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What Is Vacuum Forming?


Vacuum forming is a manufacturing process that makes products and parts like packaging, signage, and automotive parts. In vacuum forming, a plastic material is heated until it becomes pliable. The sheet is then placed over a mould, and a vacuum is applied, drawing the material into the cavity. The material is cooled and solidified, and the finished product is removed from the mould.

Vacuum forming is a relatively simple and cost-effective manufacturing process, making it a popular choice for producing small and medium-sized parts in high volumes. It is also well-suited for producing parts with a high degree of detail and a smooth, uniform finish. Vacuum forming can produce parts with high accuracy and repeatability, but it may not be as precise as other plastic manufacturing processes, such as injection moulding. It is well-suited for producing parts with high chemical resistance and UV stability.

What Products are made with Vacuum Forming?

Vacuum forming is used to make a wide variety of products including:

  • Plastic packaging containers (such as clamshells, blister packs)
  • Automotive parts (dashboards, wheel well liners)
  • Medical equipment (bedpans, oxygen masks)
  • Signage (letters, logos, display signs)
  • Thermoformed plastic trays, lids and clamshells for consumer goods.
  • Protective covers and cases for electronics
  • Custom product displays and point-of-purchase (POP) displays.
  • Toys and hobby items
  • Aircraft interior parts and panels.

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What Materials are used for Vacuum Forming?

The most common materials used for vacuum forming are thermoplastics, including:

  • Polyethylene (PE)
  • Polystyrene (PS)
  • Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS)
  • Polypropylene (PP)
  • Acrylic (PMMA)
  • Polyvinyl chloride (PVC)
  • High-impact polystyrene (HIPS)

These materials are chosen for vacuum forming due to their thermal stability, low melting point, and ease of moulding. They can be easily formed into various shapes and sizes while maintaining their strength and durability.

What are the Advantages of Vacuum Forming?

  • Economical for low volume production runs: The vacuum forming process is an economical option for low volume production runs, making it suitable for small businesses.
  • Efficient use of material: The vacuum forming process uses only the necessary material, reducing waste and costs.
  • Good for creating prototypes: The vacuum forming process is well suited for creating prototypes because it is quick, low-cost and can produce a functional prototype quickly.
  • Smooth surface finish: The vacuum forming process produces a smooth surface finish, which can improve the product's aesthetic appeal.
  • Good dimensional stability: The vacuum forming process helps maintain dimensional stability, ensuring that the finished product has consistent dimensions.
  • Ability to form large parts: The vacuum forming process can form large plastic parts, making it suitable for applications that require large pieces.

What are the Disadvantages of Vacuum Forming?

  • Poor part stability: The vacuum formed parts may have poor stability. Warping also may occur, which can affect the final product.
  • Can produce stress in parts: The vacuum forming process can produce stress in the parts, which may affect the strength and durability of the product.
  • Limited to forming thin materials: The vacuum forming process is limited to forming thin materials and may not be suitable for applications that require thicker materials.
  • Materials could shrink: Vacuum forming can cause material shrinkage, which may affect the dimensional accuracy of the final product.
  • Limited to shallow depth parts: The vacuum forming process is limited to shallow parts and may not be suitable for applications that require deeper depths.
  • Not strong enough for some applications: The vacuum formed parts may not be strong enough for those requiring high strength and durability.
  • Not suitable for high heat applications: Vacuum forming may not be suitable for applications that require exposure to high temperatures.

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