As the UK’s leading vacuum forming specialists we have over 30 years of technical capability and are experts in using vacuum forming to make plastic parts that are durable, attractive and cost effective.

We are asked for advice on all aspects of thermoforming and vacuum forming so we’ve pulled together the most frequently asked questions and their answers in this article.

As you can imagine over such an extensive time in the industry we’ve been asked all of the questions under the sun about thermoforming and vacuum forming! We’ve pulled together the most frequently asked and their answers here for you – if you’ve got a specific question and would find it easier to pick up the phone, feel free to contact our team on 01482 646464.

Let’s dive straight into the FAQs…

General questions

What is thermoforming and vacuum forming?

The term thermoforming describes the process of heating a plastic sheet and using pressure to shape it into a mould. Vacuum forming is a specific thermoforming process in which vacuum technology and compressed air are used to force the heated plastic into the shape of the mould. Find out more in our guide to vacuum forming .

What parts would thermoforming be suitable for?

Thermoforming caters for a wide range of plastic parts in varying sizes and complexities, in fact it’s likely that many of the plastic products you come across in everyday life have been made using this popular technique. Large panels, enclosures, housings and similar parts are particularly well suited as the tooling costs are almost guaranteed to be considerably less than injection moulding.

What are the benefits of thermoforming?

There are a huge amount of benefits associated with choosing thermoforming to make your plastic products other over methods such as rotational and injection moulding. The two most common advantages that our clients cite are the low costs and exceptionally fast turnaround times. For more take a look at our blog post all about the various benefits of thermoforming .

What kind of cosmetic features does thermoforming allow?

A variety of cosmetic features can be achieved with thermoforming, including but not limited to formed-in textures and logos, undercuts and custom colours. Thermoforming allows for close tolerances and really sharp, crisp detail on the finished plastic part.

How can I get a quote for some parts?

We’d encourage you to call our expert team on 01482 646464 or fill in our online enquiry form with your details. In order for us to recommend the best process and moulds and to give an accurate quote we’ll need to see a basic sketch or CAD model and require information about your design goals, material choice if any, your quantities and the number of parts you expect to produce during the project lifetime.

Where do you ship to?

We are based in Hessle, near Hull, in the UK but have customers both nationally and internationally. Find out more about our global reach and ability to organise door to door freight movement to multiple world destinations.

Design questions

Can you provide design and engineering assistance for my project?

Yes, our dedicated staff have years of experience in thermoforming can provide a high level of design and engineering assistance for your vacuum forming project. We will work with you to improve your products right from the concept stage to the final production, to ensure an improved part and cost-effective approach – our customers say that this is what sets us apart from other companies.

What do you need from me to start designing a part?

If you have a concept, no matter how rough it is to begin, our experienced design team can start to create a design around it – including detailed drawings, CAD models and renderings. If you already have the CAD model or detailed design we can of course start from that and begin to create the moulds and tooling necessary. Essentially we can assist at any stage in the design process to move you onto prototype and production as smoothly as possible.

What tolerances are required for radii and draft angles?

This differs from project to project and will be determined by the part specifics and geometries. Our team will help you through the design process and make sure we get these important elements right – this way we can guarantee that the resulting vacuum-formed part will be right for your needs.

What file formats do you accept?

We work mainly with SolidWorks and IGS but are not limited to them – we can import just about any type of file onto our system.

Tooling questions

Do you manufacture thermoformed tooling?

Yes, here at Bridgewood we have the technical knowledge and capability to manufacture and maintain tooling for your needs. We can also safely store all tooling in-house for future projects.

Is tooling expensive?

Generally tooling for thermoforming is actually much cheaper than other moulding processes such as injection moulding. Tooling usually refers to the moulds and trim fixtures needed. These are designed based on such wide variety of factors that it’s difficult for us to give an average project tooling price, but we can reassure you that the thermoforming process can be very economical, especially for low to medium production volumes.

What’s the difference between a male mould and female mould?

A male mould is a positive mould so the plastic is stretched over it, then a vacuum applied to draw the plastic down onto the raised mould surface. A female mould is a negative mould where the vacuum draws the plastic down into a cavity. To decide which type is right for you we’ll consider the desired surface finish, tolerances and shape of the finished part.

What are moulds made from?

We’ll recommend the best tooling option for your project based on the production volume and specific design requirements. Typically aluminium, machined or cast, is chosen as it can be temperature controlled, offering a variety of advantages including improved detail, shorter cycle times and tight tolerances. We can also make moulds from other cost effective composite materials to offer easy machining and short or medium life, and look to other materials for lower quantity production runs and prototypes.

Production questions

What size of parts can be vacuum formed?

Bridgewood has the capabilities to form vacuum parts as large as 3.5m by 2.5m.

What materials can be used for vacuum forming?

Any thermoplastics with the appropriate strength at melting point can be vacuum formed. Our dedicated staff have the technical knowledge and expertise to help you select the best material for your part. You can also read our blog post about different vacuum forming materials and their individual characteristics for more information.

What material thickness can you form?

We typically work with materials in the range of 2.0 mm to 10.0mm, however we can be flexible on this if required for specific projects and have also worked with materials as thin as 0.5mm to 12.0mm.

Do you have a minimum production run?

We don’t necessarily quote a minimum part quantity for production as they vary so greatly due to different part complexities and setup times. We do often cater to low volume runs and prototyping. One specific element that could mean a set minimum production run is the material you choose – with a stock material there is typically no minimum, whereas if you have a specific material or colour requirement you could be looking at a minimum extrusion run for the plastic itself.

What is the average lead time?

Typically simple prototypes can be prepared within two or three weeks. This of course will vary based on the project itself but we do everything we can to keep your design cycle short. Then from the approval of your prototype, production lead time can range from as little as one week to a couple of months for more complex projects. It all depends on production quantity, material requirements and availability, and tooling fabrication.

Do you provide assembly of products post-operation?

Yes, we are used to dealing with a wide range of plastic products and parts, from small to large, and simple to extremely complex. Because of this we have a variety of final part assembly procedures that we can provide for you.

Have you found the answer you were looking for?

As the UK’s leading vacuum forming specialists we have over 30 years of technical capability and are experts in using vacuum forming to make plastic products that are attractive, cost effective and durable.

This article provides just a selection of the many questions we are asked about thermoforming and vacuum forming. If you couldn’t find the answer to your question please feel free to get in touch with an expert today on 01482 646464.