Thermoforming and 3D printing are two object manufacturing techniques. The former is considered more traditional, while the latter is perceived as a technology of the future. However, that doesn’t mean that you should consider one over the other in the context of an object manufacturing project. Each technique has its own advantages, and it’s also possible to envision a certain level of complementarity between the two.

Advantages and features of 3D printing

3D printing involves designing an object on the computer using modelling software. The manufacturing instructions are then sent to a device that constructs the object layer by layer by depositing material according to the desired shape. Previously reserved for prototypes, the advanced technologies recently observed in the field of 3D printing now allow for the creation of very complex objects by faithfully reproducing all the details. The quality is satisfactory enough that you can use 3D printers to create functional products.
This technique is particularly suitable for manufacturing small series of objects. The work is done quickly, and the 3D printers work with increasing precision. In addition, one of the main advantages is the fact that you can customize the shape of the object as much as you want.

Advantages and features of thermoforming

Thermoforming is used throughout the field of manufacturing everyday objects, including plastic containers. The process is carried out using a sheet or plate that’s heated before being placed in a mould. The material is then cooled, and the excess parts are trimmed away.
This description of the process is rather general. In actuality, there are several types of thermoforming. However, since that’s not the subject of this article, we won’t go into further detail.
Thermoforming is generally used in large-scale manufacturing. There are several different devices that can carry out the series of operations that make up thermoforming.

Combining the two techniques

They may be different, but the techniques of thermoforming and 3D printing share a few points in common, particularly the fact that they both primarily work with plastics. Of course, it’s also possible to use other materials. 3D printing can be done with certain types of metals, wax, or ceramics. As for thermoforming, there are techniques that allow you to work with different materials, such as glass.
Although both methods work independently, it can be appealing to combine the two in certain cases to obtain an optimal result.
For example, if you’re working on a project with several pieces, it might be the case that one method is better suited to one section of the project, while the other is more suitable to the rest. This technique has its advantages and disadvantages, but it’s possible to take advantage of this complementarity to achieve your goals.
Since thermoforming requires the use of a mould, another potentially interesting option would be to use 3D printing to produce this mould. However, to properly fulfill its role, the material from which the mould is made must be able to withstand heat.
In this way, we can rely on both the speed and precision of 3D printing as well as the larger-scale manufacturing potential of thermoforming.