Thermoforming is the process of taking a sheet of plastic material and heating it up until its pliable, then forming it to a three-dimensional shape and trimming and finishing it into a usable product. The entire process can be simplified into the following steps from beginning to end.
The starting point is a design. Thermoformed products usually start out as a CAD model or drawing, but can certainly be brought to FLOE “on a paper napkin”. FLOE Thermoforming utilizes SolidWorks as our CAD platform and can convert most CAD files into our highly integrated CAD environment. When OEMs come to us with a CAD file, our engineers work to refine their CAD model into a shape that will work well with our thermoforming systems and plastics manufacturing processes.
Once the OEM’s design is ready, FLOE Thermoforming works with the OEM to select the right material for their project. FLOE Thermoforming has experience using a variety of materials, HMWPE plastic being the most widely used plastic material by FLOE for many of our captive designs. Every material has its own unique physical properties and benefits, as well as a selection of colored and textured materials.
Next a mold is created that the plastic sheet will be formed around. FLOE’s thermoforming processes best utilize aluminum molds; however, wood and other materials can be used for prototype and very low production volume molds. FLOE’s extremely large vacuum forming systems allow for multiple molds to be used at the same time. Using multiple molds or producing multiple parts in a single mold provides efficiency, reduces production times and lowers parts costs for our OEMs.
Once the material is selected and tooling built, the plastic sheet material and mold are loaded into the thermoforming machine where the part(s) can then be formed. The first step is to heat the plastic sheet to a pliable temperature, then shaping it to the mold using vacuum pressure or a combination of vacuum and physical pressure. After the material is formed to the mold, it is cooled and removed from the mold, retaining its final shape.
After the part has been thermoformed and removed from the mold and then the thermoforming machine, the part will be trimmed of its excess material. FLOE Thermoforming utilizes robotics and specialized trim fixtures and systems to quickly and accurately trim, drill, debur and finish our OEM’s parts.
Often times our OEMs would like FLOE Thermoforming to go beyond just trimming their parts. FLOE Thermoforming offers many secondary operations in-house, including but not limited to; rigidizing, stiffening, decaling, assembly and manufacturing of other materials and parts to be combined with the Thermoformed part. Additional services can include complete product manufacturing with other FLOE managed third party parts and final packaging and logistics that suit the OEM’s needs.