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Abstract

This article describes the results of a comprehensive investigation to determine the link between process parameters and observed wall thickness output for the plug-assisted thermoforming process. The overall objective of the work was to systematically investigate the process parameters that may be adjusted during production to control the wall thickness distribution of parts manufactured by plug-assisted thermoforming. The parameters investigated were the sheet temperature, plug temperature, plug speed, plug displacement, plug shape, and air pressure. As well as quantifying the effects of each parameter on the wall thickness distribution, a further aim of the work was to improve the understanding of the physical mechanisms of deformation of the sheet during the different stages of the process. The process parameters shown to have the greatest effect on experimentally determined wall thickness distribution were the plug displacement, sheet temperature, plug temperature, and plug shape. It is proposed that during the plug-assisted thermoforming of polystyrene the temperature dependent friction between the plug and sheet surface was the most important factor in determining product wall thickness distribution, whereas heat transfer was shown to play a less important role. POLYM. ENG. SCI., 50:1923–1934, 2010. © 2010 Society of Plastics Engineers