Thermoforming is a manufacturing process that’s used to create plastic products out of heated plastic. It involves thin sheets of plastic at a precise temperature — just enough to make the plastic pliable but not melt it — after which it’s fed through a machine containing a mold. Although it sounds like a complex process, it’s actually relatively simple.
Overview of Thermoforming
As previously mentioned, thermoforming begins with heating thin sheets of plastic. As the plastic heats up, it becomes softer and more pliable. Next, the manufacturing company feeds the heated plastic through a small machine that stretches it over a mold. The machine essentially stamps the plastic with the mold, after which vacuum is applied to extract any trapped air.
After the plastic has been stretched over the mold, it travels to a separate station on the machine where a die cuts and trims it. When finished, the newly formed plastic product is allowed to cool. Thermoforming is a versatile manufacturing process that’s used to create everything from disposable plastic cups and lids to medicine packaging and various retail products. As long as a plastic product is thin, it can typically be manufactured using thermoforming.
Thermoforming is a relatively efficient process, but it still creates scrap plastic. After the formed plastic is trimmed, the scrap plastic is left behind. The good news is that most manufacturing companies recycle their scrap plastic. The plastic can typically be recycled by compressing it or by placing it into a grinder. If neither of these recycling methods are an option, a manufacturing company can partner with a third-party recycling company to pick up and use its scrap plastic.
How Thermoforming Differs From Other Plastic Forming Processes
Thermoforming is often confused with other plastic forming processes, including injection molding, rotational molding and even blow molding. While all these processes involve the use of plastic to create new products or objects, thermoforming is unique because it specifically uses thin sheets of plastic as the base material. With thermoforming, a thin sheet of plastic is pressed over a mold. In comparison, other types of plastic forming processes inject molds with heated plastic.
Manufacturing companies use numerous processes to form and create plastic products. Thermoforming is a unique plastic forming process that involves the use of thin plastic sheets. The plastic sheets are heated, after which they are stamped with a mold. The plastic is then vacuumed to remove any lingering air and, finally, it’s cut and trimmed.