Thermoforming at its best

  • The Thermoforming Division of the Society of Plastics Engineers (SPE; Bethel, CT) recently announced the winners of its annual parts competition. This slide show details how some of the year’s most innovative thermoformers helped OEMs achieve winning designs in the packaging, medical and food and beverage sectors.

  • Gold and People’s Choice awards: Heavy gauge, pressure form

    Profile Plastics (Lake Bluff, IL)

    The medical cart shown here is an innovative surgical system providing flexibility during various procedures. The primary unit consists of seven pressure-formed enclosure parts, while the secondary cart unit comprises three pressure-formed components. Both utilize a PC‐ABS material to meet stringent rigidity, chemical, heat and cosmetic requirements. Customer parameters required zero or minimal mechanical attachment features, which presented unique forming challenges, said the company. Many of the attachment features were in-molded to meet customer requirements.

  • Gold award: Roll-fed, consumer

    Placon (Madison, WI)

    The Pokémon trading-card game package includes a rigid setup box with printed litho foil paper wrap and three thermoformed trays made with EcoStar recycled PET material.

    The versatile packaging configuration is intended for retail, but also converts into a storage device for players. The plastic clamshell in the cover allows for high-level promo cards to be displayed in the front of the box for retail presentation, and also allows consumers to swap out the cards and display their favorite ones. The magnetic closure on the front panel helps to keep the outer box closed and the product protected.

    The package design resulted in a product cost saving by reducing material thickness and allowing for multiple trays to be stacked together in one box. The $20 reduction in cost was passed along to the consumer.

  • Gold award: Roll-fed, innovative

    Placon (Madison, WI)

    The customer requested a thermoformed tray that could house several shaped name tags and help reduce freight costs since package-delivery companies changed to dimensional weight shipping models. Placon designed a sustainable, thermoformed tray made from Ecostar recycled PET material to organize, ship and display name tags for large meetings.

    A distinctive design innovation of the die cut shape allows for multiple tray configurations to house several name tag shape variations.

    The dual‐purpose snap fit closures connect two trays together to house 100 name cards, doubling capacity over the existing product. Simply unsnapping the closures to separate the two trays produces immediate setup for two registration lines by alphabetical order. Bending the tray along the middle perforation and securing the side tab locks hold the tray in place. Name tags with identification ribbons attached fit securely in the retention card pocket along the short side for easy display.

  • Silver award: Roll-fed, innovative

    CMI Plastics Inc. (Ayden, NC)

    This unique tray featuring a 750-ml Knob Creek bottle, 50-ml bitters bottle, one box of sugar cubes and a muddler is designed for value‐added promotion in the spirits category. The proposed design by the customer was for a rigid thermoformed tray from HIPS with a printed SBS mask. The design enhances the appearance of the final shelf presentation with a realistic representation of wood-grain barrel slats used for whisky.     

    The tray ultimately was made from co-extruded ABS, which provides better structural properties than the proposed HIPS design. Sixty percent of it is recycled utility black and 40% is color-match brown. This mix was carefully engineered to produce a gradient of black and brown colors, giving the tray a natural, weathered look. This also provides each tray with a unique finish.

    The design aspect of the wood grain was achieved by reverse engineering natural wood to pattern the surface. The master patterns were sculpted and sampled to ensure the proper look and manufacturability using aluminum cast molds.

  • Gold award: Roll-fed, food

    Global Plastics (Perris, CA)

    This 100%-recycled PET egg package will revolutionize the egg packaging industry, according to the company, because it was created with the help of egg farmers for optimal efficiency in high-speed automation equipment. Stores are demanding recycled PET, but no container until now has been able to give farms the ability to provide eggs in recycled PET while simultaneously meeting cost and production goals. This container, which holds four different sizes of eggs and uses a unique design to help keep eggs secure during transportation, will be the packing of choice for egg producers in the future not only because of operating efficiency or environmental benefits, but also because of the price point, according to the manufacturer. 

    The package has 12‐, 18‐ and 24‐count versions, as well as topper for the 60‐count bulk pack for club stores. It is currently offered in clear PET (made from soda and water bottles) and green PET (made from 7Up, Sprite and Mountain Dew bottles) and will soon be rolling out in amber versions (made from root beer and Arizona iced tea bottles).

    One of the most unique parts of the container is that it was designed such that the label could be stamped on the inside of the package. This allows egg producers to use the same package for all of their customers and reduce inventory. Packages can be sent to the farm, where labels are stamped on site to fill orders for different stores.

    With translucent PET, in‐store breakage is greatly reduced because customers no longer have to open the egg cartons and inspect the eggs.

  • Gold award: Heavy gauge, vacuum form

    Fiber Pad (Tulsa, OK)

    The shroud covers boat driver and passenger consoles and provides a surface to mount a windshield. The body of the shroud is vacuum formed by means of a custom-built machine that uses a “wrapping” method, which provides additional capabilities with larger undercuts than normally permitted with standard vacuum-forming machines and produces a more-consistent plastic thickness across the entire part.

    ABS is used with a decorative laminate that provides UV resistance and texture, at a starting thickness of 0.250 inches. Because of the difficult geometry, shrouds like this have been made using fiberglass. In an effort to lower boat weight and reduce the carbon footprint, this part was identified as a candidate for plastic replacement.

    The part comes off production tooling, which is cast aluminum with water lines for temperature control. Controlling mold temperature was instrumental in reducing and removing chill marks.

  • Silver award: Heavy gauge, pressure form

    Ray Products (Ontario, CA)

    A medical device manufacturer was ready to move from prototype to mid‐scale production. During the prototyping and approval process, the OEM used urethane casting to create the panels for the medical device enclosures. However, this was limited by manufacturing capacity and resulted in high per‐part costs and issues with part‐to-part consistency. By switching from urethane casting to pressure forming, the medical device manufacturer was able to significantly lower costs, improve manufacturing speed, increase durability and guarantee part‐to‐part repeatability while planning for future increases in demand and capacity.

    The design company worked closely with the thermoforming company’s manufacturing team and the medical device manufacturer’s engineering team to make sure they were getting the most out of the process. This meant reducing the total number of bosses, designing in undercut features for rigidity and improved fit, and working in other attachment points to lower the total manufacturing and assembly costs, while improving aesthetics.

    In order to achieve the required undercuts and tight-tolerance parts, the thermoformer used machined aluminum tooling that is temperature controlled with actuating slides. High-quality tooling also allows for the tools to be textured when the time comes for molded-in color. Starting with tooling that will achieve part‐to‐part repeatability is important when you are using six-axis robotic trim centers to complete your production parts.

    The thermoformer worked to develop a scalable manufacturing process. At the medical device manufacturer’s lower initial quantities, painting the finished parts was the most cost‐effective option. However, as the customer ramps up volume, the program will move into a molded‐in color process that will reduce costs and still maintain aesthetics and quality.

  • Gold award: Heavy gauge, twin sheet

    Therma‐Hexx (Portsmouth, NH)

    ThermaPANEL is a hydronic, modular heat-transfer system for heating and cooling exterior and interior environments and surfaces. It is primarily used for highly efficient snow melting of pedestal and ground mounted pavements and for collecting solar energy to heat swimming pools while cooling the pool patio.

    The ThermaPANEL units are twin-sheet thermoformed using PE‐RT plastic on a shuttle-type thermoformer. Production molds allow for the creation of a multi‐channel panel with flow stanchions and inlets that allow for even, turbulent flow of the hydronic fluid throughout the modular panel. The result is an enhanced, conductive or radiant heat transfer between the panel and any surface with which it is in contact.

    The 0.110-inch material is extruded into individual sheets and is corona treated on one side to allow for better aherence of the PSA adhesive that holds 1 inch of EPS insulation to the bottom of the panel. The temperature‐controlled tooling forms an inlet and outlet near the center of each panel allowing for the secondary process of socket fusion connection of ½-inch PE‐RT S-shaped tubes between the panels. In turn, they create foldable rows of pre‐assembled panels measuring up to 50-feet in length. The socket fusion process rounds out the imperfectly thermoformed inlets. An automatic-loading, double-end thermoformer is being built to cut production cycle time by more than 60%.

  • Silver award: Twin sheet

    Allied Plastics (Twin Lakes, WI)

    Even smarter-than-average bears will find it nigh-impossible to rummage through these roll-out carts with a custom lid. The lid is twin‐sheet formed to provide an aesthetic, structurally rigid assembly for the enclosure of a 95‐gallon garbage can cart. The existing cart lids in the field were constructed with a single sheet and then reinforced with metal angle or brackets and rivets to prevent bears from gaining entry to the cart. By using the twin-sheet process, the design team was able to make a much stronger lid but also have some flexibility when bears try to get into the cart. Upon release, the plastic immediately returns to its formed state. By using the twin-sheet process, the design team was able to create an aesthetically pleasing and robust product that can be produced in large quantities.

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