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3D Printed Vacuum Forming Prototypes

 At the prototype level of any design process, the need for functional parts (manufacturer production materials) for testing of product designs are commonly obtained at a high cost and with a long delivery based on tooling design and manufacture. Vacuum forming is a common process to manufacture high-volume plastic parts. 

The Technology

Vacuum forming is a process that is used in order to create a replica of a mold. It is a very efficient, cost-effective and fast way to recreate a mold. A piece of non-toxic plastic is heated, while a mold is being set in place. After the plastic is heated to the desired temperature, it is tightly pressed upon the mold. The vacuum quickly suctions out the air pockets between the plastic and the mold, pulling the overlaying plastic to an almost exact fit. The newly shaped plastic is then removed from the top of the mold, and the replica is complete. 

IC3D, our partner who offers this technology, is capable of vacuum forming and trimming parts. They print their own tooling in house for forming as well as the fixturing for trimming parts. IC3D manufactures and delivers final trimmed parts in addition to tooling, which is a cost and time savings benefit. 

The Opportunities 

3D printed dies have many benefits over a conventional metal die. A 3D printed die has the ability to: 

  • Withstand heated vacuum form materials such as ABS and polystyrene. 
  • Form complex shapes that can be easily and quickly printed. 
  • Not require hand finishing; can go directly from the 3D printing machine to part manufacturing. 
  • Manufacture standard-size tools in less than one week.