Archive for Thermoforming

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?

5 Questions to discover if you 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?

ISO 9001:2008 certification provider's logoEnsuring 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 Plastics manufacturer, plastics manufacturing facilityto 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.

Plastic thermoforming temperature controlled aluminum tool

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?

How much does your manufactured part travel and cost to be painted?
At Productive Plastics, it’s about 100 feet from the manufacturing line to our state of the art painting facility

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

Download the New Plastic Thermoforming vs Injection Molding Manufacturing Process Comparison and Selection Guide

Download the Plastic Thermoforming vs Injection Molding Process Comparison and Selection Guide from Productive Plastics

Download Injection Molding Comparison Guide Button

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

Part Dimesion Impact on Plastic Thermoforming vs Injection Molding

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

 

Injection Molding vs Plastic Thermoforming - Deciding when the choice is not 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 Cost comparison for tooling and parts, pressure forming vs. injection moldingmanufacturing 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

Top Plastic Thermoforming Content from 2017

Productive Plastics covered many topics last year on the features, benefits, and capabilities of utilizing the plastic thermoforming process to manufacture custom parts and enclosures for your projects. If you missed any, here is a quick recap, with links to content and data, that we hope you will find informative and useful.

 

Upgrades at Productive Plastic Enhance Plastic Thermoforming Solutions for Your Project

Your Project's Success is our Goal with Plastic Thermoforming

Productive Plastics has been around for 62 years. In over six decades of heavy gauge plastic thermoforming, one of the many lessons we’ve learned is that helping a customer’s project achieve success means a commitment to the constant evolution of every facet of our business. It’s one of our core values.

This year we invested in numerous upgrades. We expanded our resources, expertise, technology, and machinery, all designed to move us further down our technology roadmap as we implement industry 4.0 solutions and capabilities. And we continue to bring you dynamic and comprehensive heavy gauge plastic thermoforming solutions of the highest quality.

Investments at Productive Plastics This Year:

  • More engineering expertise in-house
    • The engineering team grew by 75% this year to provide our customers with top tier technical support, aid in implementing emerging plastic thermoforming innovations, and expand the scope of our value-added services. Welcome to our newest members who joined the engineering team.
      • Bob Cardona – Engineering Manager
        • Engineering team leadership and coordinating implementation of new technologies
      • Don Stiger – Applications Engineer
        • Providing plastic thermoforming engineering support to customers for new projects and part conversions
      • Dan Govender – Applications Engineer
        • Providing plastic thermoforming engineering support to customers for new projects and part conversions
      • Skip Grant – Manufacturing Engineer
        • Overseeing advances in process improvements
      • Bryan Alicea – Engineering Intern
        • Supporting the engineering team and customer on thermoforming applications

Left to right: Bryan Alicea, Don Stiger, Skip Grant, Dan Govender, Bob Cardona

 

  • Additional Sales Support

    John Zerillo

    Yordano Alicea

    • Yordano Alicea has joined John Zerillo, Principal and VP of Sales, in the field as our newest Sales Account Manager. He adds yet another expert resource available to support customers through every step of the product development cycle.
  • New Technology, Machinery, and Process Upgrades on the Manufacturing Floor
    • 4′ x 6′ Advanced Single Station Pressure Forming Machine
      • Advanced controller and sensor system for increased process control
      • Advanced ovens for better consistency in forming
    • 4’ x 6’ Advanced Rotary Pressure Forming Machine
      • Rapid setup time capable
      • Processes plastic material more efficiently
      • Advanced controller and sensor system for increased process control
    • 6 Axis Robotic Arm Cell
      • Automates cell setup for faster operation
      • Removes human errors
  • Process Refinements to In-Facility Painting Operation – Productive Industrial Finishing
  • What are the Benefits for Your Project?
    • Higher Quality and Consistent Parts (tolerances, color, mating points, etc. – whether it’s 2 parts or 2,000)
    • Faster Lead Times
    • Stronger Value at Competitive Investment
    • Comprehensive Solutions
    • A More Flexible and Dynamic Supplier

This year was about laying the foundations for taking our manufacturing processes and value-added capabilities to the next level, to Industry 4.0 and beyond. New machinery, more automation, moving critical processes in-house, advances in technology, and expanded expertise were all added this year to increase our ability to contribute to your project’s success.

We invite you to contact us and schedule a time to tour our facility. We would like the opportunity to show you just how we can contribute to your project’s success and how we can provide much more than a high quality plastic part.

Please contact Productive Plastics for more information on the thermoforming process

 

 

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

Is it time to convert your product to plastic thermoforming?

One of the most common inquiries we receive at Productive Plastics is customers considering plastic thermoforming as an alternative to their current product’s material and manufacturing process.

Is it time to convert to plastic thermoforming

Conversion to plastic thermoforming motivations range from quality and lead time issues with the current manufacturing process to material performance requirements and cost considerations. Just to name a few.

The chances are that if your product is currently utilizing fiberglass or metal for a an application in the medical device, transportation, kiosk, or industrial market, that you are missing out on the performance, aesthetic, weight, and potential cost savings advantages attainable by transitioning to plastic thermoforming.

Continue to check our company blog (Productive Ideas), LinkedIn page, or your inbox over the coming months for information and comparisons on the fiberglass and metal to plastic thermoforming conversion processes.

Regards,
EVAN GILHAM