Injection Moulding vs Thermoforming: Which is best for your product?

 

Injection moulding and thermoforming (also called vacuum forming) are the two main processes for producing plastic moulded parts. Injection moulding involves heating plastic pellets and injecting the resulting liquid into metal moulds, before cooling and releasing the plastic part. Whereas thermoforming involves heating a plastic sheet and stretching it over or into a mould’s surface using a vacuum and atmospheric air pressure.

 

Injection moulding vs thermoforming – which process to choose?

 

There are a number of key differences between injection moulding and thermoforming that will dictate which process is best suited for your application:

ConsiderationInjection MouldingThermoforming
VolumeExtremely high-volume productionHigh volume production (ranging from one-off to thousands)
FinishFinished parts producedSecondary finishing processes may be required and can be combined with sub-assembly on site to further refine and adapt the finished parts
Part sizeSmall, intricate, complex parts with narrow size tolerancesA full range of small, medium, and large parts with precise geometries and extremely high tolerances are achievable
MaterialA selection of materials are availableA large range of materials are available in a variation of colours
Lead timesLong-lead timesShort-lead times
CostCost-effective for extremely high-production runsCost-effective across a wider range of batch quantities
ToolingHigh initial tool cost, and tooling is unable to be modified easilyLower tooling cost and can be readily modified. Also good for prototyping as soft tooling is available

 

In conclusion, thermoforming is suited to a broad range of production applications. This is because thermoforming can be utilised to produce parts in a variety of sizes, which can then be further adapted through sub-assembly finishing. Moreover, thermoforming allows for shorter lead times when compared with injection moulding and is a cost-effective solution across multiple batch quantities. Finally, thermoforming results in lower tooling costs, with these tools also having the capacity to be modified throughout the production process.

 

The thermoforming process

 

Tool design and creation

Tool creation can be achieved with different production methods and materials depending on the specifications of the project. Tools are either positive (plastic is pulled over the mould) or negative (plastic is sucked into the mould using a vacuum). Tools can be made from the following materials:

  • Wood – Used for experimental or short runs
  • Resin/model board – More resistant, smooth, non-porous surface, and keeps its shape
  • Aluminium – Can be machined into more specific dimensions and used for longer production runs

Tool production

Once a design is finalised, the tools themselves need to be produced in line with the customer’s CAD data and drawings. Prior to use, these tool designs are sent to the customer for final approval.

 

Manufacture

In thermoforming, the materials are loaded onto the moulding machine, where they are heated until they reach the optimum temperature to be formed. A vacuum is then applied to pull the plastic over the tool while the edges of the sheet are held in place by a clamp frame. Once the material has cooled to the required temperature it then dismoulds.

 

As mentioned in the table above, thermoformed plastics can be further refined with secondary finishing, such as where the part is trimmed, as well as adding details like cutouts, holes, and sub-assemblies.

 

Sustainability of plastics

 

We now know that the revolution in plastic has been both a benefit and a detriment to our world. The versatility of plastic, its ability to be moulded into almost any shape and its durability have meant endless functions and unlimited possibilities – from kids’ toys, containers and wrapping, to computers, car parts, building materials and more. However, the advantages of plastic are also its disadvantages – its durability means an unnaturally long life, with some plastics taking up to a thousand years to decompose, and its ubiquity in modern (often disposable) culture have meant an increasing build-up with damaging effects on animals and the environment.

 

With rising concern and focus on the proliferation of plastics, those in the industry are working hard to lessen its impact. At Cox Wokingham, we pride ourselves on the fact that all of our excess materials are gathered and fully recycled – this means that none of our byproducts find their way to a landfill site. The use of recycled material helps the planet, helps companies hit their environmental targets, and can also help bring down the cost of certain projects, where virgin material cannot meet the same pricepoint as re-granulated plastics.

Thermoforming services from Cox Wokingham

 

At Cox Wokingham Plastics, we offer the full spectrum of services from Concept Support, Tool Making, Material Selection, Fabrication and Assembly to complement our Vacuum Forming and High Pressure Forming process. If you would like more information about what we do, or more help deciding which moulding option is best for you, please visit our website or contact a member of our team on Sales @CWPL.net or call 0118 977 4861 and ask for Iain Carstairs or Shaun Hamill. We at Cox Wokingham look forward to being of service to you.

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CONCEPT SUPPORT

Our approach is that every challenge is an opportunity to experiment, to innovate and to further our skills to the benefit of our customers.

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PROTOTYPING

COX’s expertise in the planning and production of prototype pieces is your shortcut to the right solution. Right on specification. Right on practicality and performance. And right on budget.

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VACUUM FORMING

COX offers a comprehensive range of thermoforming services, including vacuum forming, press forming and line bending.

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HIGH-PRESSURE FORMING

As well as having the skills and experience to push the limits of High Pressure Forming, COX also offers the technology in the shape of its huge GEISS T10 Pressure Former machine.

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FABRICATION

Through a wide range of high-quality Fabrication services, we have the facility to add extra value for our customers.

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MATERIAL SELECTION

Years of experience and application have given us an unrivalled reputation in advising on the properties and performance potential of a huge range of materials.

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TOOL MAKING

Our design, toolmaking and manufacturing services are second to none. From solving complex CNC programming issues to creating intricate jigs and specialist fixtures, the first step of a successful project is speaking to COX.

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CNC MACHINING

Our CNC machining capabilities are high on our list of specialisms. Whatever your requirements, we have the expertise and technology to develop the solution that’s exactly right for you.

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ASSEMBLY

We offer our customers a range of assembly and sub-assembly services, including painting, screening and shielding.

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LOGISTICAL SUPPORT

We can take care of all of your world-wide distribution requirements and export documentation.