What to See at NPE 2006: Thermoforming
Like many other NPE exhibitors, thermoforming equipment suppliers are taking less machinery to this year’s Chicago event. However, most major machine makers will be there, and despite less abundant hardware, there will be plenty of news in equipment and process technology.
Most of the action is focused on continuous roll-fed machines for packaging. Here, suppliers are touting new productivity enhancements such as bigger machines, faster cycles, quicker changeover, and greater automation.
Largest continuous machine
Thermoforming Systems LLC is introducing the Low Flex 6.0, claimed to be the largest continuous thermoformer in the industry, with a 65 x 65 in. forming area, 10-in. draw depth, and throughput of 10,000 lb/hr.
New “third-generation” thermoformers from Illig claim several productivity benefits for roll-fed or in-line extrusion/forming operation. The new RDM 70K operates at 40 cycles/min. for a 25% improvement over current technology. The machine boasts novel trim-in-place technology and tooling features such as improved water cooling and reduced forming-air consumption. In addition, material reductions of 10% to 30% are claimed. Illig will run 3-in. diam. PP cups in a 24-cavity mold.
Kiefel Technologies Inc. is introducing the Thermorunner KTR 6 high-speed cup former with forming area increased to 750 x 450 mm. This largest Thermorunner model accommodates up to 51 cavities and speeds up to 45 dry cycles/min. Also new is a three-axis pick-and-place stacker for the KMD 85 Speedformer, suitable for blister packs, lids, and hinged packaging.
Other developments in thin-gauge packaging include the new GN4532 roll-fed thermoformer from Canada’s GN Plastics. The machine has a forming area of 45 x 32 in. and 5-in. draw depth. It runs 20 dry cycles/min for production of large food containers such as bakery trays, cake domes, and hinged containers. A unique pivoting preheater swings away and exposes the tool and heater platen for easy removal. GN Plastics has also upgraded its novel GN 1914DM dual-mold former with two robotic stackers and multi-zone heating.
Automation supplier Hekuma will add a new twist to the in-mold labeling (IML) system it introduced at the K 2004 show in Dusseldorf. At NPE, the system will be adapted to RFID “tags” with embedded electronic chips.
Lyle Industries is showcasing several new enhancements to its servo-driven Model 152 FM roll-fed former, including a new platen guidance system, new leaf-style toggles, and advanced process controls.
Zed Industries Inc. is showing its new Model SC high-speed, in-line thermoformer with trim-in-mold capability, a new self-compensating seal system, and automated down-stacking with part counting and unloading. The machine will run deep-draw PP and PE containers with active plug assists.
Gabler of Germany (represented here by Lyle Industries) will introduce the 50-in. 4 Play PP preheater. It consists of four 550-mm-diam. rollers for contact heating.
Industrial cut-sheet machines
Geiss’ new All-in-One cut-sheet machine incorporates a trimmer in-line with the thermoformer. After forming, a sheet loader takes the finished part to the trim station using locating lugs formed into the sheet. The company is also introducing the industry’s first roll-fed, twin-sheet machine utilizing “zero-gravity” forming, Geiss’ special system that uses air pressure under the hot sheet to prevent sagging.
MAAC Machinery will feature a fully adjustable clamp frame that slashes changeover time from 30 min to 5 min per station. Also on display will be new options for MAAC machines including quick tool change, direct-drive platen positioning, articulating/stretchable clamp frames, and computerized valve proportioning.
Thermoformers are gaining a foothold in large exterior panels of specialized automobiles and utility vehicles.
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.