Thermoforming is the amalgamated description of various thermoplastic sheet forming techniques, such as vacuum forming, pressure forming, matched mold forming and their combinations. All of these forming techniques require a premanufactured thermoplastic sheet. The process involves heating the plastic sheet to a temperature range where it is soft, and then stretching the softened sheet against a mold surface. When the sheet has cooled to the point where it retains the shape of the mold, the sheet is removed from the mold and excess plastic is trimmed from the part.
Products made by this process are generally finished after the trimming operation and are ready to be used. However, some thermoformed products are designed as components of larger items, such as heavy truck and construction equipment, boats and recreational vehicles, aircraft, communication systems and automobiles. These parts may require additional work after trimming, such as painting, gluing and in many cases the installation of electronics and monitors into complete assemblies.
The thermoforming process offers fast and uniform forming and therefore lends itself to automation and long term production runs. With its relatively fast molding cycles and comparatively inexpensive mold costs, the thermoforming process is often chosen as the most cost-effective manufacturing methods over all the other processes. As the process becomes more sophisticated and the heating & electronics more controllable, thermoforming can be considered for more applications.
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