What Is Vacuum Forming?

While there are many different manufacturing processes for plastic components, vacuum forming is one of the oldest and remains a competitive option for low-cost components. Explore how this process works, common applications and where you can turn for a precision manufacturing solution.

How Vacuum Forming Works

The basic process involves a heated sheet of plastic that is suctioned around a mold to create a component. This style of thermoforming uses vacuum power, rather than pressure from a second mold. Pressure molding, which is another popular form of thermoforming, uses a convex, or positive, mold to press against the concave, or negative, mold. Vacuum forming instead uses these steps to achieve similar results with only a single, negative mold:

  1. A plastic sheet is clamped into an open frame.
  2. Heat is applied to the plastic to create a pliable sheet.
  3. A negative mold is placed under the sheet of heated plastic.
  4. A vacuum is created to draw the sheet down around the mold.
  5. The plastic is cooled, removed and trimmed to create the final product.

Common Applications

While there are limitations for vacuum molding, it is still a popular option for many industries. Here are common industries that take advantage of this custom, affordable process:

  • Automotive
  • Confectionary
  • Electronics
  • Packaging
  • Education

Automotive components, such as plastic bumpers and floors mats, still rely on this affordable method of manufacturing. Even large items, such as truck beds, can be vacuum formed in less time and cost than other manufacturing processes, such as 3D printing.

Packaging still relies heavily on this process. Packaging for cleaning products, makeup, electronics, toothbrushes and many other consumer products can be made affordable and efficiently with a vacuum form.

Benefits of Vacuum Forming

There are many benefits to choosing a vacuum form over other manufacturing processes. While this process may not be the most cost-effective for bulk orders and has a limit to the types of materials available, you can enjoy these benefits when you work with Special Tool and Engineering on your next small-to-mid-range order.

Rapid Turnaround Time

The vacuum machine used in this type of molding can be used with a wide range of negative molds. This means that we only need to create a single mold to prepare for a custom run. Other thermoforming techniques typically require both negative and positive molds, which require twice the time to create. A fast production time helps you hit your prototype or custom order deadline with time for alterations or additional production runs.

Cost-Effective Manufacturing

Less molding and less material waste result in a cost-effective manufacturing option. Vacuum forming is particularly popular in prototyping and tooling. They can also be used affordably in production runs of 300 units per year or less.

Custom Designs

Don’t rely on a generic mold or limited manufacturing process for your thermoforming needs. Work with a design team to create a unique mold and choose a custom material and color to create the exact component your manufacturing process needs. Discuss your part need with our team at Special Tool and Engineering to see how we can meet your design needs with a vacuum form press.

Sterile Manufacturing

A vacuum form can even be used to create sterile products for medical use. Choose medical-grade materials that can withstand the process of sterilization and meet the guidelines for medical and pharmaceutical manufacturing. Sterile plastic packaging is crucial for safely delivering sterile tools to medical customers.

Request a Vacuum Form Quote

At Special Tool and Engineering, we pride ourselves in dependable and affordable services for your industry. Our Roseville, MI, plant houses two vacuum form presses capable of handling custom orders for prototyping, small-batch or medium-batch orders. Contact us to request a vacuum forming quote today.

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