NPE 2009 Wrap-Up: New Machinery for Thermoforming
NPE had its share of innovations in thermoforming, notably a new machine that opens the small-bottle market to thermoformers. New trim stations offer more in the way of output and versatility. And more machines are now outfitted with off-the-shelf controls to facilitate servicing. A line of formers from Australia also arrived in the U.S. (Note: additional NPE thermoforming news appeared in May and June—see Learn More box.)
A new machine (not actually shown in Chicago) can thermoform yogurt-drink bottles that are normally injection or blow molded. Illig’s Bottleformer BF 70 reportedly can form up to 25,000 small bottles (200 ml) per hour. It uses deep-draw tooling with lower tool parts that move out of the way to allow bottles with steep undercuts and hourglass shapes to be demolded. The machine forms bottles and then punches them in a separate station, but Illig is developing new tooling that will permit the bottles to be formed and punched with steel-rule dies in one station.
The bottles look identical to injection molded ones, Illig says, but are made at much higher outputs. Moreover, parts weigh 40% less than blow molded versions (4.5 g vs. 8.5 g). The process can’t form threads, so containers are sealed flush. Illig introduced the process last year at Interpack show in Dusseldorf, Germany.
Another neat tooling trick is under development by GN Thermoforming Equipment in Canada. It would allow parts to be made with a “reverse lip” on a contact-heat former, a capability previously unavailable to such machines.
FASTER TRIM STATIONS
Several machine builders introduced trim stations for a variety of packaging applications and materials—all servo-driven and faster than previous models. GN has a new cutting station for PET, called the GN3021 DX, that reportedly cuts 30% faster than its previous models. The trick is micro vent holes 10 mm apart in the cutting plate that are so small they don’t leave visible marks on parts.
For faster trimming of PS foam, Commodore Technology displayed the Miracle trim press. Its electric servo movement initially closes slowly, accelerates to cut, and withdraws slowly again. This allows more time to feed product into cutting position for improved quality and 50% higher output for its size. It also trims wider sheets of foam than Commodore has trimmed before—up to 46 in. vs. a previous max. of 30 in.
Lyle Industries introduced its new P3 horizontal servo-driven trim press with side-loading tools for faster changeovers. Also new are servo feeding systems and a motorized product canopy.
Lyle also announced a new representation agreement with Scope Machinery Pty. from Australia, a maker of contact-heat, trim-in-place pressure formers for lightweight cookie trays that has not previously had a North American presence. Lyle will build and service Scope equipment.
Scope’s offerings include the Automatic Foil, a patented adjustable air baffle below the heated cutting plate. Auto Foil uses intersecting rods that open and close air holes, rapidly reconfiguring the forming air without changing baffles for part changes. Auto Foil is retrofittable onto existing Scope or GN contact-heat formers or old Kirkhoff machines.
Brown Machine introduced new high-output tooling to trim coffee lids and punch secondary holes. Brown’s B 5060 thermoformer (50 x 60 in. forming area) has 132 cavities for output of 250,000 lids/hr. Brown’s trim press pre-punches holes in four rows of lids, while simultaneously trimming four rows, for precise cuts in a total of eight rows at a time.
O.M.G. Srl in Italy (represented here by Packaging Resources) introduced its Elektra V2 high-speed, inline, all-electric vacuum/pressure former. Its trim press closes with servo-driven ball screws, and programmable extra cutting force is added by a patented planetary gear system.
LOTS OF NEW CONTROLS
Several suppliers introduced new thermoforming control systems using commercially available components for ease of service. Brown’s new controls use all Allen-Bradley components, including an industrial PC with a Windows operating system and “noise-immune” fiber-optic communication. It uses National Instruments Lookout software for the operator interface, supervisory control, and data acquisition.
Lyle’s new Informer 2 controls are based on an iQ PLC and other components from Mitsubishi Electric Automation for what Lyle says is more reliable control of machine movement than with PC-based systems. It can be retrofitted onto any computer-controlled thermoformer.
Several European OEMs recently began offering Toolvision software from Schoeberl Messtechnik in Germany as a control option for all tool motions, temperatures, and pressures in a thermoforming line. Gabler (a partner with Lyle) and Illig both offer Toolvision software as an option, as do two tool makers—Marbach and Mould & Matic Solutions.
RECYCLE TRIM SCRAP
To recycle thermoforming and sheet scrap, Irwin Research & Development introduced a low-speed (160-rpm) model in its Chesaw granulator series, combining features from several other models. Model 50-’09 (or Piranha) has five shafts: A “churn” or drum with teeth (from Irwin’s C Series) in the feed section pulls in sheet or de-nests containers. Then a two-shaft pre-shredder (from Irwin’s 2RS series) cuts scrap into short strips. Last, a two-knife shaft (from Irwin’s 50-’04 sheet granulator) grinds material to screen size. Throughput is 2500 lb/hr using only 30 hp and producing 90 db of noise.
New cost-effective technologies are designed to make aluminum an attractive alternative to tool steels in a range of plastics molding processes. One method uses a plasma technique to convert the aluminum surface into a hard, dense, wear-resistant ceramic. Another approach uses electro-deposition to apply a surface coating with high hardness, corrosion resistance, and chemical resistance.
Thermoformers are gaining a foothold in large exterior panels of specialized automobiles and utility vehicles.
With careful planning and adherence to best practices, crafting the right plug assist can put you on the path to high-quality, repeatable parts.