CMT Field Notes – 2016 European Thermoforming Conference Review

Our friends in Europe certainly know how to organize a conference. Of course, hosting the event on the Catalan coast of northern Spain provides plenty of incentive for people to attend. This year was the 10th conference sponsored by the European Thermoforming Division of SPE. With a record 245 attendees from 27 countries, it was an international affair covering topics such as 3D printing, recycling, in-mold labelling, and creative design. A strong academic presence also ensured that the math geeks in the audience got their fair share of computer-based simulation models related to sheet temperature control, a subject that is central to the science of thermoforming.


In addition to papers that set the crowd abuzz, especially the presentation given by Wim de Vos, CEO of SPE, chins were wagging in the hallways after Kiefel announced it had acquired Austrian moldmaker and automation company, Mould & Matic.

Keeping with tradition, the event kicked off with a 1-day thermoforming workshop led by instructors Peter Lichtherte and Mark Strachan. A cornucopia of information was presented and a lively discussion among the 35 participants ensured that both heavy- and thin-gauge concepts were covered. Both instructors stressed the importance of polymer science, upstream sheet extrusion and material handling as critical to getting consistent and repeatable thermoformed parts.

Several papers on 3D printing suggested big savings are possible for companies who are able to print prototype parts, prototype tooling (instead of wood), fixtures and jigs. 3D printed parts can therefore serve as virtual inventory which saves spaces and frees up cash flow. Lightweighting opportunities also exist for elements that can be integrated into value-added components such as hinges. Linked to 3D printing is design thinking, and one of the most talked-about presentations illustrated how CMF (color, material, finish), especially in the aviation industry, are integral to production.

The thin-gauge sessions included papers on T-IML and the continued influence of the coffee capsule market on thermoforming innovation. There was still 22% growth in coffee pods in 2012-3. Since the Nespresso and Green Mountain patents both expired in 2012, the number of capsule manufacturers has almost doubled. Multilayer films, faster machines, more sophisticated tools are all tied into the growth of this convenient little package. And plug-assisted thermoforming is proving to be the most efficient process for producing the pods: lighter than aluminum and injection-molded pods; large cavitation tools; barrier layer films for long shelf life. HYTAC B1X and XTL are typically the best plug choices for these high-volume, long-running jobs.

Speakers from RPC, a large Europe-based converter, and the equipment panel discussed the continued evolution of T-IML as a competitive decorative process. Higher output, lower product weight and lower capex – the advantages over injection molded parts are well-known, but the broader market has yet to fully embrace the technology. Illig and TSL, however, stated that they are building systems for both new and existing customers (RPC and others in Europe, Tech II in the US). For perspective, the panel reminded us that even though OMV first presented IML technology at K 1995, there are still only 5-10 T-IML lines in operation around the world.

On the heavy gauge side, several US companies discussed current and future trends in thermoforming. Evan Gilham of Productive Plastics presented a case study in lean manufacturing with impressive efficiencies. After performing gemba walks, the company moved to cell-based manufacturing and saw a reduction from 55 steps per product to 25 (averages).

In the Parts Competition, winners included an engine hood, a roof dome, a T-IML tub and a back-lit display part.

If you didn’t make it to Sitges, you can visit the ETD website and request access to the presentations.

The next stop for CMT is Chinaplas which returns to Shanghai this year. Second only to the K Fair (also later this year), Chinaplas continues to impress with large crowds and multiple concurrent events. HYTAC materials will feature in several machinery booths, both Asian and European. If you have plans to attend, be sure to look us up in booth W1Q41.