The Secret to Thermoforming Large Parts
When it comes to making large custom parts in low to medium volumes, thermoforming is the way to go. It’s more cost-effective than injection molding and is perfect where weight is a factor. So what’s involved when we say ‘large’ parts?
What Qualifies as “Large” for Thermoforming?
Q: How large is a large thermoforming project?
A: Bigger than a small one.
When we talk about large parts in the thermoforming process, there’s no set size. But generally ‘large’ can mean anywhere from 3 feet up to 6 feet or more, it can also mean a depth of draw from 10 to 40 inches.
So what would be considered large-scale parts? Certainly, pieces used in storage and shipping (like pallets or hoppers) fall into this category, but so do a number of enclosures and bins. Guards, vehicle parts, and signs do as well.
Essentially, large-scale here means any part that you would otherwise need to make out of fiberglass or out of multiple plastic parts.
What Should I Keep in Mind When Designing Large Thermoformed Parts?
The process of designing thermoformed parts – large or small – has a lot of considerations. You’ll want to keep in mind:
- Depth of draw: this is the ratio between a parts’ depth to its width.
- Detail: how meticulous should surface features be in your final product.
- Ribbing: Ribs are sometimes added to aid structural integrity or just for appearance.
- Fillets: For maximum strength, the radii of the fillets should be at least equal to the wall thickness of the sheet with a minimum of 1/32 of an inch.
…among other factors in the process. Here’s where you’ll want to consult with an expert while designing your product.
What Types of Plastics are Used for Large Thermoformed Parts?
There’s a wide range of plastics used in the thermoforming process including:
Again, like with any other thermoforming project, you’ll want to work with an expert (like us) to select the best material for your needs.
What are the Benefits of Using Thermoforming for Large Parts?
Thermoforming has plenty of benefits over using metal or other materials for large-scale parts. These include:
Cost: Thermoforming plastic is more cost-effective than using other materials. There’s a lower tooling cost compared to alternatives along with shorter lead times. Part of the reason for this is that often only one half of a mold is needed for the process (rather than the standard male/female pair)
Turnaround: Thermoforming prototypes can be produced within weeks. Other materials used for large-scale prototypes can take much longer.
Look: Parts manufactured this way tend to have better aesthetics than fiberglass or metal. They’ll have better detail, part reliability, and you can combine multiple components into one cohesive part. Thermoforming has near limitless options for texture, color, and finish.
Weight: Thermoformed parts can be 30% lighter than equivalent fiberglass parts. That’s especially crucial when it comes to modeling parts for vehicles and equipment.
Reusable & Recyclable: Most thermoformed plastic products are very robust hence they are very sustainable over multiple uses. If and when they do come to the end of a useful life most can be recycled by reprocessing the material for use in making new useful products.
What Equipment is Used for Large Part Thermoforming?
At Vantage, we have the equipment needed to do large-scale thermoforming well. Vantage Plastics currently has more than 15 thermoforming machines specialized to handle most of the range of heavy gauge thermoforming jobs you might expect to ever encounter. This includes one of the largest thermoforming machines in the world today.
Get Your Large Projects Done Right
If you’ve used other methods for manufacturing large-scale parts, it’s time to give thermoforming a try. The cost and structural benefits are tremendous and perfect for prototyping. Get in touch with Vantage Plastics today and see how thermoforming solutions can work for you.