Vacuum forming has been used for nearly a century to make many of the products we see and use daily. From grocery store items to car parts, vacuum formed components are all around us. But how are they made - and how is 3D printing making them better?
Vacuum forming is a type of thermoforming: heat used to form a design. Thermoforming processes include vacuum forming, pressure forming, and twin sheet forming. Each of these processes uses a mould or moulds to shape heated sheets of plastic into the desired form.
Pressure forming methods require that the plastic sheet be pressed between two moulds and then heated to assume the shape. In twin sheet forming, two plastic sheets are heated and fused together to form double-walled or hollow parts.
Vacuum forming is the simplest of the thermoforming methods, using only one mould at a time. As the name might indicate, vacuum forming relies on a vacuum, as suction applied to the heated plastic sheet will draw it around the mould to create the appropriate contouring.
When it comes to vacuum forming, the sky is the limit. Heated plastic can be shaped to match a custom mould exactly. When the moulds are 3D printed, they can be made with more complexity, more detail, more options – and less cost.
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