Plastic Vacuum Forming: Giving Form to More Than You Might Think

Chances are you rarely think about vacuum forming. You rarely think of vacuums, and even then it’s typically against your will. After all, who likes vacuuming? But if you put the two words vacuum and forming together, you get something that makes an undeniable impact on our lives every day, and that’s not an exaggeration.

Vacuum forming, which is also commonly referred to as vacuuforming, is a simpler (and often more cost effective) method of thermoforming. Therefore, to understand vacuum forming, it might help to also understand its more complex older brother, thermoforming.

Thermoforming is a popular manufacturing process where a plastic sheet is heated to a temperature that makes it moldable and then stretched or formed to a specific shape (usually in a mold). Finally, it is cooled, trimmed, and cut to create a usable product.

In vacuum forming, the plastic sheet is held against the given mold by taking advantage of a vacuum that’s created between the mold and the sheet. This process is used daily to create products ranging in complexity from simple product packaging and plastic components to larger plastic components for the consumer electronics and automobile industries, just to name a few.

In most cases, vacuum forming is used to produce the thin plastic products that tend to be relatively shallow. We typically come into contact with these materials every day, such as the product casings found in just about every store or the blister packages used to contain and protect doses of pharmaceuticals. However, vacuforming can also be used to produce thicker objects.

While “thin sheet” vacuforming is more common, “thick sheet” vacuum forming is used to produce objects such as protective covers and encasings for medical instrumentation, automotive coverings, bathware, home décor, and appliance coverings. These deep parts can be vacuum formed if the formed sheet can be mechanically stretched before it meets the mold and before the vacuum pressure is initiated.

Lately, questions have been raised regarding the safety of plastics used in produce packaging and other applications. Fortunately, the conventional materials associated with plastic vacuforming are thermoplastics. Thermoplastics were named because of their ability to endure repeated melting, and freezing without losing the ability to be reshaped upon rehearing. This makes them highly recyclable, which also makes vacuum forming a relatively green manufacturing process.

So next time you tear open a blister package of cold or sinus pills, peer over the contours of your dashboard, or open a product protected by a thin sheet of plastic, think about how plastic forming is responsible for keeping it all safe, protected, and untampered with. Think about how those products might be different without that packaging, and how much more difficult it would be to actually find the things we need and use every day.

Post time: 04-28-2017