Thin Gauge Thermoforming

Thin gauge thermoforming refers to the vacuum forming of product typically .060” and thinner. As opposed to heavy gauge, thin gauge thermoformed products are usually less permanent however much cheaper to manufacture per piece. Thin gauge products are usually formed out of PVC, ABS, Polycarbonate, or Polystyrene. Thin gauge thermoforming is more suited for lighter duty applications like food handling, medical, retail packaging, blister packages, cups, trays, clamshells, etc.

Thin gauge thermoform tooling utilizes a variety of materials depending on product tolerances and final application. However, due to the aesthetic nature of thin gauge parts, billet aluminum tooling is the most widely used in the industry. The reason for this is that the thinner the material that is used the more likely it is to show defects cause by mold surface imperfections. Instead of utilizing cast in temperature control line, billet aluminum molds are gun drilled to provide water channels under the mold surface to allow temperature regulation.

Where heavy gauge thermoforming most often utilizes pre cut plastic sheet that is loaded into a machine, thin gauge thermoforming usually uses continuously extruded or roll fed product that feeds directly into the machine, also called in line thermoforming. In line thermoforming allows for significantly faster cycle times than heavy gauge thermoforming by eliminating the need for hand loading plastic material shot after shot. Also, thin gauge material allows heat to dissipate from the molding surface more rapidly. Various types of stripper plates or trim dies can be incorporated into this process to even further automate production. Since most thin gauge thermoform products are used to keep food and medical products sterile, it is often required that thin gauge thermoformers operate their in-line machines in a “clean room”. In summary, although thin gauge thermoforming utilizes the same principles as heavy gauge to form product (heat and vacuum) the methods by which these are applied are quite different. Thin gauge in line thermoforming is an excellent option for producing extremely high quantities of product at a low per piece cost.