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What is Custom Thermoforming?
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What is Custom Thermoforming?

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Custom thermoforming, also called vacuum forming, pressure forming or plastics thermoforming, refers to the manufacturing process of heating and forming plastic materials into packaging solutions. …

Custom thermoforming, also called vacuum forming, pressure forming or plastics thermoforming, refers to the manufacturing process of heating and forming plastic materials into packaging solutions. Example products include containers, lids, trays, clamshells and blister packaging for medical, food, electronics and consumer products.

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  • 1. What is Custom Thermoforming? By: Jim Boley VP of Business Development
  • 2. Custom Thermoforming
    • Custom thermoforming refers to the manufacturing process of heating and molding plastic materials into packaging solutions.
    • Sample end products include containers, lids, trays, clamshells and blister packaging.
    • These packages are used in a wide range of industries, including medical, food, electronics and consumer products.
    • Thermoformed plastics have replaced many parts previously manufactured from wood, paper, glass and metal.
  • 3. Process Advantages
    • Efficient and cost-effective, custom thermoforming offers substantial benefits over other processes:
    •  
    • Initial project costs, like tooling and engineering, are typically lower.
    • Lead times to tooling and production are generally shorter when compared to other processes like injection molding.
    • Better physical properties exist in the finished part. Because the sheet stretches against the mold before cooling, minimum internal stress is found in the finished part.
    • Relative to other processing methods, part sizes up to 5 ft. x 8 ft. [1.524 x 2.44 m] can be produced easily and economically.
  • 4. How It Works
    • Custom thermoforming may also be called vacuum forming, pressure forming and plastics thermoforming. Whatever industry terminology is used, the basic process remains the same.
    • Heat, vacuum and pressure represent the main functions of custom thermoforming. Basic steps in the process are as follows:
    • 1. A flat sheet of plastic is heated to make it pliable. The plastic is extruded in different thicknesses, depending on the intended purpose.
    • 2. Using a vacuum and pressure, the heated plastic is stretched and shaped over a custom designed mold to make a three-dimensional shape. Molds can be made of machined or cast aluminum. Molds for prototypes or short runs can be made from composite materials.
  • 5. How It Works
    • 3. After the plastic cools and retains the desired shape, the parts are cut, trimmed and assembled into the end packaging product.
    • 4. The leftover plastic is usually recycled and converted back to a flat sheet. 
    • Plastic materials used in custom thermoforming include: 
    • High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE)
    • Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET/PETG/PETE/RPET)
    • Polypropylene (PP)
    • Polystyrene (PS/HIPS)
    • Polyvinyl chloride (PVC)
  • 6. Manufacturing Facilities
    • Tooling specific to each part is integral to the custom thermoforming process. Manufacturing a quality end product depends on fabricating quality tooling. Sophisticated thermoforming machines cannot compensate for any shortcomings in tooling. To fabricate the best tooling possible, larger packaging manufacturers operate in-house design and tooling facilities rather than outsource these functions.  
    • In high-volume applications, computer controlled, high speed machinery called thermoformers heat, form and trim in a continuous process. These machines operate in humidity and temperature controlled environments and can produce thousands of finished parts per hour. Ideally, a package design company will standardize equipment by using the same manufacturer’s thermoformers. Standardization helps lower costs, reduce spare parts inventory, improve operator skills and facilitate quick tooling changeovers.
  • 7. Manufacturing Facilities
    • As demands for increased production and profitability continue, consistent performance during the custom thermoforming process becomes more and more critical.
    • Operating a fully integrated and registered ISO 9001:2008 manufacturing facility provides the best assurance of a successful process with quality end products.  
    • Contact your local packaging company to learn more about custom thermoforming.
  • 8. About the Author
    • Jim Boley is VP of Business Development at Flexpak Corporation, a world-class supplier of custom thermoforming and packaging solutions since 1974. For more information about custom thermoforming, please visit http://www.flexpakcorp.com/custom-thermoforming.php today.