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Vacuum Forming
Custom Vacuum Thermoforming

Productive Plastics is a leading provider of custom plastic vacuum forming services. Productive Plastics services include product design, tooling design, and manufacturing engineering assistance in conjunction with vacuum forming contract manufacturing and value added assembly and part painting services. Productive Plastics is ISO 9001:2015 registered, with over 65 years of plastics experience and extensive technical expertise in vacuum thermoforming.

What is Vacuum Thermoforming?

Vacuum thermoforming is a versatile plastic thermoforming manufacturing technique within the broader term of the plastic thermoforming process. In vacuum forming a 2 dimensional thermoplastic sheet material is heated to a forming optimal temperature and then positioned over a custom mold or tool. Then, the air is 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. Once the now molded part cools and hardens, the part is removed and further processed to meet design specifications.

Why Use Vacuum Forming?

Vacuum thermoforming is versatile, cost effective, and low tooling investment manufacturing process that is ideal for producing custom-designed parts with precise detail and consistent quality. Vacuum forming also has numerous advantages over other plastic, metal, and FRP/fiberglass production methods. Below are some potential benefits to consider when evaluating vacuum forming as a solution for your plastic part:
Large Part Capability at Low Cost
Productive Plastics can thermoform parts up to 84" x 108" at a fraction of the tooling cost it would take to produce the same size part with other plastic manufacturing processes, such as injection molding.
Lightweight material benefits
Plastic thermoformed parts are up to 6 times lighter than steel, half the weight of aluminum, and 30 – 40% lighter than fiberglass counterparts.
Rugged and industry compliant material performance
One of the greatest advantages of thermoplastic is its versatility at the polymer level. Thermoplastic material formulations are available that meet even the strictest requirements in strength, durability, impact resistance, FST, and weather resistant of industries from aviation and mass transportation to medical device and industrial equipment.
Multi-part assemblies and projects
Productive Plastics utilizes advanced tooling and plastic thermoforming to produce multiple part projects with precise tolerances and attachment points for virtually zero gap assemblies.
Moderate annual volumes (250-5000)
Compared to most other manufacturing processes, plastic thermoforming has a significantly lower total part cost at low to moderate part volumes of approximately 250-5000 parts a year.
Low tooling investment
The tooling investment for plastic thermoforming can be half the cost of injection molding for a small part and up to 1/5 of the tooling investment for a large part. This is attributed to the highly engineered pressure requirements and necessary number of mold faces needed for injection molding.
Rapid product development
Production samples delivered typically within 8-10 weeks.
Design aesthetics and branding capabilities
Plastic thermoforming can produce parts with in mold complex geometry such as radii, undercuts, louvers, surface texture, and other branding. Thermoplastic can also be painted, silk screened, and capped with other materials. Integrated material color and pattern options are also available and can also alleviate the need for post production painting.

Typical Applications for Vacuum Forming

The versatility and cost effectiveness of vacuum thermoforming make it an ideal choice for a wide array of industry applications. Vacuum thermoformed parts are commonly used to replace fabricated sheet metal components and also offer some unique advantages over parts constructed with FRP (fiber-reinforced plastics) and RTM (resin transfer molded) manufacturing processes. Whether your project is a new design or a process conversion from an existing one, vacuum forming your components with Productive Plastics can be an ideal solution for countless applications and industries such as automotive, aerospace, medical devices, consumer goods, and signage. It is commonly employed for creating items like trays, containers, enclosures, transportation interior components, point-of-sale displays, protective covers, and much more.

Interact With a Plastic Thermoformed Enclosure Part

Railcar interior panel vacuum formed at Productive Plastics
Use your mouse (left click and slide left/right) or touch screen (touch and slide left/right) to interact with and rotate the pressure formed part below. Click on the red hot spots to learn more about the unique thermoforming features of this part.

Product Development Process Summary

  • 1. Design for Thermoforming
  • 2. Thermoplastic Material Selection
  • 3. Tooling Design and Construction
  • 4. Thermoforming
  • 5. Robotic or CNC Trimming
  • 6. Attachments, Bonding, and Assembly
  • 7. Finishing, Coating, and Branding

Productive Plastics' Vacuum Forming Services/Capabilities

A wide range of vacuum forming technical capabilities are available based on the equipment used, materials used, and desired product properties. Productive Plastics uses state-of-the-art equipment, including the following vacuum thermoforming machines:
  • 84" x 108"
    Three station rotary vacuum former
  • 48" x 72"
    single station vacuum former and pressure former
  • 48" x 72"
    single station vacuum former
  • 48" x 72"
    single station vacuum former and pressure former
  • 48" x 72"
    Three station rotary vacuum former and pressure former
  • 48" x 96"
    single station vacuum former and pressure former

Materials Commonly Used in Vacuum Forming

Thermoplastic material options are available that meet even the strictest requirements for strength, durability, impact resistance, FST, and weather resistant of industries from aviation and mass transportation to medical device and industrial equipment. Productive Plastics has decades of experience working with the top thermoplastic material suppliers, such as Kydex, Boltaron, and Spartech and will work with your team to select the specific thermoplastic material that meets the needs of your unique application. Some of the common thermoplastic materials utilized in vacuum forming are:
  • Industry Standard Compliance: - UL 94 V-0, FAR 25.853 (a) and (d), FMVSS 302, and many more
  • ABS - Broad spectrum of resins used across a number of applications. Can be formulated to meet UL flammability standards.
  • PC/ABS - Alloy delivers UL approval in addition to high impact performance.
  • HDPE - Cost effective material for industrial applications requiring high impact strength.
  • TPO - High impact material delivering performance in cold and high heat applications.
  • HIPS - Low cost resin used in many POP applications requiring excellent forming characteristics.
  • PVC/Acrylic - Widely used resin in micro-processor based equipment housings. Meets most stringent UL standards for flammability and can be made in wide range of colors and textures.
View the technical data sheets page or plastic materials page for more details on thermoplastic sheet materials, properties and suppliers used by 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".

Download a FREE
Heavy Gauge Plastic Thermoforming Process and Design Guide
from Productive Plastics.

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