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Additive Manufacturing Advancing Custom Thermoforming at Productive Plastics

Productive Plastics featured on formlabs’s blog – 3D printed innovations for thermoforming

Productive Plastics was honored to be featured on the formlabs industry blog on January 12th, Problem Solving on the Factory Floor: Manufacturing Aids at Productive Plastics. The article highlights some of the tech and innovations we employ on the manufacturing floor, in particular, our utilization of in-house 3D printed manufacturing accessories to increase process efficiency, reduce lead times, and  maximize the benefits of manufacturing parts and enclosures with plastic thermoforming. All part of our commitment to provide our customers with the highest quality and most cost-effective custom thermoforming solutions in the industry.

Antimicrobial Plastics for Thermoforming Manufactured Custom Components

The demand for antimicrobial plastics has risen in recent years as yet another countermeasure to bacterial and viral health threats, such as COVID-19. As a result, plastic and thermoplastic material suppliers have responded by producing a wide range of thermoplastic sheet options, used in the plastic thermoforming manufacturing process, that posses antimicrobial properties and other benefits advantageous to a wide range of industries, not just healthcare.

What is antimicrobial plastic?

Antimicrobial plastics are produced with an additive in the base polymer designed to block the growth of microorganisms, including bacteria, mold, and fungi. The additive integrates into the structure of the plastic, so this benefit exists for the entire product life. These materials are generally measured using ISO 22196:2001 and/or JIS Z 2801 Standards. These antimicrobial additives can also provide an addition benefit to the longevity and structural integrity of a component by protecting against plastic material damaging bacteria that can, over time, degrade certain types of plastic.

Common Antimicrobial Additives for Thermoplastic

Antimicrobial Advantages for Thermoplastic

  • Inhibiting surface growth of bacteria, mold, and fungi
  • Durability – Bacteria may break down polymers over time, by blocking the growth, these additives may provide greater longevity.
  • Reducing odor/discoloration
  • Surface antimicrobial protection between cleanings
  • Antimicrobial protection for the duration of product life

Antimicrobial Thermoplastic Material Datasheets

Below are just a few examples of antimicrobial materials available for plastic thermoformed components

Antimicrobial Industry Applications

Custom Plastic Thermoformed Components with Antimicrobial Properties at Productive Plastics

Productive Plastics has experience working with antimicrobial plastics and long standing relationships with industry leading thermoplastic material suppliers. Our experts can advise you and your team on selecting the ideal thermoplastic to meet the performance demands of your next project. Please contact us to get started!

Thermoforming for Multi-Part Assemblies – Webinar Recording Available

If you were unable to attend our technical webinar this week on the capabilities and advantages of Thermoforming for Mult-Part Assemblies, a recording of the live event is now available on our YouTube channel.

Here is what was covered in the webinar:

  • Vacuum vs Pressure Forming
  • Material Considerations
  • Application to match process
  • Attachment Methods
  • Tolerance Considerations
  • Product Finishing
  • Q&A

Stay tuned for future technical plastic thermoforming webinars from Productive Plastics

Thermoforming for Multi-Part Assembly – Live Webinar with McConnell Co.

At Productive Plastics, many of the thermoformed plastic parts that we manufacture for our customers are not stand-alone pieces, but components of an assembly or multi-part enclosure.  Like a puzzle, these individual parts must be manufactured to fit together with precision and uniformity to successfully create the finished product.

Productive hosted a live webinar on December 6th, 2022, with renown thermoforming expert Robert Browning of the McConnell Company discussing considerations for designing and manufacturing a multi-part assembly with plastic thermoformed parts.

  Some of the topics we covered:

  • Vacuum vs Pressure Forming
  • Material Considerations
  • Application to match process
  • Attachment Methods
  • Tolerance Considerations
  • Product Finishing
  • Q&A

Update* see a recording of this webinar at the link below:

Understanding Heavy vs thin gauge plastic thermoforming

While the difference in starting thickness 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 begin as a few tenths of an inch in part thickness, the two are utilized in different applications than one another as the manufacturing techniques, machinery required, and project scope differ.

The machinery required is unique for each process category, meaning 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 ask your manufacturer to understand if they can repeatably produce high quality parts.

The heavy gauge plastic thermoforming is an agile process capable of producing highly detailed, durable, and tight tolerance parts with almost limitless design possibilities. It provides a cost effective and fast to market solution for a number of applications such as Medical Devices and Rail and Aircraft Interiors. To take advantage of thermoforming, you need to leverage a team with the technical expertise and focus on execution and quality to ensure that you receive a high-quality product every time.

Not every plastic thermoforming processor is equally capable. Issues could arise from poorly designed tooling or poor tooling mediums, lack of processing controls, lack of quality controls, or no repeatable work instructions. Have you ever eaten at a restaurant where the food quality depends on the chef working? You want to ensure you receive the same high-quality product every time.

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 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 focuses on the removal of inefficient practices in manufacturing, management, and administration operations, with regular evaluations of current processes with emphasis on continual improvement. Companies that are committed to following Lean Manufacturing techniques tend to have very efficient manufacturing operations, greater investments in equipment, and produce quality parts with a low rejection rate. This will lead to lower part costs from labor as well as a higher on-time delivery percentage.

4. Does the thermoforming partner have dedicated engineering experts 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. Tooling is also a byproduct of part design and leveraging experts can help avoid downstream issues.

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

Collaborating early on helps to ensure that the appropriate decision is being made and executed. We for example: start with the question, is this a good application for thermoforming? Sometimes we find ourselves recommending other processes, as your partner should be someone you can trust and leverage.

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. Finding a partner that can tailor a solution to your specific needs will help you to reduce costs while meeting quality requirements consistently.

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

  • ISO 9001:2008 certified thermoformed plastics manufacturer and designer
  • Lean Manufacturing committed enterprise – Implemented 1998
  • Comprehensive Quality Management System (QMS)
    • Over 6 decades of thermoforming process and quality refinement (oven calibration and thermal environment management, ultrasonic measurement of material sag, and more)
    • Industry leading quality management procedures in every stage of the manufacturing process from design to delivery – High level of documentation, standardization, and tracability.
  • Tooling and Design
    • Dedicated part and tooling engineering team managing supplier performance and tooling construction. Design reviews to ensure expectations are met.
  • Investment in Technology
    • Continual investment in technology, such as the newest sensors, to ensure repeatability.

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

Where does your part 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. This also ensures accountability, as it avoids any “finger pointing” between a thermoformer and a painter.

Reduced Cost

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

Reduced Lead Time

Our painting facility is 100 feet from the manufacturing floor, meaning 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 and traceability 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

Choosing Between Injection Molding vs Plastic Thermoforming: Part Size Has a Big Impact

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

In essence, the larger the part 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 (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 up-front 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 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 cam lead to a significantly reduced initial tooling. 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. This helps the thermoforming processes remain agile and 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. Productive Plastics can also manufacture part sizes as large as 9’ x 7’ 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

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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Ready to explore how Productive Plastics can add to the success of your project?