Plastic thermoforming is one of the fastest growing methods of producing plastic packaging. It is also used to produce parts for many other industries including food, medical, appliance, automotive and signage. Plastic thermoforming is used in both high and low volume production operations as well as for prototype applications. The principal advantages of the process are its low initial tooling cost and its low equipment costs when compared to plastic injection and plastic blow molding processes. In its basic operation, a flat thermoplastic sheet of specific size is clamped in place, heated to its softening temperature, then forced against the contours of a mold or form by either air or vacuum pressure or by mechanical means. Once cooled, the thermoformed part retains the shape of the mold or form. The part is then trimmed and separated from the remaining sheet material, which is recycled for reuse.
The most widely used plastic materials in thermoforming are the amorphous or non-crystalline types, with the most popular including: • ‘PVC’ or Polyvinyl Chloride • Polyethylene • Impact Modified Polystyrene • Acrylic • ‘ABS’ or Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene • Polycarbonate Material stock for thermoforming is available in two different forms, cut sheet, which is primarily used for heavier gauge products requiring thicker wall sections, and thinner gauge roll-fed sheet, which is used in high-volume, light weight packaging applications. These materials often incorporate colors, anti-static agents, ultraviolet inhibitors, fire retardants, and other additives to enhance the final product use and packaging requirements. Additionally, thermoplastic sheets with multiple layers may be used. These can provide efficient barriers to oxygen and moisture and other attributes in critical packaging applications.
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