Understanding the Thermoforming Process

January 18, 2022 8:22 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

Thermoforming is the process of heating a material to its forming temperature before molding the material into a desired shape. The ancient Romans were actually the first people to use thermoforming by soaking turtle shells in hot water to make them pliable enough to form bowls and eating utensils.

Nowadays, we practice plastic thermoforming every day at D&D Plastics. With plastics, we stretch a plastic sheet over a mold and warm the sheet until it becomes pliable. Once it’s warm, it’s applied to the mold using a vacuum, air pressure or even a second mold. After the plastic cools and hardens, we cut it into pieces and ship them out.

This is a fast process that we rely on for almost every plastic container you see.

Types of plastics used in thermoforming

Six plastics come to mind when we talk about plastic thermoforming. Here’s a breakdown of the how each thermoformable plastic can be used:

  • ABS plastic: This plastic comprises acrylonitrile, butadiene and styrene, which is how it gets its name. ABS is known for its heat resilience and can handle temperatures anywhere from -4°F to 176°F. This plastic is commonly used for pipes and other mechanical systems, but it can be molded for use as protective headgear, golf club heads or Legos.
  • HIPS plastic: Also known as polystyrene, HIPS plastic can be used for foamed or rigid plastic. It has a brittle composure, making it ideal for protective packaging, like packaging peanuts. The next time you order food for takeout or delivery, you’ll likely touch HIPS plastic. It’s also popular for clamshell containers and disposable cutlery.
  • HDPE plastic: High-density polyethylene (HDPE) is a variation of HIPS plastic and is composed of petroleum. HDPE plastic is stronger than its counterpart and has a wide variety of uses. Everything from plastic bags and bottles to hula hoops, cable wires and fireworks can be made of HDPE plastic.
  • PVC plastic: You’ve likely seen or used PVC (polyvinyl chloride) if you’ve ever done any DIY plumbing at home. Because it’s created with suspension polymerization, PVC is among the strongest and hardest of plastics. In addition to its use for pipes, PVC is also ideal for commercial signage, electric cables and even faux leather clothing.
  • PET plastic: Polyethylene terephthalate (or PET for short) is used for synthetic fibers and plastic bottles. Once they’re thermoformed, PETs must be dried to increase resistance. Once they’re dried, they’re some of the most resistant plastics. These are also some of the most frequently-recycled plastics you’ll find.
  • PETG plastic: Polyethylene terephthalate glycol-modified (PETG) is a mouthful and a variation of PET plastic. PETGs are known for their chemical resistance, durability and formability. These plastics are often molded during thermoforming for trays and blister packaging, but they have a variety of applications for all sorts of different industries.

Trust D&D Plastics for all of your thermoforming needs

Between fair pricing and a fast turnaround time, nobody does it better than D&D Plastics when it comes to plastic thermoforming. Contact us today to get a free quote for your next plastics project.

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