Vacuum Forming vs. Thermoforming: What’s the Difference?

June 22, 2017 7:37 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

At D&D Plastics, we specialize in the fabrication of custom plastic products. We utilize a variety of plastic fabrication processes to guarantee that we are able to best meet the needs of our customers. However, the most common type of plastic fabrication we use and what we are most known for is plastic thermoforming in Utah.

If you work with plastics, you’ve probably heard the terms “vacuum forming” and “thermoforming” before. However, unless you are the one making the plastic products, you are probably not as familiar with what these two processes actually entail. We often find that our customers use these terms interchangeably, when they are actually two different things. What’s the difference? Let us explain!

What is thermoforming?

Thermoforming is a generic term used to refer to a variety of plastic fabrication processes in which a flat sheet of plastic is made pliable through the use of heat and pressure and is then molded to form a specific shape. Typically, this process involves heating the plastic sheet and then placing it over either a male or female mold. A female mold forms the exterior of the object being made and is the reverse shape of the object, while the male mold is the same shape of the object and the plastic is laid over it. Once the plastic has cooled, it will have permanently taken on the shape of the molds. Any excess plastic is trimmed off, reground and then recycled for future use.

What is vacuum forming?

Vacuum forming as actually a type of thermoforming. As described above, vacuum forming also involves using heat and pressure to make a flat, plastic sheet pliable. However, unlike the thermoforming process described above, vacuum forming uses only one mold. Once pliable, the plastic sheet is laid over the mold, and then vacuum pressure is used to conform the plastic to the mold by removing the air between the mold surface and the plastic sheet.

What are the benefits?

Because vacuum forming is actually a type of thermoforming, the benefits are very similar between both fabrication processes:

  • Products are easily customizable
  • Lower upfront costs
  • Use of materials is optimized for cost effectiveness
  • Changes to existing product designs can be made easily
  • Fast turnaround times
  • Large designs can be implemented
  • Reduced end-product weight

What types of products can you make?

Thermoforming, including vacuum forming, is most often used to create bubble- or dome-shaped plastic products, but thermoforming can be used to create a wide variety of custom plastic products. Typically, due to rapid prototyping and lower cost tooling, products made using thermoforming are large products made in small volumes.

No matter what type of custom plastic products you are looking to have fabricated, D&D Plastics can help. Although we specialize in plastic thermoforming in Utah, we are knowledgeable and experienced in a variety of plastic fabrication processes and will ensure that you get a quality product at a competitive price. To learn more about what we can do for you, give us a call today!

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