About vacuum forming

Thermoforming is one of the oldest methods of processing plastic materials.

Vacuum formed products are all around us and play a major part in our daily lives. The process involves heating a plastic sheet until soft and then draping it over a mould. A vacuum is applied, sucking the sheet into the mould. The sheet is then ejected from the mould.

Is Vacuum Forming still an important process/technology?

Vacuum forming originates from the 1930s and yet it remains increasingly relevant today.

No alternative process can match the low cost, ease of tooling, efficiency and speed of replication for prototyping and small series of certain shapes. One of the main benefits of vacuum forming is the speed at which tooling can be produced and the cost compared to injection moulding is substantially cheaper.

Combining vacuum forming with new technologies such as 3D printing for tool design, thermo-formable ink technology and In-Mould Decoration bring new possibilities and advantages as employed by the world’s largest brands and institutions.

Formech collaborates with Dupont, BASF, Cambridge University and many more international technology centres to conduct research into new advanced composite materials, which will bring new possibilities for vacuum forming for high tech industries.

The world’s leading material science companies continue to invest in development of thermo-formable plastics which are more efficient to process and kinder to the environment. Engineering grade and composite plastics are typically much more demanding to form successfully or require industrial specification machinery. Formech now offers a range of high performance and compact machines bringing industrial processing capability to lab environments for efficient testing and research with new materials.

Vacuum Forming, 3D Printing and Injection Moulding

Every process is there for a good reason and usually each process occupies its own space within the complete manufacturing spectrum. Vacuum forming is a valid alternative to 3D printing and injection moulding, taking into consideration tooling time and cost, complexity of the part required, finish, quantity and delivery time. When considering all of these important aspects, it's clear that vacuum forming, 3D printing and injection moulding all have a part to play.

For one-off prototypes of complex shapes, 3D printing brings certain advantages over vacuum forming and most other processes by the ability to create a complete, finished component without design constraints and requirement for trimming.

At Formech, we embrace 3D printing as a complementary process to vacuum forming for most design challenges. 3D printing brings new possibilities for creativity and versatility in tool design, with cost effective and easy replication when used in conjunction with vacuum forming. Most of the world’s leading design labs utilise both techniques back to back.

Vacuum Forming Applications

Not every design or shape is suitable for vacuum forming but it remains the most cost effective and efficient method for processing the most diverse range of plastic processing applications.

Formech vacuum forming machines are used by high profile customers such as Apple, Google, Disney, Bolshoi Ballet, Ford, Tesla, Ferrero Rocher, Nestle, Makita, Royal Air Force, Philips, Yale University, Dupont and many more across electronics, film & theatre, automotive, aerospace, confectionary, packaging, education and many more applications.

The continually growing popularity of vacuum forming amongst these leading companies and institutions demonstrates the process remains the number one choice for a hugely diverse range of applications.

Vacuum Forming and Formech machines feature widely in the higher-education curriculum for the most technically advanced colleges and universities worldwide. Even 80+ years on, vacuum forming is a continually developing technology and we are excited to be at the forefront of new research and capabilities.

Read and view our Case Studies for more example of how Formech vacuum forming machines are being used.

Ethical Use of Plastics

The use of plastics in product design, packaging and high volume applications remains a sensitive subject and often attracts debate.

Every material choice from paper to plastic to metal, virgin or recycled, presents an impact to the environment. For certain applications there are still no suitable alternatives to the use of thermo-plastic materials where cost, product life, and preservation of contents are concerned. Similar to energy sources derived from nuclear, fossil fuels, wind and solar, every method has its advantages and disadvantages when all the facts are considered.

Formech aims to minimise environmental impact of processing thermo-plastic materials by deploying quartz heating with efficient energy management across our range of machines. All Formech machines can be easily fitted with exact reducing windows to minimise plastic use and waste, wherever possible.

Many thermoplastics can also be recycled, reducing the impact of virgin materials.

By working closely with the world’s leading material science companies and institutions we fully support development and use of materials that reduce environmental impact.

Nature of use and limitations

Vacuum forming offers several processing advantages over other forming processes. Low forming pressures are used, enabling comparatively low cost tooling.

Since the process uses low pressures, the moulds can be made of inexpensive materials and mould fabrication time can be reasonably short. Prototype and low quantity requirements of large parts, as well as medium-size runs therefore become economical. More sophisticated machines and moulds are used for continuous automated production of high volume items (for example, yoghurts pots).

Vacuum forming uses extruded plastic sheets and a secondary process may be required to trim the formed sheet to arrive at the finished part.

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