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Vacuum formed trays

Vac Formed Packaging Inserts

Improve handling efficiency and protection

Vacuum formed trays are perfect for enhancing your totes or handling containers due to the improved protection they offer for your parts or components.

Ideal for manufacturing industries, vacuum formed packaging inserts can be tailored to offer a precise fit. This aids handling, retrieval and also eliminates movement within the container to reduce damage. They are also ideal for clean room and applications that require ESD protection.

01: Key Benefits

Advantages to your business of using vac formed trays / inserts

Inefficient handling of parts can play a huge role in the success (or otherwise) of your manufacturing.

It can waste time. Lead to products being damaged. Slow down production operatives finding the parts they need, or preventing them from easily seeing when they will run out of something.

This is where using inserts and dunnage for your tote boxes proves invaluable, helping to address all of the above issues.

And whilst adjustable Correx® dividers or foam dunnage are suitable for specific scenarios, vacuum formed trays are a great choice for high volume and / or high value applications.

Key benefits of vacuum forming at a glance

  • Lightweight for ease of handling
  • Minimises movement (and therefore damage) during handling
  • Can be tailored to your product / component(s) for optimum fit
  • Retain shape and rigidity when removed from totes
  • Can also be layered in totes for further efficiency
  • Easy to clean and water / oil / grease resistant
  • Can mould in part numbers, instructions etc.
  • Can fit standard totes, or be manufactured to custom sizes
  • Thin material / nesting for saving space when not in use
  • ESD safe (conductive) versions available
  • Ideal for high volume requirements, and protecting high value items

02: Improve Handling Efficiency / Productivity.

Using plastic insert trays for handling applications

There are a number of ways in which use of vacuum formed trays can improve your handling efficiency and productivity.

Firstly, vac formed packaging inserts are extremely light in weight. This means they do not impact the safety and ease of handling of the exterior tote / container.

They can also be designed so that they can be layered within a tote, increasing the number of parts moved per trip, and therefore your improving your operatives’ productivity. Unlike Correx® dividers, they can also be easily removed from the totes whilst maintaining their shape / retaining their contents.

Vac formed trays
Vac formed trays offer excellent protection for specific parts or components, and can be layered in an outer container too

The nature of their design means they can often “nest” when not in use – saving storage space and allowing for more efficient return transit.

As vacuum formed trays are effectively moulded, it is possible to add part or batch numbers to the trays, along within any other important information that could aid the individual transporting the parts / components, or using them on the production line.

Whilst sampling and tooling costs are higher than comparable foam dunnage or plastic division sets, their low unit costs also make vac formed trays ideal for higher volume requirements.

What GWP Correx customers say about us

Whether used as manual transport containers – or for semi-automatic and fully automatic warehousing – SSI Schaefer Euro Light containers are used throughout all sectors that require efficient storage and handling. Quite simply, they are the toughest moulded tote boxes available today.

03: Part Protection.

Minimise wastage, “written off” stock and / or customer returns

A key benefit of using tote or packaging inserts of any type is to minimise movement within the outer container during transit or handling. This movement is the most common cause of damage to parts, components and products either during movement around your production facility or wider supply chain.

As with foam dunnage, Correx® divisions or even Bubble-board inserts, vac formed plastic insert trays can prevent this movement – and the resultant damage – by housing each item within its own recess or “pocket”.

Vac formed trays vs foam inserts

Whilst reusable packaging inserts with standard shapes / sizes of recess are available, the key advantage with vacuum forming is that (similar to high end engineered foam inserts) the recess can be shaped to the specific shape of your product or part.

Their main advantage over foam inserts however is that they do not suffer from “shedding” of dust or particles which can contaminate parts or components. This makes them ideal for clean room applications too.

Vac forming tote trays
Vac forming tote trays have long been used in industries such as automotive and aerospace

Besides this, ESD versions are available to offer further protection for any parts or components that may be sensitive to static. However, whilst foam dunnage is also available in conductive grades, the surface contact of foam on specific areas of the items being transported can result in short circuiting or damage.

Vac formed trays avoid this through greater control of the surface area coming into contact with the insert.

Why damage protection is important

It should probably go without saying what the benefits of minimising damage are, but reducing wastage, stock that is rejected and has to be repaired, recycled or discarded, or even returns from your customers, not only reduces your costs but can also help your business reputation too (through improved quality / supply).

A final benefit in terms of protection (and reusability) is that vac formed trays, being manufactured from plastic, are resistant to water, most chemicals, and are easily cleaned.

Besides this, if you have a product which – if broken or faulty – could leak fluid such as oil, the vac formed tray will contain this in the specific recess, preventing contamination across other parts in the same container.

04: Uses & Application.

Image gallery of vac formed trays and reusable packaging inserts

Please see below for a range of vac formed trays and tote containers designed and manufactured by GWP Correx®. Please click the thumbnail for a larger view.

05: Custom Options.

Custom vacuum formed trays tailored to your application

Whilst it is possible to source vacuum formed trays with standard pockets / recesses, the real benefits of using vac formed inserts comes through the range of customisation options available.

Firstly, the recesses / pockets can be shaped to be a very close fit to your specific part, product or component. This in turn offers additional protection to your items by minimising any movement during handling or transit.

Similarly to this, the layout of any recesses within the vac formed packaging can also be altered, allowing you to maximise the efficiency of your handling tote (effectively getting as many parts as possible within the outer container).

Vacuum formed tote trays
Vacuum formed tote trays offer a wide range of customisation options, including colours, material type, stacking features and much more besides...

Other features can be added as well however.

Stacking lugs can be included, allowing for multiple layers of product to be contained in a single tote. Conversely, the designs can allow for the trays to “nest”, which reduces the required storage space when not in use.

Use of different material colours can also to tie in with your company’s branding, whilst also helping to distinguish between similar components, batches or items.

This can also be achieved through additional moulding of instructions or part numbers (something which can also be achieved with labelling too).

Finally, it is possible to create anti static trays by using ESD safe material. These are a great solution for the safe handling and storage of electronics, and work particularly well with GWP’s range of conductive products.

06: Alternative Insert Options.

Are vacuum formed plastic insert trays the right option for you?

Whilst vacuum formed inserts are a great option for a wide range of industries and applications, there are a number of factors that can determine whether they are the right option for your business.

This can include everything from order volumes, shape, size and value of the parts or components that will be contained within the trays, and even environmental factors.

At a glance: tote insert options

Please see below for further information on the differing options available.

Correx dividers

Correx® Dividers

Custom or stock dividers and partition sets for increased flexibility and efficiency

Correx inserts

Correx® Inserts

Custom Correx® inserts to provide protection, identification and ease of use

Foam divider sets

Foam Dividers

Perfect for low volumes or for handling of items requiring high levels of protection

Transit packaging

Cardboard Dividers

Corrugated cardboard cell partitions that are perfect for a range of low cost applications

Collapsible tote divisions

ESD Safe Dunnage

Conductive dividers, layer pads and packaging inserts available from stock

GWP Correx totes guide

Checklist: 21 Key Considerations...

…when sourcing tote containers. Get your free guide highlighting the critical questions you should be asking. Click below to download now.

07: How Vacuum Forming Works.

What is vac forming (and thermo forming) to produce reusable packaging inserts?

Vacuum forming is similar to thermoforming (which produces comparable results), although simplified somewhat.

Effectively, it works by heating a sheet of plastic to a forming temperature which is then stretched onto a single surface mould, before a vacuum forces the material fully against it. Relatively deep parts can be formed, although this may require mechanically or pneumatically stretching the material prior to bringing it into contact with the mould.

The most commonly used material for vacuum forming is high impact polystyrene sheeting (HIPS) which is what is commonly referred to as a “thermoplastic”. This – and other materials of its type – can retain their shape when in contact with warm water, are hygienic, and as a result are often used in food packaging. Another benefit is that it can retain a good degree of strength, even with thin material thicknesses.

It should also be noted that clear materials – namely acrylic – can be vacuum moulded to produce parts such as aircraft cabin windows.

Once a vacuum formed plastic insert tray or item has been created, it must also be “finished”. This can include guillotining, CNC cutting or even press /roller cutting to reduce excess material (i.e. to make a vac formed tray fit neatly inside a tote), whilst holes can be drilled for specific application as well.

Vacuum forming video

For a good illustration of the vacuum forming process, please watch the video below (created by vacuum forming equipment manufacturers Formech).

08: FAQs.

Frequently asked questions about vacuum formed trays

Please see below for answers to commonly asked questions regarding vacuum formed tays and products.

However, if you can’t see the information you are looking for please don’t hesitate to get in touch with a member of the GWP team. We will be happy to help with any queries you may have.

What are vacuum formed trays?

Vacuum formed trays are used for material handling applications (i.e. moving parts or components around a factory or supply chain). They are manufactured by heating a sheet of plastic which is then stretched over a mould before being forced against it by a vacuum. Once cooled and removed from the mould, a rigid tote insert is produced.

What is the difference between vacuum forming and thermoforming?

Vacuum forming and thermoforming are effectively the same process of heating plastic to a malleable temperature before forming it to a specific shape. The difference however in vac forming is the additional process of using a vacuum to force the plastic material to conform to the mould.

What plastic can be used for vacuum forming?

A number of differing plastics can be used for vacuum forming. This includes vacuum forming grades of ABS, PETG sheets and – most commonly – HIPs (High Impact Polystyrene sheets). Vacuum formed trays are commonly manufactured from HIPs.

Why is HIPS used for vacuum forming?

HIPs is generally used for vacuum forming due to its malleability, plus its adherence to moulds when using low pressures. Using low forming pressures allows for (comparatively) low cost tooling, meaning the moulds can be made of inexpensive materials and mould fabrication time can be reasonably short.

Integrated cradles for totes
Integrated cradles for totes are an alternative to vacuum formed trays, but will generally involve design time.

Is HIPs recyclable?

Yes, HIPS and other polystyrene products can be recycled and this therefore minimizes the effect on the environment. Besides this, High Impact Polystyrene is cost effective to produce, meaning it’s use is widespread in the food industry.

What is the vacuum forming process?

As mentioned above, vacuum forming is effectively a version of thermoforming. A sheet of plastic is heated to a specific temperature (known as the forming temperature), and is then stretched onto a single-surface mould. The material is then forced against the mould by a vacuum.

What is webbing in vacuum forming?

Material webbing when vacuum forming is basically the unwanted wrinkles that can appear in the mould when the vacuum is applied and the plastic is stretched in a manner that wasn’t planned. It can happen if it is not possible to adequately control the flow of the heated sheet as the tool is raised into the material.

What is Draft casting, and why is it important for vacuum forming?

In engineering, the term “draft” refers to the amount of taper for moulded or cast parts perpendicular to the parting line. It can be measured in degrees or mm/mm (in/in). The draft or taper on the sides of the mould effectively allow for the finished plastic to be easily removed from the mould.

What is meant by a Male tool?

A male tool is a positive tool that when formed produces a forming that is above the clamping of the clamped sheet. With a male tool, the visible surface of the formed part is usually the top surface and therefore the thickness of the plastic sheet can hide some of the imperfections on the tool surface (producing a more attractive surface finish). Male tooling costs are generally less expensive than those of female tools.

Foam dunnage
Foam dunnage is another alternative to vacuum formed trays, but can suffer from material shedding that makes it unsuitable for clean room applications

What is a female tool?

A female tool is a tool that when formed produces a forming that is below the clamping of the clamped sheet. Female tools would be used for projects that require sharp details or deep cavities. In comparison to a male tool, female tools can help minimise the the potential of webbing and they can also allow for closer spacing that can allow for material savings.

What are plugs?

Plug-assist forming is the term used to describe the use of a male plug tool used to force the material into a female cavity within the moulding area. It enables complicated and deep-draw moulds to be produced without webbing and with even thickness distribution.

Are vacuum forming tools expensive?

The answer depends on what you are comparing the costs to! For producing tote inserts and vacuum formed trays, the tooling cost is significantly higher than for Correx® or plastic divisions (although the low unit costs make them competitive in high volume production). However, when compared to other tooling, such as that for injection moulding, vac formed tools are relatively low cost.

What is thermoformed plastic shrinkage?

Once cooled and hardened, the plastic material will tend to shrink on to a male mould (although different materials have differing shrinkage rates depending on the grade and thickness). This can cause issues with getting the material off of the mould, or with the tolerances of the finished item.

What is material shedding?

If using other types of tote inserts, such as cardboard or particularly foam inserts, shedding of material can occur over prolonged, repeated use. This is where small particles of the foam material are rubbed away, creating dust and fine debris which can contaminate or damage parts (something known as FOD – foreign object debris).

06: About GWP Correx®.

A plastic packaging manufacturer you can trust

GWP Correx® are UK experts in material handling products and packaging.

Whilst this has seen us largely focus on producing custom Correx® (corrugated plastic) products such as totes, boxes, trays and even picking bins, to offer a full range of options to businesses like yours you can also source vac formed trays, foam inserts and plastic dividers for customisation of your handling equipment.

Customised Euro containers
GWP Correx® can customise your Euro containers, with dividers, foam dunnage, inserts, exterior print, lids and more...

This range of options (foam for low volumes, vac forming for high volume and Correx® divisions for flexibility), ensures that your business can source a tried and tested solution regardless of the requirements of your production line, supply chain or other application. And sourcing your totes and inserts together also guarantees perfect compatibility, as well as a truly cost effective solution.

We also take pride in offering a bespoke design service, backed up by an experienced team of experts with specific knowledge of the challenges faced by a wide range of industries.

This is also complemented by knowledgeable and friendly support staff, material (and standard product) stock holding for fast lead times and no MOQs, plus free advice and guidance on the best products for your application.

Further Reading...

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Phone GWP Correx

01793 754 457

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[email protected]

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Can you see how using vacuum formed trays could have a positive impact on your handling efficiency?

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