Thermoforming, the process of heating and molding plastic sheet using air pressure and vacuum, is an affordable, versatile and reliable process for many applications. In order to achieve the final product, thermoforming uses several different types of molds and processes.
To thermoform a plastic product:
- A sheet of plastic material is clamped into a thermoformer and sent into an oven for heating.
- Once it reaches the right temperature for processing, it’s transferred to a mold, where either vacuum or air pressure is used to form a part.
- The formed part is then cooled, removed from the mold and sent to the next station for trimming.
There are two general thermoforming process categories: heavy-gauge thermoforming and thin-gauge thermoforming.
When selecting a thermoforming material for your project, it’s important to consider thickness. Material sheet thickness below .060” is commonly referred to as thin gauge, while heavy gauge refers to plastic that ranges from .060” up to 0.5” thick.
Heavy-gauge thermoforming primarily consists of parts such as dash panels, refrigerator liners and plastic pallets. Thin-gauge thermoforming plastic is used for packaging (blisters and clamshells), containers and displays.
Although thin-gauge packaging is common, there are many other heavy-gauge thermoformed parts you probably don’t realize you see every day. You can find these parts in cars and trucks, on medical devices and even on farm equipment.
There are a wide variety of thermoforming resins – and even more combinations – to provide the right properties for your heavy-gauge plastic-formed part, including:
- ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene): A high-strength, impact-resistant resin, ABS and ABS blends are used in the production of many control panels and automotive components.
- HIPS (high-impact polystyrene): This easy-to-process, low-cost resin is FDA-compliant and used in many consumer products and POP applications that require excellent forming characteristics.
- PC/ABS (polycarbonate/ABS blend): This UL-approved alloy is extremely resistant to impact.
- HDPE (high-density polyethylene): Used in truck bed liners, pallets, tanks and more, HDPE is a cost-effective material with high resistance to chemicals, impact and electrical conduction.
- TPO (thermoplastic olefin): Often used in automotive component applications, TPO is strong and rigid with high resistance to chemicals.
- PVC/Acrylic: This resin meets the most stringent UL standards for flammability and can be made in a variety of colors and textures.
Thermoforming a quality plastic product requires sophisticated, industry-leading forming and trimming equipment. At Joslyn Manufacturing, our machines can form a range of light- to heavy-gauge materials.
- Rotary thermoformer sizes up to 96" x 72" x 20" deep
- Single station thermoformer sizes up to 180" x 132" x 24" deep
- In-line for thin-gauge material sizes up to 38.5” x 50”
- 5-axis CNC trim station sizes up to 180” x 120” x 36”
Additional Trimming Equipment
- Die cutting presses up to 250 tons
- 3D printer for prototype parts and low-volume production tooling
What’s the Right Thermoforming Process for Your Project?
To learn more about our forming and trimming equipment, or if you would like to speak with one of our plastic thermoforming professionals about the heavy-gauge and thin-gauge thermoforming processes, please contact us today. We combine industry expertise, innovative problem-solving and customer collaboration in our 3-stage plastic thermoforming process.