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Thermoforming at NPE: Machines Raise Performance Bar

NPE2012 News Wrap Up

Exhibitors at this year’s show introduced an assortment of new machines and upgraded models with designs incorporating the latest in mechanical, hydraulic, and electronic technologies.


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In response to ongoing changes and challenges in the packaging market, thermoforming equipment manufacturers have made R&D and product development a top priority since NPE2009. The investment appears to have paid off, as exhibitors at this year’s show introduced an assortment of new machines and upgraded models with designs incorporating the latest in mechanical, hydraulic, and electronic technologies.

In keeping with its strategy of expanding and repositioning its product line in the market, GN Thermoforming Equipment displayed its newest plug-assist machine, the GN760. Making its North American debut, the cut-in-place machine has a 762  x 533 forming area and is aimed initially at medium- to large-volume runs of food trays of PET/PE laminate.

In Orlando, the machine ran trays 10-up with a skeletal web scrap of 18%, compared with 30% scrap for a typical form-cut-stack tool. The machine recovers braking energy from its electric servo drives, resulting in power savings that GN estimates to be worth about $9000/yr. Jerome Romkey, GN’s marketing manager, says the market switch to PET, brought about largely by growth in recycling of plastic bottles, compelled GN to become a bigger player in plug-assist machines. “PET tends to thin out in heat-contact machines and likes to be plug-assisted,” Romkey explains.

Having introduced its first Quad series machine three years ago, Brown Machine LLC made some significant changes in its latest addition to the line. The model C5-5454SP has 180 tons of coining force and a platen deflection rating of ± 0.003 in. Jim Robbins, v.p. of sales and marketing, says low platen deflection and repeatability have been enhanced by a number of design changes.

First, the addition of hinge points along the index rail prevents excess binding and torque on the index system, commonly found in “V” process applications. The company also replaced the single motor and drive shaft in the sheet index system with two independent servo motors located at the exit end of the thermoformer. The motors pull material through the rails, ensuring sheet flatness and minimum index variation, Robbins reports. Moreover, the machine’s pneumatic chain tensioning system has been redesigned to allow a greater degree of chain stretch while providing more rigidity.

Gabler Thermoform GmbH & Co in Germany featured the latest addition to its Focus M line for medium-volume production of trays, clamshells, and lids. The new Focus M60 is the smallest in the line to date. It has a forming area of 525 x 330 mm and a clamp force of 36 metric tons. High clamp force and large forming area means users do not have to reduce the number of cavities when switching from PP to PET, a material that requires higher cutting forces, claims sales manager Mathias Klein.

The machine is also equipped with Gabler’s swiveling mold. The latter has independent drives for the main table and the tilting table, which Klein says facilitates faster cycling than other types of swivel- or tilt-tool machines. The M60 is capable of up to 55 cycles/min.

OMV Machinery displayed its F88 large-platen modular thermoformer for forming shallow-draw products such as bowls and plates from PS, PP, and other materials. At the show the machine produced 16-oz PP bowls using a 28-cavity mold with a speed of 30 cycles/min.

The F88 has a forming area of 1280 x 750 mm and can run at up to 46 cycles/min. It comes with in-mold trimming and stacking. The show machine was equipped with a transverse unloading conveyor. An integrated mini-calender polishes the sheet and imparts enough residual heat to preclude the need for an oven in most cases.

A second version of the machine comes with a steel-rule cutting die and is aimed primarily at hinged PET fruit boxes.

Lyle Industries Inc. highlighted its Informer II control system. The PLC-based system has been in development over the past few years and is now standard on all of the company’s FM-series thermoformers. The system provides improved temperature and motion control, as well as faster cycles than Lyle’s former PC-based controls.

Known for high-output cup-forming machinery, Kiefel (keifel.de) featured its top-of-the-line model, the Thermorunner KTR 6 L Speed. At NPE, it formed PP drink cups 50-up at around 42 cycles/ min. The machine has a forming area of 780 x 560 mm and is driven by a servo motor and radial cams with a coining force of up to 60 m.t. It also has the company’s tilting lower platen for high-speed part ejection. The machine at the show was integrated with the company’s inline vertical stacker.


Several companies exhibited new test and auxiliary equipment. Irwin Research and Development Inc.  showed its Irwin S100 hot-wire sheet splicer for continuous forming of rolled foam sheet. The device, which made its trade-show debut at NPE, uses a set of nip rolls and a photo-eye loop sensor to butt-weld new and used sheets of foam without downtime for roll changes. A company spokesman said similar machines on the market use tape or an overlap weld.

Zed Industries Inc. displayed a new pressure former for prototype and light production, the model L3. Mark Zelnick, president, said that while most laboratory machines will only form, this cut-in-place machine is designed for pre-production tooling. Mold sizes range from 25  x 25 in. up to 30  x 36 in. Zed Industries also introduced a roll-lift/roll holder. The device allows operators to chuck and lift rolls of plastic by using two independent cams, thus eliminating the need for a loading bar through the middle of the roll.

Trelleborg Offshore featured its PBT syntactic-foam Eccolite Ultra plug-assist material. The company claims that the material has a higher compressive strength than other thermoplastic plug-assist materials, as well as a higher service temperature and lower conductivity than standard industry materials.  “Eccolite Ultra is unique in that it allows machines to form intricate details at high cycle rates, without creating chill or swirl marks, or breaking plugs,” says Will Ricci, sales manager.


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