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Manufacturing the Team to Provide you with the Best Plastic Thermoforming Solutions

I am pleased to announce the addition of Cody Brewer as our Business Development Manager to the team at Productive Plastics.

Cody has over 7 years of experience in the process engineering and sales industry, with the greater part of his career invested in manufacturing process improvements and supporting production and engineering operations. His diverse experience in disciplines paramount to our industry enable Cody to provide insight and guidance to customers during the entire development process; from product design to finished components in your hands.

Cody will be working closely with myself and the rest of the Productive Plastics team to bring you the highest level of service, quality manufacturing, product development, and rapid solutions for the production of custom plastic thermoformed components and assemblies.

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

Regards,
John Zerillo
VP Sales | Productive Plastics

Cody Brewer
Business Development Manager
Productive Plastics
103 West Park Dr
Mt Laurel NJ, 08054
Cell: 1-(609)-280-0040
Office: 1-(856)-778-4300 Ext. 202
E-Mail:CBrewer@Productivecompanies.com

Weighing in on Product Material Selection – Plastic, Metal, or Fiberglass

Regardless of the industry your product serves, whether it includes seating components or wall paneling for  bus, rail, or aircraft, requires enclosures or parts for medical devices, or is designed with exterior casings for industrial equipment and electrical components, lightweight material has become essential to creating the ideal product that meets the needs of the end user.

Lightweight offers numerous advantages

Reduced fuel and energy costs – mass of a vehicle has a direct relationship to fuel and energy consumption

Lowered emissions – reduced fuel and energy consumption equates to lower emissions

Reduced maintenance costs – reduction in mass correlates to longer life of components due to less load bearing stress over time (moving and mechanical components, brakes, tires, propulsion systems)

Reduced logistical costs – lighter weight parts are less expensive and easier to install, ship, relocate, or handle

Weight Comparison – Thermoplastic, Fiberglass, and Metal

Lower material specific gravity (mass) means the finished component will be lighter and contribute to a lower overall product weight. There are countless variations and formulations of thermoplastic, fiberglass, and metal materials, each with its own unique specific gravity (details can be found on material manufacturers’ websites and material data sheets). However, if you look at the average weight of some of the most common brands and types of materials available, you can derive some basic comparisons.

Plastic thermoformed parts are 6 times lighter than steel and half the weight of aluminum.

Plastic thermoformed parts are 30 – 40% lighter than fiberglass counterparts.

thermoplastic, metal, and fiberglass average specific gravity and weight comparisson

If reducing your product’s weight is an important factor in your industry, then thermoplastic and the thermoforming process should be a consideration for your current or future projects.

Please download our complimentary material – process comparison guides and conversion guides — for more information. They are full of data that is valuable to decision makers, design engineers and every member of an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) project team

Productive Plastics is more than just a plastic thermoforming manufacturer. We strive to be your advisor throughout the entire product development process by bringing over 60 years of process, design, material, and finishing expertise to assist in manufacturing your component parts and products in the best and lightest way. Contact Us for further assistance or to request a quote.

Heavy vs thin gauge plastic thermoforming – what’s the difference?

The dimensional difference between heavy gauge thermoforming (sometimes referred to as thick gauge or sheet fed thermoforming ) and thin gauge (also referred to as roll fed) thermoforming may only start as a few tenths of an inch in part thickness, but the manufacturing techniques, machinery required, and scope of applications that the two are best suited for are quite distinct from one another.

Additionally, because the machinery required is unique for each process category, most plastic thermoforming manufacturers specialize in only one or the other. For instance, Productive Plastics is a custom heavy gauge plastic thermoforming manufacturer. So, you can save some time when searching for a processor if you know which category of thermoforming is the right solution for your application.

Here are the essential differences between heavy and thin gauge plastic thermoforming:

Plastic Thermoforming Heavy Gauge Thin Gauge
Manufactured Part Thickness (approximate) .060 -.375″ 1.5 – 9.5 mm < .125” < 3mm
Machinery Type Sheet Fed Roll Fed
Thermoplastic Materials Used (Most Common) ABS
Polycarbonate
HDPE
Polypropylene (many material variants available)
PETG
PET
Clear PVC
Styrene
Polypropylene  
Annual Volume Low – Mid Volume < 10,000 High Volume > 10,000
Typical Applications -Medical device enclosures
-Transportation interior parts (window masks, wall and ceiling panels, seating, luggage racks)
-Kiosk enclosures
-Industrial equipment covers
-Electronic equipment enclosures
-Clamshell packaging
-Food service packaging
-Disposable cups, plates, and trays
-Food containers
-Small medical device packaging

Does your application favor heavy gauge thermoforming? If so, contact us or download our Heavy Gauge Plastic Thermoforming Design Guide for more detailed  information on the features and benefits of plastic thermoforming and to explore how Productive Plastics can provide manufacturing solutions for your product.

Please contact Productive Plastics for more information on the thermoforming process
Please download the heavy gauge thermoforming design guide from Productive Plastics

Plastic Thermoforming, Pressure Forming, and Vacuum Forming – What’s the Difference?

The terms “plastic thermoforming”, “pressure  forming”, and “vacuum forming” are all used to describe plastic forming processes. While similar, there are subtle and important differences in these terms and processes that may not be well known outside of the plastic manufacturing industry.

Here is a brief breakdown to get you talking thermoforming like a pro in less than a minute:

Plastic Thermoforming is the generic broad label given to the plastic manufacturing process that heats thermoplastic sheet material (thermo) and then applies pressure or vacuum to form into a 3-dimensional shape (forming).

Pressure and Vacuum Forming are the 2 most common plastic thermoforming manufacturing techniques, under the umbrella of plastic thermoforming. They differ primarily in the method of applying pressure/vacuum to transform the heated plastic sheet into the desired 3-dimensional shape.

Pressure Forming Process

Pressure Forming Process

Vacuum Forming Process

Vacuum Forming Process
 

Plastic Thermoforming


 

Pressure Forming

Vacuum Forming

 Pressure Forming IllustrationVacuum forming Illustration
Process DescriptionSheet thermoplastic material is heated until pliable. Positive pressure is then applied above the heated sheet, pressing the material into the surface of a mold to create the desired 3-dimensional part shape.

 

Full Disclosure – The air under the sheet is also evacuated to assist in stretching the material over the mold, but the positive pressure applied is up to 5x greater.

Sheet thermoplastic material is heated until pliable and placed over a mold. The air is then evacuated between the heated sheet and mold creating a vacuum that pulls the material onto the surface of the mold to create the desired 3-dimensional part shape.

 

 

Watch a 1-minute video of a part being vacuum formed.

Key Benefits
  • Aesthetic surface finishes (texture, branding, in mold design)
  • Often eliminates need for post-production painting
  • High level of detail (rivals injection molding)
  • Tighter radius formation
  • Greater undercut depth and definition
  • In mold vents, louver, and attachment point geometry
  • Larger part capability
  • Faster cycle times
  • Lower tooling costs
ToolingNegative  toolingPositive  tooling (typically)
 

 

Primary Part Surface (Dimensional & Aesthetic)

 

 

 

Outside (part surface contacting the tool)

 

 

Inside (part surface contacting the tool)

Application Examples
  • Device Enclosures (medical, dental, kiosk, electrical, etc.)
  • Transportation (air, mass transit, rail) interior components (seating, window masks, wall and ceiling paneling, etc)
  • Material handling equipment interior components
  • Recreation and utility vehicle components
  • Food service components
  • Handling trays and dunnage
  • Pick up truck bedliners
  • Waste water management components
  • Portable toilet components
  • Large equipment enclosures
  • Agricultural related equipment and components

In addition to pressure forming and vacuum forming, there are other methods, such as twin sheet thermoforming (to be covered in a future post), that give plastic thermoforming a vast portfolio of manufacturing capabilities that offer product solutions to a wide range of industries and applications. Plastic thermoforming often outperforms other processes and materials such as fiberglass (FRP) , metal, or injection molding.

Want to learn more about which plastic thermoforming process is the right solution for your project?

Please contact us.

Please contact Productive Plastics for more information on the thermoforming process

5 Questions to discover if your manufacturer can produce high quality parts, time and time again?

The heavy gauge plastic thermoforming process can produce a very versatile range of highly detailed, durable, and tight tolerance parts with almost limitless design possibilities. The process is fast, cost effective, and ideally suited for a large list of markets and applications. However, like all manufacturing processes, plastic thermoforming requires technical expertise, detailed operating procedures, engineered tooling design and construction, and a comprehensive quality management system to ensure the consistent production of the most cost-effective solutions at the desired level of quality.

As such, not every plastic thermoforming processor is equally capable. Contract manufacturers with poor tooling, processing and quality controls can end up delaying your project or OEM product and increase costs.  Productive Plastics recommends asking the following questions to gauge if a custom plastic manufacturer will be able to consistently produce parts at your required level of quality and dimension tolerances.

1. Does the manufacturer have an accredited quality control program?

ISO9001-2015-Certification-Productive Plastics

Ensuring that your manufacturer has adopted an accredited quality control program, such as ISO 9001, will indicate that the company has an active quality control process in place that has been evaluated and certified by an industry recognized third party. The accreditation documentation, often available on the manufacturer’s website, will give you detailed information on what aspects of the company have been certified and supporting quality documentation can often be requested from the processor.

2. Is the manufacturer’s facility organized and clean?

This may seem like a trivial point, but it can be a key indicator to a company’s commitment to quality. A company with a well-organized manufacturing floor is much more likely to take quality, efficiency, process improvement, and safety seriously. If you are not offered a tour of the facility, ask for ne and witness firsthand the quality control measures in action. Cleanliness and organization are vital since thermoforming is an “open mold process” meaning airborne dirt could end up as an inclusion in the finished part and become a cosmetic flaw.

3. Does the contract manufacturer utilize efficient manufacturing methodologies and conduct process improvement events, such as Lean Manufacturing and Kaizen events?

Lean Manufacturing practices are focused on the removal of inefficient practices in manufacturing, management, and administration operations and part of the methodology is the regular evaluation of current processes with emphasis on continual improvement. Companies that are committed to following Lean Manufacturing techniques often have a very efficient manufacturing operation, state of the art equipment, and produce quality parts with a low rejection rate.

4. Does the thermoforming processor have dedicated engineering experts on staff (in-house) to provide tooling design and construction project management?

Properly designed and constructed tooling is the foundation of plastic thermoforming and is essential to producing a high quality consistent product. Poorly engineered tooling can result in part dimension variations, surface abnormalities, and other defects. See 6 Common Thermoforming Quality Issues Actually Caused by Improper Tooling.

5. Does the processor conduct a “Define and Discover” Innovation Engineering approach to seek avenues for collaborative project development and management?

This collaboration innovation technique sets the stage for a smooth product development which is more likely to meet performance and delivery expectations.

Ultimately, each project is unique. A commodity type part will likely not require the same level of quality in detail and precision as a multi-part medical device assembly. However, finding a reliable custom manufacturer that can produce your parts consistently, efficiently, and to your specification is a paramount factor to the success of any product.

At Productive Plastics, we go to great lengths to ensure quality

Have more questions about the role of quality manufacturing for your parts and components? Interested in exploring plastic thermoforming solutions for your OEM product?

Please contact us.

Please contact Productive Plastics for more information on the thermoforming process

How far does your manufactured part travel to get painted?

The manufacturing supply chain can be long and complex. Managing independent suppliers for design, tooling construction, assembly, part painting, and more can be challenging, and each has an influence on the quality, timing, and cost of the finished product.

For custom plastic thermoforming, post-production part painting is a key link in this supply chain. That is why Productive Plastics decided to bring our own painting operation under the same roof as our manufacturing facility.

Our cutting edge painting and finishing facility is solely dedicated to meeting the surface finishing needs of custom heavy gauge thermoformed parts manufactured by Productive Plastics.

What are the Benefits to Our Customers?

Reduced Risk

If a supply chain is only as strong as its weakest link, then strengthening or removing that link reduces the risk of a break. Consolidating the painting and manufacturing operation at Productive Plastics means that there is one fewer supplier to manage and monitor.

Reduced Cost

In-house facilities and complete control over the painting process reduces or eliminates the logistical and quality control costs associated with an off-site supplier.

Reduced Lead Time

The painting facility is located a mere 100 feet from the manufacturing floor which means that parts can be painted, cured, and ready for shipping or assembly in the same day that they are manufactured.

Increased Process and Quality Control

Incorporating a painting facility into the operation at Productive Plastics allowed us direct control of the painting process and quality management.  We implemented the same lean manufacturing techniques, proven processes, and quality controls that we have been evolving on the manufacturing floor for over 6 decades.

Strategically consolidating the manufacturing supply chain is just one of the ways Productive Plastics is constantly improving our ability to contribute to your product’s success. Contact us and give us the opportunity to show you how we can provide much more than a high quality plastic part.

Please contact Productive Plastics for more information on the thermoforming process

Part Size Has a Big Impact When Choosing Between Injection Molding and Plastic Thermoforming

When comparing a part manufactured with the heavy gauge plastic thermoforming process and the injection molding process, next to production volume, the largest factor that can impact the cost and even process feasibility is the size of the part.

Essentially, the larger the part is, the more expensive it becomes to produce with injection molding. Comparatively, part size has a very minimal cost effect on plastic thermoformed parts. The breakeven point on cost between the two manufacturing processes, with respect to annual production volume (Deciding Between Plastic Thermoforming and Injection Molding – The Choice is Not Always Obvious), increases as part size increases to approximately 5,000 parts or higher depending greatly on how large the part is.

Why Does Part Size Affect Cost and Manufacturing Process Selection?

The injection molding process requires a very large initial capital investment in the tooling and equipment needed to produce a part. This is because the nature of the process involves a very highly engineered 2-sided mold to create a part by feeding thermoplastic resin into a heated barrel with a rotating screw. The screw delivers the raw material forward collecting under pressure the amount required to fill the mold cavity and then injecting into the mold at high pressure and velocity. This action requires highly structured molds and equipment capable of withstanding very high clamping pressure.

As part size and dimensions increase, the complexity of design, engineering, and calibration required to construct, install, and process this 2-sided mold results in a significant increase in the cost of equipment, tooling and setup. The per-part production cost and lead time may also see an appreciable increase as the part size increases requiring much more robust molds and equipment. These increased capital expenditures will result in greater investment and overhead costs calculated in the piece price. Injection molding machines have a limited total mold size capability but can often accommodate multiple parts within the construction of a mold. Smaller part sizes equate to a higher number of parts manufactured per mold and machinery cycle. Larger part sizes decrease the number of parts that can be manufactured per mold and cycle.

Think of a muffin tray with 3-inch diameter muffin molds. Now take that same size tray but with 6 or even 10-inch diameter muffin molds and you imagine the impact on production and cost. In fact, most standard injection molding machines can only accommodate a maximum part size of 4’ x 4’. Larger machinery is available but is also drastically more expensive.

The heavy gauge plastic thermoforming process, on the other hand, involves considerably less pressure and most applications only require a single one-sided tool to produce a part. Additionally, only one part is formed per cycle in heavy gauge thermoforming applications. Consequently, the initial tooling investment is drastically reduced. While an increase in part size will still increase the tooling investment, the impact on cost is substantially less when compared to injection molding. Heavy gauge thermoforming equipment has oven zoning and variable sheet size capabilities which allow for a wide range of part sizes to be efficiently formed from the same equipment investment. The nature of the thermoforming process and flexible capacity capabilities makes scaling production for larger part sizes a relatively easy process. Since most heavy gauge thermoforming operations utilize cell-based manufacturing and CNC part trimming, a larger part can be produced with little impact, other than increased material, on per part cost, cycle time, and lead time. Thermoforming machinery can also manufacture part sizes as large as 10’ x 18’ providing a much larger part size capacity than injection molding.

Large part size infographic

Deciding Between Plastic Thermoforming and Injection Molding – The Choice is Not Always Obvious

Both injection molding and plastic thermoforming have widespread uses in a long list of industries. Each process has some unique features and benefits that are often advantageous for a specific application. In these instances, the choice to manufacture with plastic thermoforming or injection molding may be very obvious. This is most apparent in production volume. Low to mid volume tends to favor thermoforming, while high volume is usually more cost effective with injection molding.

However, a product’s needs and the capabilities of these two processes sometimes overlap. A part’s geometry may seem better suited for injection molding, but in a limited production run, but it may be drastically more cost effective to manufacture it with plastic thermoforming. This is just one example of an application where deciding between injection molding and plastic thermoforming may not be a clear choice. Selecting the right method in these situations requires a deeper appraisal of the features, benefits, and costs associated with each process.

The Clear Choice

As mentioned above, there are some instances when the type and specifications of an application drastically favor one or the other plastic manufacturing process when the choice is between injection molding or plastic thermoforming.

Injection Molding

Injection molding offers the key benefit of cost effectiveness at the mass production scale. When an application requires the production of more than 3,000-5,000 Estimated Annual Usage (EAU) identical parts with uniform wall thicknesses, injection molding often is the clear choice. This can be attributed to a high upfront tooling investment that is gradually offset by a generally low per unit manufacturing cost. The volume range of 3,000 – 5,000 is due to a variation on part cost in respect to part size. Smaller parts are generally cheaper to manufacture than larger.

  • Part production volumes > 3,000- 5,000
  • Uniform part wall thickness required

Plastic Thermoforming

Plastic thermoforming, on the other hand, has a substantially lower tooling investment and a slightly higher per unit manufacturing cost. This equates to a much lower total part cost at low to moderate part volumes. Plastic thermoforming becomes the clear choice when the volume of manufacturing is less than 3,000 – 5,000 parts per estimated annual usage. This process also has the capability to produce single parts with very large dimensions, whereas the injection molding process is limited to single part sizes of about 4 feet x 4 feet.

  • Single part dimensions > 4’x4’
  • Part production volumes < 3,000 – 5,000 EAU

Considerations When the Process Choice Is Not Clear

If your part or project doesn’t require a uniform wall thickness, large single part dimension, or has a volume requirement that is in the mid thousands, then you have landed in an area where the capabilities of plastic thermoforming and injection molding may overlap, and your process choice is not so obvious.

The good news is that you are now no longer handcuffed to a process that, while cost or size necessary, may not have the most comprehensive scope of benefits that would contribute the greatest to the success of your project.

Here are some points to consider for each process that can be taken advantage of or avoided now that you are free to choose a manufacturing method better suited to your project’s needs.

Plastic Thermoforming:

  • Large single part capability (maximum dimensions approximately 10’ x 18’)
  • Short lead time ( 6-12 weeks )
  • Able to reproduce injection molded level detail
  • Smaller investment in tooling
  • Lower equipment capital investment leads to lower set up and machine time costs
  • Can produce thinner wall parts than injection molding, resulting in weight savings
  • Greater options for part surface finishing (textures, patterns, distortion printing, painting, etc.) that can be accomplished in the mold.
  • Multi material structures for cosmetic and engineering structure options (e.g. Acrylic/ABS)
  • Variable part wall thickness depending on depth of draw
  • Improved cost effectiveness at lower to mid volumes (< 3,000-5,000)
  • Lighter part weight compared to injection molding for most applications
  • Less molded in stress than injection molding
  • Twin sheet capability for hollow parts and added structure

Injection Molding:

  • Longer lead time (22-24 weeks)
  • Large investment in tooling
  • Cost effective at high volumes ( > 3,000 – 5,000)
  • Efficient material use
  • High level of precise part detail
  • Limited single part size capability (maximum dimensions approximately 4’ x 4’)
  • Finished parts often require post processing painting or finishing
  • Greater design freedom on single wall parts

Want More Information?

What you see above is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to comparing these manufacturing processes. For more information and for assistance in choosing the right process for your project, please contact Productive Plastics and connect with our industry experts and engineers to see how we can put over 62 years of manufacturing experience to work contributing to your project’s success.

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

Thermoplastics in Transit Interiors – Weighing the Advantages

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

If 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.

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

Terminology Note

Productive Plastics and the plastics industry typically use the terms "vacuum forming" and "vacuum thermoforming" interchangeably. Misspellings include "vacuumforming" and "vacuumthermoforming".

Looking for more technical information?

Download the Thermoforming Design Guide, Process Comparisons, Conversion Guides, and other useful thermoforming information from our technical resource library.

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