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The thermoforming process involves heating the extruded plastic sheet to a suitable temperature and applying pressure to shape the material. There are two types of thermoforming available, large gauge sheet thermoforming and thin gauge sheet thermoforming. Both types use a vacuum and heat to stretch the plastic into a specific shape in a mold. Each type of thermoforming has advantages and disadvantages. This article will help you understand the differences between the thermoforming types and how each type of thermoforming is used in different industries.
Thermoforming is the process of heating a thin plastic sheet to molding temperature and stretching it into shape on a mold. After the plastic has cooled and set, each part will be separated from the mold. Thermoforming produces a three-dimensionally consistent product (or part).
Thermoforming is divided into two categories based on the sheet thickness of the molded part: large gauge thermoforming (0.125" - 0.500") and thin gauge thermoforming (less than 0.060").
The size difference between the plastic sheets used in thermoforming is the differentiating factor between the thin gauge and large gauge thermoforming. Thin gauge thermoforming equipment uses a thin sheet feed from a plastic roll. Large gauge (or thick gauge) thermoforming uses a thick plastic sheet feed. Thickness variation plays a critical role in the selection of thermoforming equipment.
Large-guage thermoforming is used to make thicker, more durable parts with permanent end applications. Thin gauge thermoforming produces very thin products; a typical application for this method is the packaging of disposable and recyclable products. Thin-gauge thermoforming is used by manufacturers to produce thinner plastic cups and food packaging. In contrast, the production of trays and containers requires large guage thermoforming and ancillary equipment.
Large-guage thermoforming equipment is designed for small- to medium-volume production, and thin-forming equipment is designed for high-volume production.
The following is an overview of the factors that differentiate large-guage and thin-gauge thermoforming.
|Part thickness||.060-.375″ 1.5-9.5 mm||< .125" < 3 mm|
|Machine type||Plastic sheet feed||Thin roll feed or from an upstream extrusion process|
|Thermoplastic materials used||ABS, HDPE, polypropylene||PETG, PET, PVC|
|Production volume||Low to medium volume||Medium to high volume|
|Use cases||electronic housings, internal parts, industrial tools, permanent structural components, trays, bathtubs, shower trays||Rigid or semi-rigid disposable packaging, disposable items (food containers, disposable cups, plates, and trays), and small medical device packaging.|
Do you want to improve your business with thermoforming? If so, contact us or review the Thermoforming Guide for more detailed information on the properties and benefits of plastic thermoforming and to explore how MDC can provide the appropriate thermoforming mold or thermoset mold for your product.
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