Covestro – Films – High Pressure Forming & Thermoforming

A comparison of methods

High Pressure Forming & Thermoforming

One of the key steps in processing films is shaping a printed, semi-finished film into a three-dimensional component. Two main processes have become established: thermoforming and high pressure forming (HPF), developed by Covestro and Niebling. In addition, the possibility also exists of giving films a 3D contour mechanically with a punch, or using other special techniques.

The HPF method – Shaping for highly accurate positioning of symbols

In the HPF method, a printed film clamped inside a forming tool is shaped in the region of its softening temperature by the sudden application of heated compressed air at a pressure of 50 to 300 bar. This method can also be used to fabricate complex 3D geometries. Decorative features and surfaces can be changed quickly. Shaping is so precise that imprinted symbols, pictograms, letters or numbers remain precisely positioned. The distortion resulting from shaping is constant and can be compensated by distortion printing. The technology therefore is particularly effective for the volume production of components with display elements, such as 3D tachometers, heat vent fascia, dials, radio fascia and mobile phone top shells. The positional accuracy of the symbols printed on the films after shaping is a key advantage of the patented HPF process compared to thermoforming. High pressure forming even is preferable for processing matte or textured films, because thermoforming makes matte films glossy and the heat of the process damages textures.

Large-format film components in a single step

The HPF method originally was designed for semi-finished films up to a size of DIN A3. However, in response to the rising demand for larger, printed and precision-shaped film formats, we have enhanced HPF technology together with our partner Niebling Gmbh, Penzberg, Germany. Machines are available now that can shape films measuring 500 x 1000 millimeters at pressures in the region of 150 bar. The forming tools can process components up to 150 millimeters high. Thanks to this process innovation, it is now possible to fabricate large-format components, such as center consoles and decorative trim for the automotive industry, or large-format parts for the household appliances industry, from a single semi-finished film.

Thermoforming – High draw ratios possible

In thermoforming, the semi-finished film – roll-fed or sheet-fed depending on the type of machine – is heated by radiant heaters to significantly above the softening temperature Tg, drawn by a vacuum and/or compressed air into the heated mold and formed. Compared to the HPF method, thermoforming allows a greater degree of stretching and improved forming precision, particularly in the corners of a component. It therefore is suitable primarily for large-format parts. Thermoforming is also suitable for decorating film moldings with what are known as continuous design elements, where decorative features do not need to be positioned with pinpoint accuracy, as is the case with a burl wood or carbon design, for instance.

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