What Do We Mean By “Male” and “Female” Tools?

ToolsIn the plastics trade, we often talk about manufacturing “male” and “female” tools. What exactly does this mean?

No, we’re not talking about creating specific tools for men and different tools for women. Rather, when we look at connectors and fasteners, we see that there are two components that fit together. Needing a way to distinguish one connector from the other, someone long ago decided that easiest way to remember the difference was to use gendered words. For obvious reasons, the part with protrusions that fits into the other part is the “male” tool, while the other is the “female” tool.

Yes, this dynamic is relatively crude and there are endless bawdy jokes that could (and have) been made. Somehow, though, these terms have stuck and are common industry parlance. Therefore, regardless of their origins, knowing what “male” and “female” tools means and how to tell one type of part from the other is important, especially if your product incorporates connectors and fasteners.

Thermoforming Process (step-by-step)

thermoforming-thumb-200Vacuum Forming Plastic Process (step-by-step)

  • A material blank which has a length and width greater than the finished part is loaded into a clamp frame to be carried through the process.
  • The blank in the clamp frame moves into an oven where it is heated to the forming temperature. At the forming temperature, the material is softened and pliable, but remains in a sheet configuration and is not melted.
  • The material is then moved from the oven to the forming station. The softened blank is then sealed on the deck of the tool. In some instances, low pressure air will prestretch the material to enhance wall thickness uniformity on the finished part.
  • A vacuum is drawn between the blank and tool to form the softened material against the tool surface. In pressure forming, while the vacuum is drawn to avoid air entrapment, positive air pressure is applied on the non tool side of the material to force the material against the tool surface.
  • An option for the process when using female tools is to use a ‘pusher’ or ‘plug assist’ on the non tool side of the blank to control and improve material distribution in the finished part.
  • The (now) formed part, while still in the clamp frame, is removed from the forming tool.
  • The clamp frame releases (opens) for part removal.
  • The formed part is now ready for the next step – trimming.

Plastic Process Comparison

The chart below compares thermoforming in the first two columns of vacuum forming/pressure forming with reaction injection molding, injection molding and structural foam molding. The highest value is 10 and lowest is 1. Thermoforming also competes with rotomolding, blow molding, fiberglass, and sheetmetal fabrication.

Vacuum Forming Pressure Forming RIM Injection Molding Structural Foam
Part Cost 8 7 6 10 7
Tool Cost 8 9 5 1 5
Process Pressure 9 8 5 1 5
Part Mfg Cycle 5 6 6 10 8
Machine Cost 7 6 5 2 4
Material Types 7 8 2 10 9
Maximum Size 8 7 6 2 6
Residual Stress 8 7 9 1 5
Process Pressure 8 6 5 1 3