Thermoformed plastic packaging starts as a sheet of plastic that must be manipulated like clay to form a new shape. Of course, since plastic typically retains its shape unless exposed to heat, packaging companies treat the material in order to manipulate it. They treat it with heat in a process called thermoforming, because when the plastic reaches a certain temperature, it loses its structural integrity and can be molded like dough.
Before the Thermoformer
Before the plastic can be shaped, the designers must develop a packaging design that suits the product being created. Generally, the package is designed to closely conform to the product, eliminating the concern that the product will be loose inside the package. A tight mold holds the product in place, so when the packaging company designs its package, it does so with both presentation and aesthetics in mind. When the packaging design has been finalized, a mold is created—this mold is what the heated plastic will wrap around during the thermoforming process.
Inside the Machine
When plastic progresses through a thermoformer, it is heated enough to make it start to melt—the temperature at which this occurs depends on the type of plastic being used. When the plastic is heated and malleable, it is stretched out over the mold, and it conforms to the mold’s shape. The plastic is allowed to cool, and as it does, it retains the shape that it took in the mold.
Trimming and Finishing
After the plastic has cooled and been removed from the mold, the heating part of the thermoforming process is complete, but the plastic package is not yet finished. The plastic, now in the shape of the mold, undergoes a trimming process that removes any excess material and helps the material take its final shape. The trimming process may vary depending on the product that is going into the packaging—namely, in the production of plastic medical packaging. During this process, a special proprietary trimming process may be used in a clean room to eliminate any microscopic bacteria and particles.
To learn more about custom thermoforming options, contact Plastic Ingenuity today.