While a classroom education can offer great package design industry insights, a hands-on internship can provide a one-of-a-kind experience for students interested in careers as their company’s in-house thermoforming expert. We wanted to share some key ideas and considerations for these aspiring thermoformer experts.
What Makes a Good Thermoformed Part?
There are many important considerations for custom thermoforming, but the key to all of them is quality. From material selection and distribution to implementing cleanroom technology and heat sealing tooling, to ensuring a high speed to market, quality should be the focus at every touchpoint.
Thermoforming lines consist of three types:
- Sheet feed – heavy gauge
- Roll feed – thin gauge
- Inline thermoforming – thin gauge pellet to part
Of the three, inline thermoforming is the best practice for high-quality plastic packaging.
The two different mold types – male and female – differ in shape and the way in which the material sinks into the mold. With male molds, hot plastic shrinks to the mold and the bottom is the strongest part of the tray – a critical feature for snap molds. On a female mold, the material shrinks away from the mold and leaves a more consistent flange for sealing.
Manufacturers use plug assist pressure forming methods to create the actual packages; these processes include vacuum forming, blow forming, plugging, clamp frame sealing and three axes plugging to stretch the heated materials over the mold.
Automation Integration & Other Cost Saving Opportunities for Tooling Development
To decrease implementation time, manufacturers are increasingly identifying opportunities for automation integration between part and equipment. Simpler opportunities to optimize the packaging development process, such as creating complete scope evaluations, launching with pilot tooling, using correctly sized and gauged tooling, and optimizing shipping density with stackable products, will all help to achieve cost and time savings.
Key Material Considerations
Manufacturers should always be able to answer the question, “Why did you choose that material?” Material selection is a major key, as different materials will react differently to the thermoforming process and affect overall performance of the final product.
Important considerations such as the package’s intended industry and environmental conditions, as well as distinct material qualities like processing speed, shrink rate, down gauge, heat deflection temperature, and strength, will all have an effect on the manufacturing process and product performance.
High efficiency thermoforming involves achieving the thinnest gauge possible while still maintaining a high-quality part. Manufacturers can estimate minimum wall thickness based on material gauge, flat distance, length of profile, and difficulty factor of the specific job. With the proper design, tooling, and processes, minimum thicknesses allow packages to survive the trials of sterilization, pressurization, and distribution.
Available Internship Programs
Plastic Ingenuity partners with many universities to offer an outreach program for students interested in package design. The program is comprised of package engineering internships and professional development opportunities.
Want to Learn More?
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