What is vacuum forming ?

Vacuum forming is one of the oldest ways to process plastic. Where a sheet of plastic is heated to a forming temperature, stretched onto a single-surface mold, and forced against the mold by a vacuum. This process can be used to form plastic into permanent objects such as go kart truck body and antenna cover.

There are 5 steps that go through the vacuum forming process: Clamping, Heating, Vacuum, Cooling & Release, and Trimming.

Clamping

The clamp frame needs to be sufficiently powerful enough to ensure the plastic sheet is firmly held during the forming process. We use twin heater machines for production so that they can handle the thickest material (up to 12mm) to be formed on the machine.

Heating

In order to obtain the best vacuum forming results, using any material, it is essential that the sheet is heated uniformly over its entire surface area and throughout its thickness.

Vacuum

Once the material is suitably pre-stretched a vacuum can be applied to assist in forming the sheet.

Cooling and Release

Once formed, the plastic must be allowed to cool before being released. If released too soon then deformation of the molding will result in a reject part. To speed up the cooling cycle high speed, fans are fitted and activated once the part is formed.

Trimming and Finishing

Once the formed part has cooled and been removed from the machine the excess material is removed. Holes, slots, and cut-outs are then drilled into the part. Other post-forming processes include decoration, printing, strengthening, reinforcing and assembly.

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What is thermoforming ?

Thermoforming is a plastic molding technique that results in a variety of highly usable products. During this manufacturing process, thin plastic sheets are heated in order to make them easy to manipulate. Once a sheet reaches a pliable temperature, it is formed over a male or female mold. After being cooled to a finished shape, the end product is trimmed in order to increase its usability.

Vacuum forming is one type of Thermoforming. Once a sheet is heated and placed over a mold, a vacuum is used to manipulate it into its desired shape.

thermoforming

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Vacuum Forming & Thermoforming Tools

There are two types of plastic thermoforming molds: male and female. With male molds, the thermoplastic sheet is placed over the mold. With female molds, the thermoplastic sheet is placed inside of the mold. Male molds are used when the inside dimensions of the plastic part are a priority. Female molds are used when the part’s outer dimensions are more important than its inner dimensions.

Male tool/mold Definition:

This is a positive tool that when formed produces a forming that is above the clamping of the clamped sheet.

Why use a male tool? The material flow and wall thickness of the formed part is different from a female tool. In addition, the tooling costs are usually less expensive than those for a female tool.

Female tool/mold Definition:

This is a tool that when formed produces a forming that is below the clamping of the clamped sheet.

The tool does not project above the clamping of the clamped sheet. Why use a male tool? The material flow and wall thickness of the formed part is different compared to a female tool.

Male tool with female cavities Definition:

This is essentially a male tool that can be used to create female vacuum forming.

Why use a tool like this? You may want to create female parts without having to make conventional female tools and you don’t mind the extra material cost per cycle.

HONGWEI Vacuum Forming & Thermoforming Mold

The first step in the process of vacuum forming is to have your mold created, which is also known as tooling. Whether you’re a new entrepreneur looking for a one-off mold to create a product or a seasoned plastics thermoforming, vacuum forming starts with a mold.

At HONGWEI, we use case aluminum material to all of our molds. We make quality aluminum tools with our CNC molding machine so that the finished mold is very strong and will produce 100,000 or more parts.

Heating & Vacuum

Heating

Heaters are generally infra-red elements mounted within an aluminum reflector plate. In order to obtain the best vacuum forming results, using any material, it is essential that the sheet is heated uniformly over its entire surface area and throughout its thickness.

Vacuum

Once the material is suitably pre-stretched a vacuum can be applied to assist in forming the sheet.

Cooling & Release

Once formed the plastic must be allowed to cool before being released. If released too soon then deformation of the molding will result in a reject part. To speed up the cooling cycle high-speed fans are fitted and activated once the part is formed. A spray mist option is also available whereby nozzles are attached to the fans and a fine mist of chilled water is directed onto the sheet. This, in conjunction with the fans, can speed up the cooling cycle by up to 30%.

Once cooled sufficiently the sheet can be released by a reverse pressure-activated through the vacuum system. The part is then stripped from the mold and transferred to the trimming station. See the relevant section for further details on trimming and finishing.

Trimming

At HONGWEI, we use 3 and 5 axis CNC Routers for the product’s trimming. It is computer programmed to select the correct cutting tools and angles to suit each cutting area. With these CNC routers, we can go through the production more effective and save cost

Trusted Partners

With our ISO9001:2015 certification, we are elated to have so many awesome companies come to us for their vacuum forming & thermoforming plastic needs.We wish you are our next partner.

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