In thermoforming, NPE2018 will be mostly about packaging. While the Thermoforming Zone in the South Hall will be a showcase of technology for both thin- and heavy-gauge forming, the machines running throughout the show will focus mainly on new developments in packaging, where faster cycles, quicker tool changes, and automation will be emphasized as formers look to raise the bar on efficiency.
The new M100 from Gabler Thermoform GmbH is billed as a revolutionary new tilt-bed machine, offering output increases of up to 50% compared with current industry standards. The machine will be forming a transparent PP drinking cup with a 69.5-mm diam. and height of 96 mm using a 90-cavity tool supplied by Marbach. A completely re-engineered forming station with the latest drive and guide technology provides a forming area of 1130 x 550 mm.
The M100 reportedly combines both performance and high-end technology while reducing energy consumption. Other machine features include a user-friendly touchscreen, reverse-stacker automation, Gabler’s SpeedFlow forming-air system, and improved production-monitoring and process-optimization features.
GN Thermoforming Equipment will showcase its GN800 machine for the first time in North America. Standard features include forming capability of 5 in. above and below the sheet line, in-mold-cut capability, auto-grease, heavy-duty bearings in the toggle system, and high-efficiency heaters.
Among GN’s top priorities are improving productivity and ensuring that processors produce the most finished parts per pound of sheet. To that end, the GN800 is geared to work with minimal sheet thicknesses, and the company has developed common-edge-cut tooling technology for its contact-heat thermoformers. Common-edge tooling offers the ability to form a series of square or rectangular trays in a row or multiple rows while eliminating all web between the edges of the products. Besides improving materials utilization, it fits with sustainability goals of many consumer packaged-goods companies.
At NPE2018, GN will demonstrate a common-edge-cut tool that was developed for the GN800 thermoformer in collaboration with Gravolab, a toolmaker from Romania. GN will run a meat tray in PET/PE laminate with a 12-cavity mold while maintaining a reduced scrap rate of 18%.
SencorpWhite will take the wraps off the Ultra 2. Designed for more precision and control of form and trim—along with efficiency—the Ultra 2 is equipped with a more robust, heavy-duty, rail-transport system said to be unmatched in the industry. This new system allows processors to use less material and generate less waste. The Ultra 2 utilizes a proprietary off-load system that’s claimed to be up to 70% faster than previous designs. It also uses inline steel-rule tools that cost one-tenth as much as standard punch-and-die tooling and reportedly can be changed in hours, not days.
Illig will display its RKDP 72 thermoformer running a six-up tool for PET tray production at 42 cycles/min.
Kiefel will form PP coffee K-cups on its KTR-6 thermoformer equipped with new tooling from Bosch-Sprang.
WM Thermoforming will showcase its FC 780 IM thermoformer with a six-up tool from Kiefer to produce tamper-evident PET clamshells, while OMG (omgitaly.com) will run a six-up tool.
Interestingly, all these machine builders will reportedly be using Hytac syntactic-foam plug-assist materials furnished by CMT Materials. The company says studies on the economic impact of plug-material selection show that Hytac plug assists help processors manage wall-thickness variation, reduce starting gauge, and improve cycle times.
“We continue to enjoy strong growth for copolymer and thermoplastic plug materials as the global plastics packaging market continues to evolve and grow,” says Conor Carlin, CMT’s sales and marketing manager. Carlin notes that CMT’s growth can be traced in part to material shifts away from PS to PP to new multilayer films. “These more complex polymers require more sophisticated plug assists beyond our basic epoxy-structured materials,” he notes. The main driving trends are growing popularity of ready-to-eat meals, changing consumer habits, and growing disposable income in emerging Asian economies, Carlin adds.
North American processors also show continued growth in areas such as large bakery items, tamper-evident clamshells, and medical device packages. “The pace of product and package design is speeding up, with custom formers moving from prototype to production sometimes in less than four weeks,” states Carlin.
Ranger Automation’s new TR Series robots increase productivity and save labor on thermoforming lines and other packaging applications. Ultra-high-speed servo drives allow part extraction and stacking at cycle times as fast as 3 sec. The controls feature convenient templates to create stacking patterns for organized product flow, which can eliminate two-thirds of labor requirements on the line. TR robots can fit any new or existing thermoformer, with configurations available to stack parts off the side or at the end of the line, or with the downstacker option, to stack directly under the line onto indexing conveyors.
Liquid-crystal polymer extrusion resins cost over $10/lb, but when used sparingly in 2-5 micron layers, they can be cost-effective in barrier packaging films.
As we discussed in last month’s column, your plant’s “energy fingerprint” is composed of the base load and the process load.
After several fits and starts over the last decade, thermoforming IML appears ready for prime time, thanks to improvements in output and labeling technology. For now, the action is mostly in European packaging.