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Why Medical Device Manufacturers are Turning to Thermoforming

medical deviceThermoforming plastic isn’t new, but medical device thermoforming is attracting significant new interest among manufacturers who have come to appreciate its production benefits and cost savings.

It’s a relatively simple process in which a sheet of thermoplastic material is heated enough to soften it, then stretched over mold plates, cooled and trimmed. Medical device thermoforming uses thick gauge material to produce rigid, sturdy items such as enclosures, housings and covers. It’s ideal for custom device and equipment markets where quality performance and appearance are essential but vast volumes aren’t necessary.

Medical device thermoforming is often used for:

  • Large, flat parts.
  • Medical and electronic equipment covers and panels.
  • Sidewalls.
  • Bezels and enclosures.
  • Internal components.
  • Work-in-progress trays.
  • Hospital room panels.

Medical device thermoforming can also involve the use of thin gauge materials to produce flexible packaging products such as clamshell containers and trays in very high quantities.

What makes medical device thermoforming so popular?

It’s often compared to injection molding. And although injection molding has its place for certain types of production needs, medical device thermoforming offers distinct advantages:

  • Versatility. You can produce a couple of prototypes or thousands of pieces, using a single sheet of material or multi-layering that combines materials to create the final product. Flexible tooling and engineering facilitate frequent mold changes, assuring a shorter lead time to market, often a vital consideration for medical device manufacturers.
  • Good looks. You can achieve a top-quality finish whether you require a smooth surface or sharp three-dimensional detail, because medical device thermoforming allows close tolerances and other tight specifications.
  • Lower costs. Low initial tooling and assembly costs make medical device thermoforming substantially less expensive than injection molding, because tools for lower volume production are usually made of aluminum, which is less costly. The ability to produce parts at a more economical cost per piece improves competitiveness.  .

Medical device thermoforming is also coming into its own because more types of materials are now available in sheet form. For instance, polyacetal sheet stock can be particularly valuable for certain applications because it is resistant to many chemicals. Nylon and polyphenylene sulfide are also now available in grades appropriate for thermoforming

An article in Plastics Today cites several examples of the varied ways in which manufacturers are using medical device thermoforming:

  • Universal clamshell design that has two different types of handles and can be used with 35 different products.
  • Packaging made of a specially-developed material that costs less because it’s less dense than PVC, polycarbonate or polyester.
  • A medical scanner enclosure assembly that incorporates a tool with undercut details, secondary tooling and precise finishing.
  • Trays with undercut snap fittings.

Medical devices require consistently superior quality and performance. Thermoforming supports innovative design while controlling costs, even with smaller volume runs. That ability to produce fewer pieces quickly makes thermoforming an agile process for manufacturers that produce a changing array of custom products. For an increasing number of applications, medical device thermoforming can produce reliably top-quality products, cost-effectively.

intro to thermoforming

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Why Medical Device Manufacturers are Turning to Thermoforming from Mayfield Plastics