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Many clients throughout the Zephyr Cove area have heard the term vacuum forming, but they do not know what it really means, and they don’t know what it does or how it can help them in their business. Vacuum forming is a procedure that can shape performance plastic sheet materials into many different forms, and it is one of the best ways to make a host of different plastic products.

How Does it Work?

A type of thermoforming, vacuum forming, is a process by which a plastic sheet or thin sheet of plastic, such as a PVC sheet, is heated up so that it becomes malleable. The heating process includes the use of aluminum plates and infrared heaters. The heat application will come from the top and the bottom so that it is uniform and will provide the best results.

Once the heat finally reaches the proper temperature (which can differ based on the thickness of the sheets in use) the vacuum will mold the sheets to form the product. The vacuum is able to provide an airtight environment, which is going to be better for the overall molding process.

Products from Vacuum Forming

With this type of thermoforming, one could create countless types of products, and you may find that your company could benefit greatly from the process. One of the most common products using vacuum forming today are children’s plastic toys, but that’s just one of the possibilities. Product packaging is another option, and it is one most companies that create, manufacture, package and sell products could use. Most of the plastic items that you see around the home and office have gone through some type of thermoforming, and it’s often the vacuum process.

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Plastics cover a broad field of organic synthetic resin and may be divided into two main classifications - aerospace thermoplastics _ and aerospace thermosetting plastics. Thermoplastics may be softened by heat and can be dissolved in various organic solvents.

Aerospace Thermoplastics.

Thermoplastics may be softened by heat and can be dissolved in various organic solvents. Two kinds of transparent thermoplastic materials are commonly employed in windows, canopies, etc. These are known as acrylic plastics and cellulose acetate plastics. Cellulose acetate was used in the past but since it is dimensionally unstable and turns yellow after it has been installed for a time, it has just about passed from the scene and is not considered an acceptable substitute for acrylic. Acrylic plastics are known by the trade names of Lucite or Plexiglas and by the British as Perspex and meet the military specifications of MIL-P-5425 for regular acrylic, MIL-P-8184 -~ 184 for craze-resistant acrylic.

Aerospace Thermosetting Plastics.

Thermosetting plastics do not soften appreciably under heat but may char and blister at temperatures of 240 to 260 'C (400 to 500 °F). Most of the moulded products of synthetic resin composition, such as phenolic, urea-formaldehyde, and melamine formaldehyde resins, belong to the thermosetting group. Once the plastic becomes hard, additional heat will not change it back into a liquid as it would with a thermoplastic.

Storage and handling.

Because transparent thermoplastic sheets soften and deform when they are heated, they must be where the temperature will never be excessive.

Aerospace thermoforming.

Transparent acrylic plastics get soft and pliable when they are heated to their forming temperatures and can be formed to almost any shape. When they cool, they retain the shape to which they were formed. Acrylic plastic may be cold-bent into a single curvature if the material is thin and the bending radius is at least 180 times the thickness of the sheet. Cold bending beyond these limits will impose so much stress on the surface of the plastic that tiny fissures or cracks, called crazing, will form.

Forming methods.

Simple Curve Forming. Heat the plastic material to the recommended temperature, remove it from the heat source, and carefully drape it over the prepared form. Carefully press the hot plastic to the form and either hold or clamp the sheet in place until it cools. This process may take from ten minutes to one-half hour. Do not force-cool it.

Compound-Curve Forming.

This type of forming is normally used for such parts as canopies or complex wingtip light covers, and it requires a great deal of specialized equipment. There are four commonly used methods, each having its advantages and disadvantages.

Stretch forming. Preheated acrylic sheets are stretched mechanically over the form in much the same way as is done with the simple curved piece. Special care must be taken to preserve uniform thickness of the material, since some parts will have to stretch more than others.

Male And Female Die Forming. This requires expensive matching male and female dies. The heated plastic sheet is placed between the dies which are then mated. When the plastic cools, the dies are opened.

Aerospace Vacuum Forming Without Forms. Many aircraft canopies are formed by this method. In this process a clamp with an opening of the desired shape is placed over a vacuum box and the heated sheet of plastic is clamped in place. When the air in the box is evacuated, the outside air pressure will force the hot plastic through the opening and form the concave canopy. It is the surface tension of the plastic that shapes the canopy.

Aerospace Vacuum Forming With A Female Form. If the shape needed is other than that which would be formed by surface tension, a female mould, or form must be used. It is placed below the plastic sheet and the vacuum pump is connected. When air from the form is evacuated, the outside air pressure will force the hot plastic sheet into the mould and fill it.

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Polycarbonate, otherwise known as its trademarked name, Lexan, is a group of thermoplastic polymers. They are used very much in the modern chemistry industry because they can be very easy worked and molded into different shapes and they can also be thermoformed. They show great capacities for temperature resistance, impact resistance as well as for optical properties. They are not grouped specifically into one position for their properties but are considered to be somewhere in between the engineering plastics and commodity plastics.

There are a number of advantages and disadvantages to polycarbonate if they indeed can be labeled as such. The advantages of this material of course are because of its properties. They are being used more for household products now than before because of the quality of goods that they can produce. Manufacturers are designing items not only for the household but for use in laboratories and in industry because of its resistance to temperatures and its ability to be easy shaped. Another advantage is the fact it can be injected into various objects which allows it to be used for discs, bottles, glasses, lenses, audio player cases, and lab equipment.

The unfortunate side to polycarbonate is that because of its chemical makeup and property, it is recommended only for those products that are used once, not repeatedly. Although it has other properties such as resilience and toughness, repeated use of the one object may be potentially hazardous to the health. This is due to the leaching of Bisphenol A which has been shown over time to cause the enlargement of the reproductive organs in female mice. It is also said to be responsible for neural and behavioral changes when given to younger animals. It is not certain how this relates to human life but because of the uncertainty, there are warnings concerning the repeated use of bottles and other products made with polycarbonate.

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