addition, polycarbonate enclosures resist damage caused by ultraviolet rays and have high NEMA ratings for dust and moisture protection.

Time and Cost Savings Achieved with Thermoplastics

Medical Device with plastic thermoformed enclosure

Medical device enclosure manufactured and assembled from multiple plastic thermoformed parts

While a stainless steel enclosure offers the same resistance, stainless steel costs three times more than polycarbonate. The cost comparison between thermoplastics and metals goes beyond direct monetary costs and includes indirect costs such as time. Again, using polycarbonate enclosures as an example, thermoplastics offer the advantage of easy modification. Machining a stainless-steel enclosure requires special tools and additional time.

The weight reduction seen with a polycarbonate enclosure also factors into time and cost savings. Rather than requiring two installers for the attachment of an outdoor stainless steel enclosure, the installation of a polycarbonate enclosure requires only one installer. In addition, the shipping costs for lighter weight polycarbonate enclosures are lower than the shipping costs for metal enclosures.

Direct cost savings with thermoplastics occur through repeatable manufacturing processes that produce less scrap. Given the durability of thermoplastic materials, tools and parts have a much longer service life. Manufacturing costs also decrease because of the design flexibility to consolidate parts and to produce complex mechanisms without secondary processes. Because of the numerous thermoplastic options, manufactures can carefully select materials that optimize manufacturing to production ratios and reduce lead times.

Summary

Thermoplastics have replaced the use of carbon steel, stainless steel, titanium, aluminum, magnesium, brass, and bronze in many industrial applications. Along with weight reduction, thermoplastics offer enhanced performance, greater design freedom, and decreased total system costs. Enhanced performance occurs through corrosion resistance, lower friction, increased fuel efficiency, and the capability to handle large loads at higher speeds in harsh environments.

Thermoplastics have become standard materials for parts such as medical diagnostics equipment components, enclosures, fender wells, rear bumpers, seating and interior trim components, window masks, wall paneling, decorative signs, and construction cab interiors.  Heavy gauge thermoforming eases the process of manufacturing those components by forming a two-dimensional rigid sheet of thermoplastic into a three-dimensional shape that fits industrial needs and standards.  Intricate designs with molded colors and textures occur at lower costs and with faster production cycles.

 

Productive Plastics is top contract manufacturer for heavy gauge thermoforming, including vacuum forming and pressure forming. Contact us or request our complimentary thermoforming design guide for more information.

Please contact Productive Plastics for more information on the thermoforming process
Please download our complimentary thermoforming design guide for more information on the thermoforming process

 

Manufacturing the Right Team to Better Serve You

I am pleased to announce the addition of Carl Foehner Associates to the sales team at Productive Plastics.

Carl has over 40 years of experience in the plastics industry, with the greater part of his career invested in engineering sales and supporting thermoforming technology. His diverse experience in disciplines paramount to our industry enable Carl to provide insight and guidance to customers during the entire development process; from product design to final production.

Carl will be working closely with our VP of Sales, John Zerillo and the rest of the Productive Plastics team to bring our customers the highest level of service, quality manufacturing, product development, and rapid solutions for the production of custom plastic thermoformed components.

I invite you to connect with Carl to discuss how Productive Plastics can contribute to your project’s success.

Regards,

Evan Gilham
COO | Productive Plastics

Carl Foehner | Carl Foehner Associates
Office 973-506-7091
Mobile 201-220-1207
carl@carlfoehner.com

Productive Plastics
103 West Park Dr. Mt. Laurel, NJ 08054
Office (856) 778-4300
www.productiveplastics.com

Productive Plastics is top contract manufacturer for heavy gauge thermoforming, including vacuum forming and pressure forming. Contact us or request our complimentary thermoforming design guide for more information.

Please contact Productive Plastics for more information on the thermoforming process
Please download our complimentary thermoforming design guide for more information on the thermoforming process

Seasons Greetings – Help Productive Plastics Spread Holiday Cheer!

Productive Plastics is looking for your help. In a effort to provide you with better solutions for your custom plastic thermoformed parts and projects, we reach out to professionals in the industry each year, seeking feedback on your experiences with either our company or other custom manufacturers.

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We have put together a short 5 minute survey that will help us understand what facets of the custom component manufacturing process are key contributors or challenges to the success of your projects.

In recognition of your time and in the spirit of giving this time of year, Productive Plastics will make a $5 donation tothe Lifesong for Orphans organization for every completed survey.

Your feedback matters and has a direct impact on how we do business

– Expanding manufacturing, material, and engineering capabilities
– Investment in new technologies
– Pricing structure adjustments
– Quality control improvements
– Lead time reducing process improvements
– Customer service and support communication

All and more are influenced by your responses.

We want to hear from you

– Owners and C-suite Executives
– Design, Project, and Sustaining Engineers
– Quality Assurance
– Project Management
– Buyers / Commodity Managers

Your input will help the team at Productive Plastics provide better solutions to your custom plastic thermoforming needs and support a truly charitable organization. Thank you in advance for your help.

Lifesong for Orphans is a faith based organization that helps orphan children in need all over the world. Please visit their website for more information on this amazing organization. http://www.lifesongfororphans.org/

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(Productive Plastics will donate $5 to the Lifesong for Orphans organization for every survey completed up to a maximum of $1000. One survey completion per person and/or computer will be counted for donation purposes)

Download our NEW Fiberglass vs Plastic Thermoforming Comparison and Conversion Guide

Download the NEW fiberglass vs plastic thermoforming comparison and conversion guide

Here are a few questions that we hear regularly at Productive Plastics regarding fiberglass and plastic thermoforming.

What is the difference between the fiberglass and plastic thermoforming manufacturing process?

How do plastic thermoformed parts compare to fiberglass molded parts?

What are the benefits and process of converting my part from fiberglass to thermoforming?

To answer these common questions and help you determine which process best meets the needs of your project, the team at Productive Plastics has put together a comparison and conversion guide for fiberglass vs plastic thermoforming. The guide is full of useful information from basic process overviews to technical comparison data on material and processing.

What you will find inside the guide:

 

  • Fiberglass and Plastic Thermoforming Process Overviews
  • Tooling and Process Comparisons
  • Weight Considerations
  • Cost, Material Properties, and other Considerations
  • Upgrading your Application to Plastic Thermoforming

Follow the link below to instantly download a PDF copy of the Fiberglass vs Plastic Thermoforming – Comparison and Conversion Guide

dowload-fiberglass-guide-icon

 

5 Key Points in the Process of Upgrading Parts from Fiberglass to Plastic Thermoforming

Transitioning your product manufacturing process from fiberglass to plastic thermoforming can allow you to capitalize on some major upgrades, benefits, and cost savings for your project. (See some of the advantages of plastic thermoforming vs. fiberglass in a previous post).

However, the process of transitioning from one manufacturing material and process to another, and doing it correctly, may be more complex than simply handing over the existing design and tooling. Below are the basic steps and considerations for the transition process that Productive Plastics has found to help ensure you get the best results from the conversion.

5-key-points-process-of-upgrading-fiberglass-to-plastic-thermoforming

  1. Choosing the right plastic thermoforming manufacturer and process
    1. Plastic thermoforming encompasses a number of sub processes such as vacuum and pressure forming. Consult with your thermoformer to aid in selecting the ideal process for your application. Visit our thermoforming process pages for more information on each process.
    2. Select a thermoforming contract manufacturer experienced in processing a wide variety of material options with a strong understanding of those material properties.
    3. Choose a manufacturer with experience in converting applications from fiberglass to plastic thermoforming to avoid common pitfalls that can delay or increase the cost of the transition.
    4. Strong consideration should be given to a manufacturer with in house design engineers. The onsite expertise will help to ensure a smooth technical transition from fiberglass to plastic thermoforming.
    5. Select a manufacturer that is up to date with best practice methodology such as ISO, Lean Manufacturing, Six Sigma, etc.
  2. Adapting your existing product design to the plastic thermoforming process
    1. Manufacturing techniques, process capabilities, and material properties differ from fiberglass to plastic thermoforming. This is a good thing. The differences are what motivated you to consider converting your product in the first place. These differences will, more than likely, necessitate modifications to your existing design and tooling to meet your product’s needs and to maximize the advantages available with the thermoforming process.
    2. A design engineer, with plastic thermoforming experience, can adapt your product’s design to harness the benefits of the thermoforming process. (Productive Plastics utilizes our experienced in-house design engineers to help our customers with process conversions).
      1. Tighter part tolerances
      2. Reduction in part wall thickness
      3. Complex or aesthetic design enhancements unachievable or not cost effective with fiberglass
      4. Textured surface finish
      5. Lighter weight than FRP
      6. Consistent surface gloss
  1. Material selection
    1. An important consideration when manufacturing a thermoformed plastic part is the selection of appropriate material. There are a multitude of different types of plastic materials, each with their own specific characteristics, properties, strengths, and weaknesses. Communicating your product’s requirements and industry material standards early in the conversion process will allow your thermoformer to assist in selecting the ideal material for the application. Learn more about thermoforming material considerations and options.
  2. Tooling
    1. Properly designed and constructed tooling sets the foundation for tight tolerances and a high quality part. This becomes increasingly more important for complex and multi-part designs. Having your existing tooling evaluated by your thermoforming contract manufacturer as early in the transition process as possible can have a large impact on the lead time of your first part run.
    2. Choose a thermoforming contract manufacturer experienced with tooling materials options and processes to assure the right tool choice for your application and product life.
  3. Prototype testing
    1. Prototype development should be considered with a testing plan that includes dimensional as well as properties evaluation. Engaging in early involvement, support, and collaboration with a thermoforming manufacturer, like Productive Plastics, can aid in creating a successful verification plan.

Productive Plastics is top contract manufacturer for heavy gauge thermoforming, including vacuum forming and pressure forming. Contact us or request our complimentary thermoforming design guide for more information.

Please contact Productive Plastics for more information on the thermoforming process
Please download our complimentary thermoforming design guide for more information on the thermoforming process

Plastic Thermoforming versus Fiberglass (GRP/FRP)

Both plastic thermoforming and fiberglass molding can be used to make applications for a multitude of industries. However, blended polycarbonate and the plastic thermoforming process used to manufacture parts from this material have some very distinct advantages over fiberglass that should be considered for new and existing product designs.

plastic-thermofroming-vs-fiberglass-frp_grp

Lightweight

Heavy weight is high cost. This has been a tenant in the aviation industry for a long time and is slowly being adopted by rest of the transportation and other industries as factors affecting operating costs and environmental impact are examined. Lighter weight offers savings in both fuel and energy consumption, and decreases carbon footprint and operating costs. For example, a reduction of 800 lbs (~360 kg) to an average city transit bus can equate to a 2-3% savings in fuel consumption, according to a 2010 study conducted by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Additional benefits are a tangible increase in the life of vehicle components, such as brakes and propulsion systems.

Thermoformed plastic is lightweight and can offer a substantially reduced part weight when compared to fiberglass. Depending on the type of thermoplastic polycarbonate blended material used and a few other factors, the average thermoformed part is 30% lighter than their fiberglass equivalents. A fact reinforced by comparing specific gravity weights of raw material product on industry material provider websites from companies such as Covestro and SEKISUI SPI.

Overall Manufacturing Cost is Lower and Lead Times Faster

The manufacturing process of a fiberglass reinforced plastic part is relatively complex and labor intensive. Production often requires multiple tools to complete necessary production cycles of a single part. This increases both tooling and labor costs, and results in a relatively lengthy production time required to generate a finished piece.

The thermoforming process, on the other hand, is highly automated, relatively simple, and typically requires less labor. Most applications utilize only a single tool per part. Consequently, lead times tend to be shorter, and the tooling and labor costs are reduced when compared to the fiberglass molding process. From a purely process perspective, thermoforming is often both faster and cheaper than the fiberglass counterpart in smaller production volumes of 250-3000 parts annually.

Greater Design Freedom and Aesthetic Flexibility

One of the unique characteristics of the thermoforming process and material is its ability to produce extremely detailed and complex parts. Diverse surface texturing options, precise tolerances for mated parts, and complex geometry design are just a few of the possible applications that are otherwise difficult or costly to fabricate with fiberglass. The availability of colored plastic raw material can, in most cases, also remove the additional cost and time associated with the secondary process of part gel coating or painting. These advantages give designers the freedom to create complex modern designs that are more aesthetically pleasing and functional.

Environmentally Friendly and Industry Compliant

As companies and passengers become more eco conscious and industry standards and government regulations increase, thermoplastic material providers have responded by creating products able to meet the challenging demands of regulated industries, such as mass transit and aviation markets. Thermoplastic raw material providers have a variety of blended polycarbonate and other thermoplastic options that are compliant with U.S. and European industry standards. Thermoplastic materials are also recyclable and VOC free, a trait generally not shared in fiberglass processing.

Extremely Durable

Thermoplastic polycarbonate blends are, on average, 4 times more impact resistant than traditional fiberglass. The flexible and durable nature of thermoformed plastic material allows impact forces to be deflected over the materials surface, allowing the material to recover from impacts that would otherwise crack the more rigid and unyielding material of a fiberglass part. The benefits are an increase in part life and a reduction in part replacement and maintenance costs. Most thermoplastic is also highly resistance to stains, chemical cleaners, and graffiti.

With many material options and manufacturing processes available, each with their own set of pros and cons, there is no shortage of choice when it comes to your application. While thermoformed polycarbonate blends may not be the answer for every product, it quite clearly provides solutions for many markets that other materials and manufacturing processes are hard pressed to match.

Productive Plastics is top contract manufacturer for heavy gauge thermoforming, including vacuum forming and pressure forming. Contact us or request our complimentary thermoforming design guide for more information.

Please contact Productive Plastics for more information on the thermoforming process
Please download our complimentary thermoforming design guide for more information on the thermoforming process