Thermoform tooling is a manufacturing procedure for producing the tools needed in the thermoforming process. When thermoforming, the molds used to form the plastic could be made up of many different materials, such as wood or steel. However, one of the most cost effective and adaptable materials used in thermoform tooling is aluminum. Aluminum thermoforming results in quality tools that offer consistency and durability for our customers.
What Is Thermoform tooling?
Thermoforming is a manufacturing process in which a plastic sheet is heated to a pliable temperature, formed to a specific shape in a mold, and trimmed to create a usable product. The sheet, referred to as the film, is heated to a high-enough temperature that permits it to be stretched into or onto a mold and cooled to a finished shape.
Because thermoforming customers require a wide variety of shapes and sizes to meet their packaging or other needs, manufacturers must use a large number of different molds and tools to create the desired forms. Thermoform tooling, when combined with advanced finishing techniques, offers results similar to what can be expected of injection molding, but at a reduced cost.
Aluminum tooling is particularly effective due to its ability to offer close tolerances, tight specifications, and sharp details. Aluminum is also a much easier material to use and can produce diverse parts in whatever size or shape that is desired by the customer. The use of aluminum also allows designers to more easily test for any design flaws and get customer feedback prior to mass production.
The main reason that thermoforming makes it possible to replace the more expensive and time-consuming injection molds is the vacuum fixture. These fixtures can make a reverse impression of the part and allow for it to be mounted into the vacuum box. The trim fixture must consistently hold the part that is being trimmed under vacuum pressure to ensure uniform results.
How Is Aluminum Used In Thermoform Tooling?
Thermoforming tooling can be built from a wide variety of materials, including wood, cast aluminum, or machined aluminum. Temporary molds are more likely to be made of wood or composites, because they can be more quickly created, but they lack durability and precision.
Permanent tools are generally made from either machined or cast aluminum. These tools are easily modifiable, saving money and making it easier to make changes during the production process as needed. This means that aluminum thermoforming is a far superior choice to molded steel tooling when the manufacturing process has not been finalized.
Machined aluminum molds are usually constructed for shallow parts with small draw ratios. Aluminum has the advantage of being able to hold cost to tolerances. The molds are mounted on a control base in order to manage the mold temperature during formation. A variety of mold types can be machined using aluminum molds, including male and female molds and vacuum- and pressure-formed molds. Machined aluminum also features the ability to offer texturing, along with both loose and pneumatic cores and inserts.
Cast aluminum molds are normally cast using a composite material at a foundry using a pre-designed pattern, and most often have larger draw ratios. Similar to machined aluminum molds, cast aluminum molds can form male or female molds and be vacuum- or pressure-formed.
Thermoforming only works on controlled sides because of its strict adherence to close tolerances. This allows the manufacturer to recreate sharp and crisp details with close tolerances, including undercuts, formed-in textures, formed-in logos, and formed-in hardware, as well as custom coloring.
Industries That Use Aluminum In Thermoform Tooling
These above features mean that aluminum thermoformed products are perfect for the construction of large panels, housings, and enclosures, many of which require further refining of their design for optimal performance. For example, aluminum thermoforming makes it easier to design for one-sided parts than does injection molding.
A wide range of industries benefit from thermoform tooling, including aerospace, agriculture, transportation, chemical, electronics, food, medical, packaging, and pharmaceutical. Everyday products that use thermoforming include cups and trays, food containers, lids, clamshells, and medical devices.
Aluminum thermoform molding is a durable choice for your manufacturing needs. Molds made from aluminum are more cost effective thanks to their ability to ensure the molds adhere to required tolerances, specifications, and details. Compared with injection molding, aluminum thermoforming makes it relatively easy to produce any number of parts of the desired size and shape.
They also offer increased flexibility when creating various prototypes, each with their own degrees of functionality. This means that aluminum does a great job of balancing between more solid and temporary construction choices, allowing manufacturers to adhere to high standards of quality while saving both time and money.