Thermoforming and Vacuum Forming
Thermoforming and vacuum forming are fast and inexpensive technologies for manufacturing versatile products by shaping hot thermoplastic sheets around a mold. Once the sheets are drawn onto the mold, any remaining air is sucked out of them, pulling the material tightly against the mold to ensure consistent definition in the final product. Once the product is taken off the mold, the excess plastic is trimmed off and recycled.
It requires less lead time and tooling costs than traditional manufacturing techniques like injection molding or machining while also offering a lower part cost than 3D printing. Although thermoforming has more design limitations than these technologies, it offers excellent value for compatible projects.
With a variety of materials available, our thermoforming services are ideal for a range of products, from custom trays and packaging to large panels, displays and housings.
Real thermoplastics are strong, durable and inexpensive compared to 3D printed materials. RapidMade offers an extensive range of plastics for thermoforming, such as PETG, HIPS, ABS, PC, Acrylic and many more, in thicknesses ranging from 0.020" to 0.250" (0.5 mm to .6.5 mm). Click here to learn more about all of our thermoforming materials.
With so many material options, thermoformed products are able to meet a host of mechanical and aesthetic demands, from conductivity and heat resistance to FDA food-grade certifications. Thermoformed parts can be rigid, flexible, translucent or opaque. This versatility has led to applications in a variety of industries, including food, medical, electronics and manufacturing industries.
Traditionally, thermoforming molds are milled from urethane or aluminum. This can be expensive, especially for small- to medium-sized parts, and can take 1-3 weeks to produce. By using 3D printed molds made with the HP Multi Jet Fusion (MJF), however, RapidMade can create durable molds for thermoforming in under 48 hours at a savings of up to 50% when compared to machining.
With a relatively high temperature resistance, the Nylon PA-12 used by MJF printing is excellent for thermoforming. It doesn’t bond with other materials and MJF molds do not require additional finishing for opaque parts. Molds for translucent parts may need a minimal amount of filling and sanding, though they will still offer substantial time and cost savings over machining in most cases. Moreover, 3D printed molds can easily produce undercuts and other complex shapes that would be difficult or impossible to machine.
Not only does this allow us to produce parts faster, it also makes it easy to prototype your product. Once prototypes are made, adjustments are cheap and quick, allowing you to get more iterations during your product development cycles. The time and cost savings of 3D printed molding allow thermoforming to be an economical option in an even wider range of situations throughout your product life cycle. Click here to find out more!
Packaging Made Easy
Good packaging provides two major benefits: protecting your products on their way to your customers and creating a good impression once they get there. With precise tolerances and a variety of presentation options, thermoformed packaging excels at both!
Affordable Replacement Parts
Replacement parts can be expensive, and if they have been discontinued by the OEM, they may be impossible to find. With our reverse engineering and thermoforming services, we can quickly manufacture durable replacement parts to your specifications.
3D Plastic Imaging
RapidMade can quickly create inexpensive custom branding or visual textures for signs, packaging, retail displays and more by printing high-resolution 2D images onto sheet plastic and calibrating 3D tooling to match.
Thermoforming Design Considerations
When designing parts to be thermoformed, there are a few important considerations to ensure that your part is able to be produced effectively. The first is draw depth, or the ratio of the part’s depth to its width. Draw depth cannot exceed 4:3, however we recommend a maximum draw depth of 1:1 if possible. Thermoformed parts also require draft in order to be removed from their molds. We recommend 2-5 degrees of draft for internal cavities and 4-8 degrees of draft for raised features.
When it comes to part size, our thermoformer has a bed size of 19” x 17” and a maximum draw depth of 11.5 inches. However, we can produce parts up to 4’ x 8’ by creating a custom vacuum box. We also offer forming windows of 5” x 5”, 11” x 11” and 15” x 15” to accommodate smaller parts.
To learn more about how to design parts for thermoforming, check out our Thermoforming Design for Manufacturing (DFM) Guide for an in-depth look at the technology.
Thermoforming Materials and Applications
Thermoforming is compatible with a variety of materials that can achieve a wide range of thermal, mechanical and chemical properties. Below, we’ve put together a little guide to the materials we commonly use for thermoforming and some of their ideal applications. Though we provide some examples here, these materials can be used for many different products. If you’d like more information about any of the materials listed below, reach out to us at email@example.com or at 503-943-2781.
Kydex T (ABS/PVC) or Kydex 100 (Acrylic/PVC)
Expensive flame-retardant engineering plastic with high impact resistance. Used for moderate-load structures, covers and enclosures that require fire resistance. Kydex 100 is our go-to material for radomes.
Medium- to high-cost engineering plastic with high stiffness, impact strength and temperature resistance, plus options for UV and scratch resistance. Often used for glass replacements on phones, TVs, lights or glasses, as well as high-temp applications. Harder to form than most thermoplastics, especially for fine details.
Moderately hard, inexpensive plastic with high chemical resistance. Does not off-gas at high temperatures. Chemical and thermal durability makes it well-suited for chemical-resistant containers. Higher shrink rate than other materials, which lowers tool life and increases variability between parts.
Start Thermoforming Today
Whether you are developing a new project or are ready to start production, RapidMade can help you get it done better, faster and at less cost. Our contract engineering services and custom manufacturing solutions are available for every stage of your product life cycle.