Vacuum Forming Process
A Brief Introduction
Vacuum Forming is a technological process that shapes heated and softened plastic sheets into three-dimensional products—the principle involves placing a mold in a semi-automatic molding machine, with a plastic sheet placed above the mold to be heated and melted. Subsequently, the machine automatically raises the mold, allowing the heated plastic sheet to fully conform to the surface of the mold. Thereafter, we employ a vacuum pump to remove excess air between the mold and the sheet, creating a vacuum environment. Following this, the cooling system above the machine aids in shaping the product, facilitating its release from the mold.
As a matter of fact, there are two general ways of thermoforming, positive molding and negative molding, also known as male mold forming and female mold forming. The choice of which method to use depends on which side of the product is the assembly side and which is the appearance side, as the side in direct contact with the mold often has more precise dimension control. To achieve superior molding effects, various auxiliary forming technologies, such as bulge technology, top-press molding, and sliding block molding assistance, are also adopted to cater to the needs of different products. For some special products, we also employ precision vacuum forming or aligned vacuum forming technology, also known as registered vacuum forming technology. For components that only require bending, we use aluminum molds wrapped in dust-free fabric to accomplish the task.
Customer Requirement Analysis and Process Selection at DitaiPlastic
For us, the decision on which molding method to use depends on the specific product used. Once we receive the drawing from clients, our sales team will coordinate with the engineering department. For products that require assembly, we will conduct a comprehensive analysis based on the customer’s specific requirements for the appearance of individual products and the assembly of multiple products. Given the vacuum forming process’s ability to achieve more precise dimensions where the sheet contacts the mold and maintains a good appearance where it does not, we meticulously plan the type of mold to be used. We strive to avoid designing product parts that require extensive stretching to ensure uniform thickness of the products and to reduce or eliminate the formation of products with undercuts, as this would increase the cost of the molds.
In summary, for products with assembly requirements, DitaiPlastic will integrate the characteristics of different molding methods to attain superior product assembly results and aesthetic standards.
Integrated Approach for Mold Temperature Management in Vacuum Forming
In the vacuum forming process, the temperature of the mold crucially affects the quality and aesthetics of the final product. To ensure this, we employ a mold temperature gun to monitor the temperature of the mold. For different types of materials or varying thicknesses, we have already established the most suitable mold heating temperatures. Appropriate mold temperature not only improves the stability of the product but also accelerates production efficiency.
Detailed Implementation Steps
- Temperature Detection and Control: (1) Real-time temperature monitoring using a mold temperature gun ensures that the mold temperature remains at an ideal level. (2) Adjust the mold temperature according to the characteristics of different materials to achieve the best forming results.
- Material Adaptability: (1) For materials of different thicknesses and types, we have determined the optimal mold temperatures through extensive testing. (2) This ensures consistency in product quality regardless of material variations.
- Quality Assurance: (1) Proper mold temperature helps to enhance the dimensional accuracy, surface quality, and mechanical properties of the product. (2) This is particularly important for applications requiring high precision and aesthetics.
- Efficiency Enhancement: (1) Appropriate temperature management significantly reduces the production cycle, improving overall production efficiency. (2) This also helps to lower energy consumption, achieving greater cost-effectiveness.
- Continuous Optimization: (1) We continually collect production data to optimize mold temperature settings, ensuring optimal performance under varying production conditions. (2) Through technological innovation and process improvement, we continuously enhance the quality of our products and the efficiency of our production.
Through this integrated mold temperature management approach, we ensure the production of high-quality, aesthetically pleasing, and consistently performing products in the vacuum forming process, while also increasing production efficiency and reducing costs. This not only demonstrates our expertise in the field of vacuum forming but also showcases our relentless pursuit of customer satisfaction and product quality.
The following are two videos showing vacuum forming positive molding and vacuum forming negative molding:
Let's Mention About Other Vacuum Forming Methods That Not Commonly Used
Alignment Slik Screen Vacuum Forming
It is an advanced procedure that integrates silk screening and vacuum forming processes. This process ensures that the printed design on a plastic sheet matches perfectly with the shape or embossment of the mold after vacuum forming. It’s particularly crucial when the molded product must have precisely aligned graphics or logos.
In the Alignment Silk Screen Vacuum Forming process, the initial focus is on designing with future molding distortions in mind. Once ready, this design is precisely printed onto a plastic sheet. Before molding, the sheet undergoes a critical alignment process, ensuring elements like logos perfectly match the mold’s features, sometimes with specialized aids for accuracy. The sheet is then heated, vacuum formed to shape, and upon cooling, if executed correctly, the printed design seamlessly aligns with the molded structure.
This technique requires a combination of precise machinery and skillful operators. The intricacies of ensuring that a printed design matches with a 3D molded form are complex. In products where branding the visual appeal is paramount, achieving this perfect alignment between print and form is essential.
Twin Sheets Vacuum Forming
This advanced technique change the traditional vacuum forming process by simultaneously heating and forming two plastic sheets on separate molds. Once both sheets reach their desired shapes, they are promptly merged, resulting in a cohesive, hollow structure. The inherent benefit of this method is the production of double-walled or hollow items, bestowing enhanced structural integrity, improved thermal insulation, and the potential for encapsulating additional components within the formed cavity.
The twin-sheet approach is not just about doubling the material; it’s about synergizing the attributes of both sheets for a superior end product. Synchronized molding becomes paramount here, as any misalignment between the two sheets can compromise the product’s quality.
The successful execution of twin-sheet vacuum forming demands precise machinery and skilled operators, as the synchronized formation and bonding of the sheets are crucial. Achieving the right balance ensures the production of seamless, high-quality products that benefit from the strengths of both sheets.
Dual-head Vacuum Forming
using a dual-head machine greatly improves production efficiency by allowing two products to be produced simultaneously and provides higher control accuracy to build higher-quality products. Additionally, it reduces the need for manual intervention and lowers production costs. However, operating a dual-head thermoforming machine requires more professional skills and experience; otherwise, it can easily produce defective products and cause safety accidents. A significant disadvantage of using a dual-head thermoforming machine is that due to the production process and working principles, the structure and shape of the products produced may be limited, making it impossible to produce particularly complex or oversized products.
Ways To Assist In Achieving Ideal Forming Effects
Top Press Molding Vacuum Forming
Firstly, let me introduce what situation will need the top press molding, when the height of the product is particularly high, or deep depression, we will need the top plug to help the material stretch to get a relatively uniform thickness. here is some
top press plug molding which we have made before for your reference:
Slide Block Molding Vacuum Forming
When we make the designs, some of the projects are complicated, so we will need the slider to help the product release the mold, below is the picture and video to show you how it is work.
Bulge Technology In Vacuum Forming
There are some products that require bulge technology. It is used in some products with more than one side or right-angle side or products with a small draft angle, its purpose is to reduce the shrinking marks caused by the violent shrinkage of the material, or to solve the problem of the thickness deviation of the product at different positions due to the stacking of the material, the thickness can be more uniform.
Large plastic parts are more suitable for vacuum forming processes
- Material Characteristics: Vacuum forming uses thicker plastic sheets. When heated to a pliable state, these materials exhibit good stretchability, allowing them to cover large mold areas and form sizable components.
- Simplified Mold Design: Compared to other processes like injection molding, the mold structures required for vacuum forming are usually simpler. This makes the fabrication of large molds feasible. A simplified mold also implies lower mold fabrication and maintenance costs, advantageous for the production of large components.
- Economic Benefits: For large components, processes like injection molding might demand high mold costs. Thermoforming, especially thick-sheet vacuum forming, typically offers a more cost-effective mold alternative, making the production of large parts more economical.
- Enhanced Structural Integrity: Large components manufactured using vacuum forming usually present better structural integrity and uniformity since the entire part is formed from single, continuous plastic sheets.
- Flexibility and Rapid Prototyping: For sizable components, iterative design and prototyping are often required. Vacuum forming processes provide faster prototyping capabilities, allowing manufacturers to undergo multiple iterations and optimize designs in a short time frame.
- Environmental Adaptability: Largr components are often used in applications potentially exposed to environmental stresses, like outdoor equipment or automotive parts. Parts formed form vacuum forming, due to their thicker walls, can better resist environmental stresses such as UV rays, temperature fluctuations, and mechanical stresses.
Which structural products are more suitable for vacuum forming & some product examples
- Large Size Structures: The above text mentioned why the production of large plastic parts is very suitable for the use of the vacuum forming process. The following lists some of the large plastic parts commonly produced by vacuum forming: automotive components (like roof boxes), protective covers for large machinery, and advertising display boards.
- Wall Thickness: Vacuum forming can produce parts with a considerable wall thickness, enhancing the strength and durability of the products. This is particularly applicable to items that require added protection or support like safety helmets, riot shields, and welding masks.
- Curved Surfaces or Complex Geometries: Due to the high extensibility of plastic when heated, the vacuum forming process can easily create intricate three-dimensional shapes and curves. This makes it an ideal choice for products like car bumpers, plastic sculptures in arts, and golf cart exteriors.
- Uniform Wall Thickness: Through appropriate mold design and process adjustments, vacuum forming can achieve relatively uniform wall thickness. This is particularly suitable for products requiring consistent material distribution like food storage containers and large water tanks.
- No Need for High Precision Dimensions: For products that don’t demand stringent dimensional accuracy, vacuum forming is a viable option. Examples include public transportation seating, waste bins, and shells for non-precision equipment.
- Medium to Low Production Volumes: Owing to its relatively lower mold costs and moderate manufacturing speed, vacuum forming is especially suited for medium to low production volumes, such as custom machine covers and display stands for specific events.
- Internal Cavities or Negative Spaces: By its very nature, vacuum forming will form an internal cavity, making it the ideal choice for products requiring internal structures or spaces, such as packaging for electronic products and ducting tubes.
- Minimal Fine Details: For straightforward designs that don’t demand intricate details, vacuum forming is a cost-effective choice, like children’s slides, cargo bins of trucks, and simple plastic furniture.