Vacuum forming

Vacuum forming is a simplified version of thermoforming, where a sheet of plastic is heated to a forming temperature, stretched onto a single-surface mold, and forced against the mold by a vacuum. This process can be used to form plastic into permanent objects such as turnpike signs and protective covers. Normally draft angles are present in the design of the mold (a recommended minimum of 3°) to ease removal of the formed plastic part from the mold.

Relatively deep parts can be formed if the formable sheet is mechanically or pneumatically stretched prior to bringing it into contact with the mold surface and applying vacuum.

Suitable materials for use in vacuum forming are conventionally thermoplastics. The most common and easiest to use thermoplastic is high impact polystyrene sheeting (HIPS). This is molded around a wood, structural foam or cast or machined aluminium mold, and can form to almost any shape. Vacuum forming is also appropriate for transparent materials such as acrylic, which are widely used in applications for aerospace such as passenger cabin window canopies for military fixed wing aircraft and compartments for rotary wing aircraft. Vacuum forming is often used in low-level technology classes for an easy way to mold.

Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) utilize heavy gauge vacuum formed components for production quantities in the range of 250–3000 units per year. Vacuum-formed components can be used in place of complex fabricated sheet metal, fiberglass, or plastic injection molding. Typical industry examples include kiosks and automated teller machines, enclosures for medical imaging and diagnostic equipment such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines, engine covers in a truck cab, and railcar interior trim and seat components. Vacuum formers are also often used by hobbyists, for applications such as RC cars and masks.

There are some problems encountered in the vacuum forming process. Absorbed moisture can expand, forming bubbles within the plastic's inner layers. This significantly weakens the plastic. However, this can be solved by drying the plastic for an extended period at high but sub-melting temperature. Webs can form around the mold, which is due to overheating the plastic and so must be carefully monitored. Webbing can also occur when a mold is too large or parts of the mold are too close together. Finally, objects that are formed often stick to the mold, which is remedied by using a draft angle of three degrees or more in the mold.

There are numerous patterns one can make with vacuum forming. The most inventive way to use vacuum forming is to take any small item, replicate it many times and then vacuum for the new pattern to create a more cohesive form. The vacuum forming helps tie the individual pieces together and make one mold out of many pieces that can easily be replicated. From there, you can cast plaster, concrete, etc. into the plastic form.

This page was last edited on 12 January 2018, at 20:06.
Reference: under CC BY-SA license.

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