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How Does Vacuum Forming Work?

Vacuum forming is a valuable plastic product manufacturing method due to its cost-effectiveness and efficiency. This process generates components in various configurations and quantities while maintaining cost-effectiveness.

Some of the many benefits of vacuum-forming plastic components include lower tooling costs compared to other manufacturing methods, faster prototyping, and lower costs per part for low to moderate production volumes. The benefits of this simple thermoforming process are evident, but what is vacuum forming?

How Does Vacuum Forming Work?

Vacuum forming refers to the manufacturing process of converting plastic materials into the desired shape using thermoforming. In vacuum thermoforming, heat is applied to a plastic sheet, making it soft and pliable. The heated plastic is then formed around a mold using suction. 

Vacuum forming is a streamlined manufacturing process, an aspect that makes it a favorite in many industries. It is ideal for producing low to medium-volume batch or huge-format assemblies. Further, it can offer an affordable substitute for injection molding, which requires expensive tooling. Vacuum Forming

The Vacuum Forming Process 

Vacuum forming is a multi-step process that makes it possible to shape and form plastic products to fit any shape, design, or size requirement. The process of vacuum forming is as follows: 

  • Making the mold. The vacuum forming process starts with constructing a mold in the shape you want the plastic to take. Molds are commonly constructed of MDF, aluminum, wood, etc. The mold should include sharp or angled edges to allow for easy removal of the plastic part after the vacuum forming is complete. 
  • Placing the mold into the vacuum former. The next step involves placing the mold into the vacuum former and clamping the plastic sheet above it. 
  • Positioning the heater above the plastic. The heater warms the plastic and ensures it is sufficiently moldable and flexible. The plastic takes a few minutes to reach the correct temperature for molding. 
  • Moving the shelf towards the plastic. Once it warms up, the next step is bringing the mold close to the plastic by moving the shelf that holds the mold upwards. 
  • Switching on the vacuum former. The vacuum former eliminates air from the machine and allows the plastic to form the shape of the mold. Once formed, the sheet should be left to cool on the mold.  
  • Removing the sheet from the vacuum former. Once it has cooled, extract the plastic from the vacuum former. The formed part may have some unwanted or excess plastic around the edges. These may need trimming. The formed sheet can now undergo other processes, including hot-stamping, screen printing, or painting. 

Advantages of Vacuum Forming

Below are the advantages of choosing the vacuum forming process to turn your plastic materials into the desired shape:

  • Design flexibility: With highly customizable molds, you can create a variety of shapes for your products.
  • Fast production: The vacuum forming process produces each piece relatively fast, benefitting projects with tight production windows. 
  • Lower tooling costs: Vacuum forming is cost-effective. Its manufacturing costs are lower compared to other types of fabrication and can be made even more economical when using cost-effective materials. 
  • Quick, accurate prototyping: You can quickly create prototypes for your products due to the fast process and low cost without sacrificing precision. 
  • Excellent for large parts or multi-part applications: Vacuum forming allows you to scale your production easily for large or multi-part components while keeping costs affordable. 
  • Good for moderate to low annual volumes: Vacuum forming is ideal for companies with moderate to low production volumes and large component fabrication needs.

Precision Vacuum Forming From COMCO

COMCO Plastics is the place to go for high-quality vacuum forming services at cost-effective rates. We are well equipped with CNC milling and turning, annealing, assembly, fabrication, vapor polishing, quality assurance, and inspection capabilities. Contact us today for more details about our materials and capabilities or request a quote anytime and get started.

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