What’s Your 2014 Thermoforming Resolution?

As 2013 draws to a close, we at CMT Materials would like to say ” thank you” to our valued customers, partners and friends around the world. It was a busy year for us and we’re looking forward to new projects and events in 2014.

One of our major goals for 2014 is to develop a new series of learning modules where we break down both fundamentals of syntactic foam and advanced topics in plug assist thermoforming. The K show in particular reminded us that many toolmakers and thermoformers are hiring new talent (though this isn’t always easy) and using new materials and methods to improve part performance. By formalizing much of what we’ve learned over the years, we hope to share this experience with both new hires and seasoned operators.

Lightweighting and downgauging are two big drivers that we think will continue to influence part geometry and associated plug design. Here are a few more items that we think will be important to toolmakers and thermoformers next year:

1. Increased awareness of how plugs interact with the tool and the sheet

In many of the workshops where CMT participated, the most “a-ha” moments occurred when people really started looking at different types of plug shapes. And not only shapes, but also plug surfaces. You can ask 6 different processors the best way to design a plug for a particular part, and you might very well get 6 different designs. By making subtle changes to the surface (through better machining and/or polishing), many people start to recognize the impact on the final part. In addition, more data and advanced control systems allow users to better control the timing and speed of the plug entry into the mold cavity.

2. Better understanding of the role of the plug in troubleshooting

We’ve seen plenty of damaged plugs over the years, though it’s true that HYTAC B1X and XTL stand up to repeated wear and tear. When we delve into troubleshooting with customers, we usually find some common culprits like sheet sticking (resolved by better polishing and lower sheet temperatures) and poor part clarity (resolved by, uh, better polishing and lower sheet temperatures). Of course, not all problems can be solved by looking at the plug, but where we have shared best practices, our customers have tended to see an improvement in the process.

3. More data = better informed operators

As we’ve written about before, the application of information technology to the thermoforming process is an interesting trend that echoes what we see in many other industries where “big data” is the order of the day. Having the ability to meter and monitor data from various sensors, gauges and scanners can help operators dial-in the process to minimize waste and optimize start-up. The ToolVu system and the Illig “Intelligent Control” system were two examples of how to capture thermoforming process data in order to improve quality and reduce downtime.

So, what are you thinking about for 2014? Join the conversation!