Field Notes: National Hands-On Heavy Gauge Thermoforming Workshop

by Kathleen Boivin, Sr. Materials Engineer, CMT Materials

Last week, CMT participated in the 4th annual National Hands-On Heavy Gauge Thermoforming Workshop at Pennsylvania College of Technology (Penn College) in Williamsport, PA.  CMT has participated in this workshop since its inception.  The first year, we attended the workshop as participants.  The last three years, we have supported the workshop with presentations on syntactic foam plug assist materials.

Penn College is a national leader in applied technology and prides itself on degrees that work.  It is only one of five institutions in the country that provide an accredited plastics engineering technology program.  The workshop was sponsored by the college’s Plastics Innovation & Resource Center (PIRC) and drew participants from six different companies in NY, MA, and PA.  The participants included machine operators, technicians, engineers, and purchasing managers.

Like the college, the workshop focused on hands-on learning by combining technical presentations with numerous labs.  The workshop was coordinated by Christopher Gagliano, Program Manager of the Thermoforming Center of Excellence (part of the PIRC) at Penn College.  Thermoforming expert, Jay Waddell of Plastic Concepts & Innovations, was the workshop leader.  Jay presented key information on heating the sheet, controlling vacuum, optimizing mold cooling and trouble-shooting.  Numerous guest speakers supported the workshop with presentations on their areas of expertise:

Roger Kipp of SPE: “Tooling Performance: The Little Things Mean a Lot”

Eric Short of PMC:  “Choosing the Right Material for the Job”

Dr. Joseph LeBlanc of Penn College:  “Heating & Cooling the Sheet”

Kathleen Boivin of CMT Materials:  “Optimizing the Cut Sheet Thermoforming Process with Syntactic Foam”

Sam Hacman of uVu Technologies – ToolVu: “Thermoforming Quality Control and Process Monitoring”

Bill Noderer of Raytek: “Explanation of Thermal Imaging Scanner Use & Benefits”

Our presentation focused on the fact that syntactic foam can be used anywhere that chilling of the sheet is an issue.  Often, heavy gauge formers do not use full-size syntactic foam plugs due to low volumes.  However, syntactic foam can be used as localized pushers, as mold inserts, on the clamp frame, and for prototype/low volume tooling.  Compared to other common assist materials such as wood and felt, syntactic foam offers the benefits of no bond lines, improved durability, minimal mark off, improved material distribution and part cost reduction (through down-gauging).

Participants acquired hands-on learning with labs in thermoforming, physical property testing, and extrusion.  In addition, a demonstration of CMT’s HYVAC vacuum fixture material was provided.

In the thermoforming lab, participants marked the sheet with gridlines so that they could visually see the material distribution.  They got to adjust machine parameters and see first-hand the impact of those changes.  The extrusion lab allowed participants to run the extruder, thread up the line and understand how hard it is to make good sheet.  The testing lab gave participants a better understanding of why sheet physical properties are important.  They got to see the effect of temperature on properties by testing the impact resistance of both room temperature and “frozen” sheet.

During the HYVAC demonstration, the benefit of being able to make a trim fixture quickly without machining was discussed.  The participants were given tips on fixture design and instructed on how to work with the material.  The participants got to work first-hand with the material and make several fixtures.

The participants enjoyed the workshop and found the information extremely valuable.  They especially appreciated the fact that about half of the workshop time was spent in the labs.  Penn College will be hosting the National Hands-On Thin Gauge Workshop on June 25 through 27.  Industry expert, Mark Strachan, of Global Thermoforming Technologies, will lead the workshop.