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We offer our customers Thermoforming options when volumes do not justify Injection Molds. Thermoforming is a great way to have minimal investment in tools and yet make quality parts. Our Tooling and Engineering teams can work to either develop or maintain your product lines.
- A mold made out of metal, wood or resin is mounted to the bed of the thermoforming machine. Depending on the thickness of the material and the size of the production run, plastic can be fed into the machine continuously from a spool or sheet by sheet.
- The plastic enters an oven where it is heated until it is near its melting point.
- The hot plastic is withdrawn from the oven and lowered onto the mold. Vacuum pressure removes any air between the plastic and the mold to ensure every detail is imprinted; this is why this process is sometimes referred to as “vacuum forming.”
- Once the part has cooled enough to retain its shape, it can be lifted off the mold.
- Excess plastic at the edges is cut off, completing the part.
Preparing a Part Design for Manufacturing
At its simplest, metal to plastic conversion copies a metal part design using plastic. However, plastic manufacturing adds several other benefits including the ability to make more intricate shapes and a choice of materials with unique performance attributes.
Once the design has been finalized using CAD design and prototyping, a negative cast is made for the thermoforming machine using a combination of CNC machining and hand finishing. Tiny holes are drilled into the cast for air to pass through when vacuuming the plastic tight against the mold. Even if the design is meant for a short run, plastic tooling lasts far longer than its metal counterpart, allowing the mold to be reused if more parts are needed.
Thermoforming is Cost Effective
Today, plastic is preferred over metal when making parts due to lower weight, lower material costs, and simplified production. Together, these features reduce costs across the board from manufacturing to shipping. In many cases, the performance of plastic parts is superior to that of their metal counterparts: plastics resist deformation better than metal, and in automotive applications, the reduced weight translates to improved fuel economy. It should be no surprise that the manufacturing of MVAC parts and HVAC parts alike are shifting from metal to plastic.
In the past, short run parts were mostly metal because decreased tooling costs outweighed lower production costs. Thermoforming can bridge that gap, creating detailed plastic parts with lower tooling costs than other manufacturing techniques. Switching from metal to plastic using this process can bring with it all the benefits without requiring a large production run to be cost effective.