Plastics cover a broad field of organic synthetic resin and may be divided into two main classifications - aerospace thermoplastics _ and aerospace thermosetting plastics. Thermoplastics may be softened by heat and can be dissolved in various organic solvents.
Thermoplastics may be softened by heat and can be dissolved in various organic solvents. Two kinds of transparent thermoplastic materials are commonly employed in windows, canopies, etc. These are known as acrylic plastics and cellulose acetate plastics. Cellulose acetate was used in the past but since it is dimensionally unstable and turns yellow after it has been installed for a time, it has just about passed from the scene and is not considered an acceptable substitute for acrylic. Acrylic plastics are known by the trade names of Lucite or Plexiglas and by the British as Perspex and meet the military specifications of MIL-P-5425 for regular acrylic, MIL-P-8184 -~ 184 for craze-resistant acrylic.
Aerospace Thermosetting Plastics.
Thermosetting plastics do not soften appreciably under heat but may char and blister at temperatures of 240 to 260 'C (400 to 500 °F). Most of the moulded products of synthetic resin composition, such as phenolic, urea-formaldehyde, and melamine formaldehyde resins, belong to the thermosetting group. Once the plastic becomes hard, additional heat will not change it back into a liquid as it would with a thermoplastic.
Storage and handling.
Because transparent thermoplastic sheets soften and deform when they are heated, they must be where the temperature will never be excessive.
Transparent acrylic plastics get soft and pliable when they are heated to their forming temperatures and can be formed to almost any shape. When they cool, they retain the shape to which they were formed. Acrylic plastic may be cold-bent into a single curvature if the material is thin and the bending radius is at least 180 times the thickness of the sheet. Cold bending beyond these limits will impose so much stress on the surface of the plastic that tiny fissures or cracks, called crazing, will form.
Simple Curve Forming. Heat the plastic material to the recommended temperature, remove it from the heat source, and carefully drape it over the prepared form. Carefully press the hot plastic to the form and either hold or clamp the sheet in place until it cools. This process may take from ten minutes to one-half hour. Do not force-cool it.
This type of forming is normally used for such parts as canopies or complex wingtip light covers, and it requires a great deal of specialized equipment. There are four commonly used methods, each having its advantages and disadvantages.
Stretch forming. Preheated acrylic sheets are stretched mechanically over the form in much the same way as is done with the simple curved piece. Special care must be taken to preserve uniform thickness of the material, since some parts will have to stretch more than others.
Male And Female Die Forming. This requires expensive matching male and female dies. The heated plastic sheet is placed between the dies which are then mated. When the plastic cools, the dies are opened.
Aerospace Vacuum Forming Without Forms. Many aircraft canopies are formed by this method. In this process a clamp with an opening of the desired shape is placed over a vacuum box and the heated sheet of plastic is clamped in place. When the air in the box is evacuated, the outside air pressure will force the hot plastic through the opening and form the concave canopy. It is the surface tension of the plastic that shapes the canopy.
Aerospace Vacuum Forming With A Female Form. If the shape needed is other than that which would be formed by surface tension, a female mould, or form must be used. It is placed below the plastic sheet and the vacuum pump is connected. When air from the form is evacuated, the outside air pressure will force the hot plastic sheet into the mould and fill it.
In vacuum forming or thermoforming fabrication, the material is just as important as the mold. If a lower-quality plastic sheet is used, the end product could be compromised. The color of the sheet could be uneven and inconsistent. Unpredictable melting could occur, causing irregular gauge thickness. Longer curing and drying could add operation time and cost to the fabrication process. In other words, having the best vacuum formable plastic sheet will always yield the best-finished product.
In short, vacuum forming is a stripped down, simpler adaptation of thermoforming. With vacuum forming, a heated, pliant plastic sheet is stretched on top or inside of a mold. The formable sheet then conforms to the shape of the mold with the application of a vacuum to ensure the plastic fills the mold, tightly and neatly. Once the sheet is formed, the vacuum is released, along with the now-formed plastic sheet.
Vacuum forming is ideal for prototyping and manufacturing parts with a shorter-run production output due to being an easy and economical operation. It is also an outstanding way to fabricate more shallow molds without the higher operational costs associated with thermoforming. Newer, technological advances have allowed vacuum forming with deeper molds, as long as the formable sheet is of higher quality and is mechanically stretched before application to the mold.
When selecting the material for your project, forming plastic is an ideal option. Vacuum formable plastic sheets, usually made of PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride) are designed especially for the vacuum forming or thermoforming process. They can withstand heat application without melting or breaking down. They are also highly regarded for their ease of processing and are inexpensive in comparison to other sheets. Be sure to choose a plastic or PVC sheet that meets your specific requirements, such as thickness, color, surface texture, and overall size. Look for a product that offers precise gauge control and consistent color with lot-to-lot traceability. This way, there will be no differences between manufacturing runs.
There are a variety of applications that benefit from both vacuum/thermoforming and formable plastic sheets. The production of kiosks and automated teller machines include external plastic structures that accommodate delicate, internal mechanisms securely and with branded aesthetics. Since the formable sheets are highly customizable, medical device housing and electronic equipment cases can be properly fitted for a precise fit and appropriate protection. On a smaller scale, electrical components are a perfect application because of the inherent flame retardance of the formable plastic sheet material.
If you are considering your options for a small run of manufactured molded parts or experimenting with a prototype, vacuum forming/thermoforming with vacuum formable plastic sheets is an excellent choice. While the manufacturing process itself is straightforward, the selection of an industry-proven formable sheet will provide high-performance durability without cutting into your bottom line. Be sure to choose a high-quality formable plastic sheet that will hold up to the demands of your next project; you will have a consistent, reliable end product every time.