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Technical Manual THERMOFORMING
Technical Manual THERMOFORMING

Technical Manual THERMOFORMING

Technical Manual THERMOFORMING

INDEX

Thermoforming principles -History of thermoforming industry -Products manufactured by thermoforming

4

Suitable polymers for thermoforming -Thermal properties -Temperature -Heat measurement -Specific heat -Thermal conductivity

7

Heating plastics -Heat transfer: conductivity, convection and radiation -Thermal properties of plastics -Heat transmission media -Temperatures and forming cycles -Establishing the right temperature for the material

11

Thermoforming equipments -Gas furnaces with pressured air circulation -Infrared heating furnace -Lineal heating electric resistors

17

Complementary equipment: vacuum, pressured air and mechanical forces -Vacuum forming -Pressured air forming -Mechanical forming -Combined techniques -Mechanical support design

25

Thermoforming molds -Choosing thermoforming technique -Criteria to design thermoformed products -Criteria to design thermoforming molds -Considerations in designing thermoforming molds -Materials used to manufacture tthermoform - ing molds

31

Thermoforming techniques -Bi-dimensional thermoforming -Tri-dimensional thermoforming (with molds) -Molding techniques in infrared heating furnace

46

Cooling thermoformed products -Conventional cooling methods -Non-conventional cooling methods

51

Cutting thermoformed products -Cutting equipment -Cutting techniques

53

Thermoforming variables -Material variables -Mold variables -Pre-stretching variables -Mechanical support variables

58

Problem and solution guide

62

Appendix

68

-Glossary -Glass fiber reinforced plastic -Unit conversion table

 

Thermoforming principles

History of

Since the beginning of the XX century some techniques to form sheets, with materials such as metal, glass and natural fibers, have been known. The true thermoforming principles emerged as thermoplastic materials were developed, which happened dur- ing the second world war. The post-war period brought about mass commercialization and rapid development of equipment and machinery capable to adapt to the manu- facturing modern methods, to make more useful and income yielding products.

In the 50s, the volume of thermoplastic material production and the products made with it reached impressive figures. In the 60s, by developing the thermoforming indus- try, the foundations for the future were established. Then huge consumers and prod- uct competitiveness, in the 70s, required high speed productive machinery. Equipment manufacturers met those needs by making machinery capable to produce about one hundred thousand thermoformed individual containers per hour. Sophisticated controls were also required.

thermoforming

industry

Since the 80s up to the present, thermoformers have so much relied on their process that they have gone beyond their expectations and have established production lines that can produce finished thermoformed products, not only from sheets but also from resin pellets; besides, they recycle the scrap with minimum control. Equipments have been computerized and at present, they can perform auto-monitoring and diagnostic functions. Nowadays, very complex equipment does not require more than one work- er to handle and control it thanks to electronic advances. Thus, it is believed that the thermoforming industrial labor market will undergo a shortage of technically trained and experienced personnel, since traditional knowledge will no longer be enough. Therefore, lectures, seminars, courses, etc., would be useful to increase thermoform- ers´ general knowledge, and would further advance this well established industry.

Manufacturing

Many of the thermoformed products in use at present have been manufactured to replace their original use forms. This has taken place so fast that those original ones have been almost forgotten. For example: it is not easy to remember in what ham- burgers were packed before the arrival of the one piece polystyrene package or what kind of material lined the interior of refrigerators.

The following list begins with the area with the most number of thermoformed pieces and continues in a decreasing order up to the one with the fewer pieces.

thermoformed

products

Packaging industry Since the beginning of the thermoforming process, the packaging industry has been the most benefited due to the high productivity and benefits (cost-profit) that it offers.

4

Thermoforming

At present, most of the packaging equipments (blister) are high speed automatically sustained. These equipments are called "form-fill-seal" and are used to pack cosmet- ics, cold cuts, sodas, candies, stationery, etc.

Take away food industry In the growing "take away food" industry, a great deal of thermoformed products are used, ranging from a complete meal container (divided containers), to hamburgers and sandwich packages, sodas, etc.

Usually, that industry requires printed thermoformed packages. This printing can be made before or after thermoforming. Some examples of this are trays, cups, sandwich, hamburger, hot-dog packages, etc.

Food packaging industry Supermarkets are the great consumers of thermoformed containers. The materials used are low-cost thermoplastics. These are designed to be piled or placed in differ- ent forms. Examples: meat, fruit, eggs and vegetables containers.

Transport Public and private transport such as bus, train subway, plane, car, etc., has within its equipment many thermoformed plastic parts. Most of these are used for inside finish- ing or non-structural exterior parts. In others, they are used for seats, backs and arms of seats, fronts of doors, service tables, wind-shields, instrument protectors, guards, spoilers, etc.

Signaling and advertisements These are usually made of acrylic and can consist of only one piece and can be very large. Transparent (clear) acrylic is generally used and it is painted on the inside using acrylic based paint.

The use of acrylics for exteriors makes advertisements weather resistant and they vir- tually need no maintenance; furthermore, they can stand extreme cold or hot weather conditions. Exterior lighted bill-boards, interior advertisements, signaling in public places, offices, etc., are some examples.

Household products There is a great deal of products that have thermoformed parts; actually, they are pro- duced in great quantities. They can be found in cabinet, washing machines, dish washers, dryers, refrigerators, air conditioning outlets, humidifiers, T.V. and radio cab- inets, etc.

Food industry One of the oldest and greatest thermoformed product consumers is the food industry. The use of trays and other accessories has a greater potential use, besides the great

users like hospitals, nurseries, schools fairs and others, there are the military sector and international aid organizations. Some examples of products are: trays, cups and plates.

Medical industry The medical industry requires a great variety of products and sterilized packaging for hospitals, clinics and doctors´ offices. The specifications for these products are usual- ly very strict and recycling materials is unacceptable.

The use of acrylic , since it is physiologically harmless, is growing every day. Some examples are: chirurgical equipment, syringes and needles, chirurgical tables, cabi- nets, incubators, dentists´ seats and exercise platforms.

Agriculture and horticulture Commercialization of decoration plants in supermarkets and specialized shops has generated, for some time, the need to make flower pots and small containers, includ- ing with multiple divisions for exhibiting and selling. This kind of containers are made of recycled plastic at low cost. Flower pots, different size and divided containers, small green houses, trays for growing seeds, planting containers, etc., are some examples.

Constructión and housing For some years, construction industry has used thermoformed products, which have become quickly popular. Thermoformed parts have easily replaced a lot of products. Actually, there are products that cannot be manufactured any other way, such as sky- lights or cannon arches. In this sector, acrylic is used a lot because of its weather resistant properties and its thermoforming quality.

Examples of these are: skylights, cannon arches, hydro-massage tubs, bath modules, wash basins, bathroom screens and cabinets, tables, chairs, lamp stands, kitchen items, stairs, frontages, partings, windows, aquariums, etc.

Luggage Some luggage manufacturers are deciding in favor of using the thermoforming process, since it has advantages over the injection products. Because it is molded effortlessly, the possibility of thermoformed products fracturing is reduced. Examples:

all kinds of suitcases, briefcases, etc.

Photography equipment One of the oldest thermoformed products is the tray used for developing photos, also flash bulbs (metallic reflector) and the magazine for standing cameras, even though its manufacturing requires a precision thermoforming technique.

Thermal

properties

7

Suitable polymers for thermoforming

Basically, every thermoplastic polymer is suitable for the thermoforming process. Those materials, when exposed to heating, show an elasticity, hardness, and resist- ance capacity, under load variation in their module. With an increased temperature over the H.D.T., the material will tend to become rubber-like, having as critical value the temperature of annealing of the thermoplastic polymer. This can be seen in the rapid bending of the hot sheet, when the force of gravity is strong enough to cause this deformity.

Table 1 shows the suitable and most common polymers for thermoforming, as well as their temperature.

 

HEATING DEFLECTION TEMPERATURE

THERMOFORMING

TEMPERATURE

POLYMERS

AT 264

AT 66

WITHOUT

SHEET

MOLD

AID

PSI

PSI

CHARGE

TEMP.

TEMP.

TEMP

(ºF)

(ºF)

(ºF)

(ºF)

(ºF)

(ºF)

Extruded acrylic Cell-cast acrylic Cellulose acetobutyrate High density polyethylene Polypropylene Polystyrene High impact polystyrene SAN ABS Polyvinyl chloride (RV.C.) Polycarbonate

201.2

208.4

 

275-347

149-167

 

204.8

230

320-356

149-167

149-167

167-176

248-302

284-320

140-176

212

293-374

203

338

131-149

230-239

284

293-392

158-203

158-212

212

284-338

113-149

194

185-203

194-203

248

338-356

113-149

194

212

221

428-446

167-239

176-248

203

248-356

158-185

194

158

167

230

275-347

113

176

266

248

320

356-446

203-248

284

One of the least considered aspects in thermoforming practice, is that of the ther- mal properties of polymers which is one of the most relevant and critical aspects of the process. Wholly understanding these factors will reduce the risk of long pre-pro- duction run or bad adjusting of the product to the outline.

When we talk about thermal properties, it is indispensable to establish the concepts related to this topic. First, it must be remembered that energy often dissipates through friction and then it appears as heat or the inner thermal energy of a body. Of course, some times, heat in a substance is increased deliberately to change its temperature or its form.

Thermoforming

 

Specific heat and thermal conductivity are two of the physical properties of polymers that are extensively used in thermoforming.

Temperature

In the thermal phenomenon debate some terms and concepts must be included. The first thermal property is temperature. Temperature is the measurement of the degree of "heat" or "cold" in an object. A temperature scale must be established, water properties have been taken as a parameter, specially the degree of ice fusion and water boiling. There are three scales to measure the temperature of a substance: the scale in centigrade degrees (°C), Fahrenheit (°F), and Kelvin (°K), the first two are the most commonly used.

Heat

Heat is simply a form of energy, therefore, the suitable physics unit to measure heat is the same as the one for mechanical energy and it is the joule (J). As in the case of tem- perature, water is used as parameter of substance to define the heat unit. The amount of heat needed to raise the temperature of 2.2 pounds of water by one degree [at pres- ent it is taken as 58.1ºF to 59.9 ºF (14.5 °C to 15.5 °C) is defined as 1 calorie (cal)].

measurement

Specific

heat

When a calorie is added to 2.2 pounds of water, the water temperature increases 33.8 degree, for example: if the same amount of heat is added to the same amount of methyl- alcohol, the temperature rises about 35.06 degrees, or if 1 cal. is added to 2.2 pounds of aluminum, the temperature of the metal rises about 41 degrees. In fact, each sub- stance will respond differently when exposed to heat. The amount of heat needed to raise 33.8 degree in 2.2 pounds substance is called specific heat of that substance. Water works as a parameter and it has been determined as 1 cal./pounds, and it is taken as a basis to compare every material. Excepting water, most materials have a specific heat, lower than plastics.

Thermal

conductivity

Thermal conductivity is one of the three ways by which heat energy can be transferred from one place to another; it results from the molecular movement and therefore, it needs the presence of matter. Heat energy is transferred by collisions where the rapid movement of atoms and molecules of the hotter object transfers part of the energy to the colder object or the one with a slower movement of atoms and molecules. When a substance is heated, it expands, heat increases the volume of a substance and dimin- ishes its density. The thermal conductivity of acrylic is 0.0005 cal./seg. cm 2

Thermal

expansion

Thermal expansion derives from increasing the temperature of a substance, and as a consequence it expands, actually, almost every substance: solid, liquid or gas has the property to increase its size, as its temperature rises. As for thermoforming, when a polymer is heated the mobility of molecular chains increases, therefore, they tend to separate from each other, increasing the volume and area of the polymer. This proper- ty is extremely important especially in thermoformed pieces, which are exposed to sudden changes of temperature or weather conditions. In thermoforming, the plastic sheet is expanded more rapidly than the metal frame, creating some wrinkles near the frame, which disappear when the sheet contracts. The numeric values of the coeffi- cients for heating and cooling are identical; this means that it takes the same time for

8

Thermoforming

a piece to get hot as to get cool. It must be taken into consideration that there might be problems when the thermoformed parts have to be within a very close dimensional tolerance. There might be other kinds of problems when there is shrinkage in a male mold, making it difficult to remove the part from the mold. The thermal expansion coef- ficient of acrylic is 0.00009 cm./cm./°C.

 

Heating plastics

Heat transfer:

In the thermoforming process, the heating operation is one of the longest stages in which there might be present the most difficulties and material and human resources waste. That is why this chapter is devoted to heat transfer, aiming at trying to clarify phenomena that might occur in plastics heating operation.

conduction,

convection

and radiation

Although scientists have divided heat transfer into three different phenomena: con- duction, convection and radiation, in practice, the three phenomena are concurrent.

Conduction This is heat transfer from one part of a body to another part of the same body, or from one body to another which is in physical contact with it, without a substantial dis- placement of the particles of the body.

Convection This is heat transfer from one point to another, in a fluid, gas or liquid (by mixing one part of the fluid with another). In natural convection, the movement of the fluid totally derives from the difference in density as a result of different temperatures. In the forced convection, which is the one we are interested in, the movement is produced by mechanical means. When velocity is relatively low, it must be noted that free convec- tion factors, such as different temperature and density, may have an important influence.

Radiation This is heat transfer from one body to another that is not in contact with it, by means of a wavy movement through space.

For the purposes of thermoforming process, three media for heat transfer are considered:

A) Contact with a solid, liquid or hot gas.

B) Infrared radiation.

C) Internal excitation or by microwaves.

The first two ones are very much used in plastic thermoforming and for several of them the scope of temperature is between 120°C and 205°C (250°F and 400°F).

10

Thermoforming

Thermal

properties

of plastics

Plastics are poor heat conductors; therefore, thick sheets need a considerably long time to heat. In table 8, there are some thermal properties of some materials to be com- pared. In plastic thermoforming the method and size of the heating equipment must be taken into consideration.

Heating a sheet on both sides (sandwich-like heating) helps to reduce the time taken in this operation. In some cases, heating time can be reduced if the sheet is pre-heat- ed and kept at a medium temperature; however, this is rarely done with less than 6mm. thick materials.

In addition, the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of plastics is high, compared with any other material; except water. To estimate the needed heat for a sheet, the following formula can be used.

Required heat = Length X width X thickness X density of material X (specific heat X dif- ferent temperature + fusion heat)

Table 8: Thermal properties of some materials.

 

SPECIFIC

SPECIFIC HEAT Btu/ Ib 0 F

FUSION

THERMAL CONDUCTIVITY Btu ft/sq ft hr 0 F

THERMAL COEFFICIENT of LINEAL in/in 0 F10 -5

MATERIALS

GRAVITY

HEAT

g/cm 3

Btu/lb

Air

0.0012

0.24

 

0.014

 

Water

1

1

144

0.343

Ice

0.92

0.5

144

1.26

2.8

Soft wood

0.5

0.4

0.052

1.5

Hard wood

0.7

0.4

0.094

1.5

Phenol R.

1.5

0.3

0.2

3-5

Epoxy R.

1.6-2.1

0.3

0.1-0.8

1.5-2.8

Polyethylene

0.96

0.37

55

0.28

7

Acrylic

1.19

0.35

0.108

3.5

Polycarbonate

1.2

0.30

0.112

3.7

Graphite

1.5

0.20

87

0.44

Glass

2.5

0.20

0.59

0.5

Quartz

2.8

0.20

4 y 8

0.4 y 0.7

Aluminum

2.7

0.23

171

90

1.35

Steel

7.8

0.10

171

27

0.84

Copper

8.8

0.092

88

227

0.92

Heat

For practical purposes we will divide the media for heat transfer into 4 types:

transfer

media

Heating by contact The fastest heating method is placing a plastic sheet directly in contact with a hot metal sheet. It is specially used in mass production of small and thin items.

Heating by immersion With this method, a plastic sheet is immersed in some liquid that transmits heat as evenly and quickly as possible, but its use is restricted to molding parts out of huge or very thick sheets, since handling and cleaning of the piece are very difficult

Heating by convection Furnaces with air convection are widely used, because they provide even heating and can, to a certain degree, dry some materials that contain some degree of moisture. These furnaces provide a huge safety margin as for time variations in thermoforming cycles.

Important note:

All the above mentioned heating media require a considerable amount of time to pre- heat the equipment.

Infrared heating:

This method can supply instant heating and therefore, its exposition cycles are very short, and sometimes it takes only a few seconds. The main sources of this kind of energy are:

-Quartz lamps that emit in the visible and near infrared. -Ceramic or metal resistors that emit more energy in the far infrared.

The surface of these radiation heaters can be between 599 ºF and 1301 (315°C and 705°C). It must be noticed that at the highest temperatures, the mass of radiation occurs at shorter wave lengths. On the other hand, at lower temperatures, radiation expands on longer wave lengths; and this is extremely important, since each plastic absorbs infrared radiation in different areas. Only the radiation absorbed is used to heat plastic directly.

Internal heating This method has not had enough application in thermoforming because the equipment used is very expensive. Besides, it is not suitable for every plastic, and cooling time is very long. It is useful in forming processes where localized heating is required on a spe- cific area of the material. For example, when forming edges of material which has a high loss factor, such as P.V.C.

 

In certain applications, thermoformed products show uneven parts, even when a sheet has been uniformly heated. Heterogeneous shrinkage of a sheet is due to the very design of that part. In those special cases, controlling heat by section will give more uniform wall areas. This procedure is called shading or screening and it consists in placing a non-flammable filter to regulate heat (a wire net, asbestos, etc.) between the sheet and the source of heat, this will reduce the flow of heat to certain areas of the material, and will prevent excessive stretching on that area.

In more sophisticated equipments, at present, there are electronic controls and ceram- ic parabolic elements that allow variability when heating different areas of the sheet.

Temperatures

Before we start with temperatures and forming cycles, we will establish some termi- nology:

and forming

cycles

 

a) Temperature to remove items off a mold

b) Operation: bottom limit

c) Normal temperature to form

d) Operation: top limit

Temperature to remove item off a mold It is the temperature at which an item can be removed off the mold without distortion. Some times an item can be removed at higher temperature if cooling devices are used.

Operation bottom limit This represents the lowest temperature at which the material can be formed without internal effort. This means that the plastic sheet must touch each corner of the mold before it reaches its bottom limit. The material processed under this limit will show internal effort that later will cause distortions, glow loss, cracking and other physical changes in the finished product.

Normal temperature to form This is the temperature at which a sheet must be formed in a normal operation. It must cover the whole sheet. Shallow thermoformed items with the aid of air or vacuum will allow a bit lower temperatures, and this translates into shorter cycles. On the other hand, deep forming requires high temperatures, as well as for pre-stretching opera- tions, details or intricate radiuses.

Operation top limit Under this temperature a thermoplastic sheet begins to degrade, and it also turns too fluid and cannot be handled. These temperatures can be exceeded, but only with mod- ified formulations that improve the physical conditions of the sheet. Injection and extru- sion molding, actually use much higher temperatures, but only for very short periods of time.

13

Thermoforming

General recommendations

a) The characteristics of a finished product are determined by the kind of thermoform- ing technique used.

b) The material must be heated evenly at the annealing and forming point, before it cools below its molding temperature.

c) Acrylic must cool slowly and evenly while it is in the mold.

d) The formed piece must be cool before any finishing is done, like spraying paint or serigraphy.

e) In the design of a piece, a 2% shrinkage in both directions and a 4% increase in thickness must be taken into consideration, as well as a 0.6% contraction at 1% when cooling

Temperatures and forming cycles As it was previously mentioned, one of the most important steps of the thermoforming process is determining the right temperature of the material. For acrylic, the right selec- tion of annealing or normal temperature will prevent:

At a low temperature:

Internal effort concentrates in the thermoformed piece which later, under sudden envi- ronmental temperature changes, will emerge as fissures or cracking.

At high temperature:

Bubbles and mold marks, due to extreme heating.

Table 9 shows the ranging temperatures for Plastiglas acrylic sheet, for general use, and Sensacryl FP¨, deep molding sheet.

Table 9

   

TEMPERATURE RANGE

 

KIND OF MATERIAL

BOTTOM LIMIT

TOP LIMIT

(

O F)

(

O F)

Plastiglas (general use)

 

320

 

356

Sensacryl (deep molding)

356

392

EstablishIng the right temperature of the material

15

In Mexico, due to the high cost of electricity, it is more common to use a convection furnace with pressured air re-circulation by means of gas, for which a very practical for- mula is very useful to determine the permanence time for an acrylic sheet, taking into consideration the annealing temperature range previously adjusted.

Formula: 53.3 X E (inches) = T (min.)

Where :

53.3 = Factor, E = Thickness of material, T = time.

This formula can be used for thin (0.04 to 0.24 inches) Chemcast sheets. For thicker sheets, the factor has to be changed as follows:

Formula: 3 X E (inches) = T (min). Ex: 53.3 X 0.118 = 6.30 min.

As it has already been mentioned, there are variables that may modify these formulas, such as: environmental temperature of the place where the furnace is located, cure (especially in extreme weather conditions), material thickness fluctuation and the con- ditions of the equipment among other things.

Forming temperature Every thermoplastic material has a process specific temperature. These ranges apply without taking into consideration the way the material will be processed. The most used materials compared with acrylic are mentioned in table 10:

Table 10, Ranges of forming temperature

 

SHEET TEMP. ( 0 F )

BOTTOM LIMIT ( 0 F )

NORMAL ( 0 F )

TOP LIMIT ( 0 F )

 

MOLD TEMP. ( 0 F )

MECHANICAL

MATERIAL

REMOVAL

TEMP.

SUPPORT

TEMP

 

( 0 F )

. (°F)

Acrylic CHEMCAST

320- 356

320

338

356

248

149-167

 

Sensacryl FP

356-392

356

374

392

266

158-176

ABS

257-356

257

329

356

185

158-185

210

Polycarbonate

392-482

392

455

482

284

194-248

248

AD Polyethylene

320-428

320

374

428

185

194-212

338

Another important factor in the thermoforming process, is establishing the right tem-

You must bear in mind that apart from the heat trans-

mission medium, a sheet must be heated at the recommended range of temperature (annealing range), besides, a sheet has to be heated in an evenly way.

perature for plastic material.

In practice, it is not easy to accurately establish the temperature of the sheet, even when using contact thermometers; therefore, this determination is based on the per- formance of a sheet. The gradual change in which a sheet yields during the heating

Thermoforming

process (annealing point), is one of the cues to establish the right temperature. Some controls for infrared radiation thermoforming equipment have been developed, where a sheet is fastened horizontally, and the "yielding" or "bending" phenomenon is used, and photo-electric cells control heating time and/or temperature.

Clamp

Clamp Frame Vacuum box Photo-electric cells Solenoid valve controlled by photoelectric cells.
Clamp Frame Vacuum box Photo-electric cells Solenoid valve controlled by photoelectric cells.

Frame

Clamp Frame Vacuum box Photo-electric cells Solenoid valve controlled by photoelectric cells.

Vacuum box

Clamp Frame Vacuum box Photo-electric cells Solenoid valve controlled by photoelectric cells.

Photo-electric cells

Solenoid valve controlled by photoelectric cells.

However, this criterion cannot be applied indiscriminately to every plastic, since some materials may over-heat before they begin to yield or bend. Although a range of tem- perature is established, the expected temperature of a sheet may not be achieved; this may be caused by:

a) Fluctuations in the thickness of the material

b) Temperature changes in the equipment and/or environment

c) Minimum fluctuations in the line voltage (in infrared equipment).

d) The regulator of the pressured air circulation gas equipment may not be the right one, there is not enough gas pressure, the burner is not the right one or it may be blocked with soot, etc.

There are cone formed pyrometers, infrared radiation or gas (hot air) heating tablets, that can render a more accurate measurement. Although probably, the best way to measure the temperature of a sheet is by means of an infrared pistol, which measures by zones; though the equipment is expensive, it is the only one that measures the tem- perature of a sheet accurately and reliably.

Thermoforming equipments

Originally, convection furnaces were the first equipments to heat plastic sheets that were going to be thermoformed, and up to now, that kind of heating is still preferred for sheets of different thickness, and for temperature even distribution.

Heat can be applied with gas or electric resistor units. To produce air circulation from 4,500 to 6,100 cm3/min. (150 to 200 feet3/min), pressured air re-circulation and deflec- tors are crucial to get homogeneous temperatures. The furnace temperature must be adjusted to the plastic forming temperature.

Infrared radiation heating, compared with oil immersion or contact heating (the two lat- ter very limited in practice), is extremely rapid. For example, a 3.0 mm sheet heating time by infrared radiation can be achieved in one min. at about 10 watts/inch2.

Because infrared radiation heating takes very little time, heat energy absorbed by a sheet may cause over-heating, that may even affect the degrading of the material (bubbles or burning) if it is not controlled. It is important to consider that in long runs, the furnace temperature has to be gradually reduced.

In some cases, when the product has intricate or very deep sections, there is the risk

the thickness of the material considerably thinning; in this case screens must be

used (they may be made of perforated plate or metallic display) to prevent over-heat- ing.

of

The elements of infrared radiation can be obtained in a very wide range of designs, according to their importance they are:

1.- Tungsten filaments in quartz tubes or lamps, temperature 3992 ºF (2,200 °C). 2.- Spring- like nichrome resistor on refractory ceramic bases. 3.- Nichrome resistors protected by plate or stainless steel tubes.

There are manufacturers who make infrared radiation thermoforming machines in a wide variety of sizes, capacity, degree of automation and versatility.

The specifications to acquire a thermoforming machine vary depending on the finished product that you want to get and therefore, it is necessary to consider:

Voltage, wattage, amperage, useful area of forming, number of heaters (lower and upper), controls to regulate temperatures by zones, degree of automation, capacity to

 

accept mechanical support, type of sheet fastening device, (clamps, mechanical, pneumatic, etc.), ventilators to cool the product, general dimensions, production capacity, cost- profit.

Gas furnaces

This kind of furnace supplies uniform heat and constant temperature, with a minimum risk of over-heating an acrylic sheet. Electric ventilators must be used to force hot air circulation on the acrylic sheet at a speed about 4,500 to 6,100 cm3/min., and devices to distribute the air in every zone of the furnace.

Gas furnaces need heat inter-changers to prevent accumulation of soot due to the gas flow, as well as controls to interrupt the gas flow, when necessary.

with pressured

air circulation

Electric furnaces can be heated, using sets of 1000 watts resistors. When using a fur- nace with a 10 m3 capacity, about 25,000 power watts will be consumed and half of this will be used to compensate heat loss due to leakage, insulating transmission and the use of doors. A minimum 2" thick insulation is advised and the doors of the fur- nace should be as narrow as possible, to reduce most of the temperature loss.

Automatic devices must be used to strictly control temperature between 32 ºF and

482

º F (0 ° C and 250 ° C). To get a more uniform sheet heating, it is important to hang

it vertically, and this can be done with a system that fastens the material all along with clamps or canals with springs which move on wheels that slide on rails, like the ones used for closets.

Basic criteria to construct a gas furnace with pressured air circulation. The best advice in this case, is asking any industrial furnace manufacturer to build one with the mentioned characteristics, since the construction of one, specially the heating and operation systems, is very risky for anybody who has only little knowl- edge on the subject.

This kind of equipment must be approved by specialists in gas installations, it also has to be registered before the corresponding authorities.

It is also relevant to point out that the information provided here, is only related to the metallic structure and fastening system for acrylic sheets. A furnace construction can be divided into the following sub-systems:

 

A) Structure

B) Fastening acrylic sheet

C) Electric system

D) Gas installation

 

E) Controls

18

Thermoforming

Recommendations to build a furnace Building the structure with commercial iron tubular of 11/2" X 11/2" or 2 X 2".

a) Cut it according to the measurements and requirements of design.

b) Weld the lateral walls.

c) Weld the upper wall, the lower one and the back one; to join them with the lateral ones, and build the whole structure.

d) Line the inner part of the structure with a black plate cal. 18 and weld it or rivet it with "pop".

e) Cover the holes (thickness of the tubular) with a rigid sheet of glass fiber to get ther- mal insulation, code RF-4100, or a similar one.

f) Line the exterior with a black plate cal. 18 and rivet it with "pop" or weld it.

g) Make the doors with a structure of tubular PTR 1" X 1", and follow the same instruc- tions as for the walls, they should be shorter to leave room for the rails.

h) Attach the doors to the furnace with hinges.

i) Put the closet-type rails, they should be twice as long as the furnace. They are fixed with screws on the upper part of the furnace. Once they are fixed to the furnace and the furnace on its place where it will operate, using bearings fasten the rails to the ceil- ing or structure of the place.

GAS STRUCTURE WITH AIR RE-CIRCULATION

GAS STRUCTURE WITH AIR RE-CIRCULATION The electric ventilator is placed in this section to force the
GAS STRUCTURE WITH AIR RE-CIRCULATION The electric ventilator is placed in this section to force the

The electric ventilator is placed in this section to force the air

Every joint must be welded with electric welding

Rectangular tubular profile of 11/2X 11/2” ó 2X 2

tubular profile of 1 1/2 ” X 1 1/2 ” ó 2 ” X 2 ”

Closet-type rails

Plate "U" bearings of 1/4

FASTENING SYSTEM FOR ACRYLIC SHEETS

1/4iron plate

5/16" Cold rolled bar Iron hinge Spring 1/4” crossbar handle Washer Acrylic sheet
5/16" Cold rolled bar
Iron hinge
Spring
1/4” crossbar
handle
Washer
Acrylic sheet
5/16" Cold rolled bar Iron hinge Spring 1/4” crossbar handle Washer Acrylic sheet Nut Type C
5/16" Cold rolled bar Iron hinge Spring 1/4” crossbar handle Washer Acrylic sheet Nut Type C

Nut

Type C profile cal.# 18

FURNACE FRONT VIEW AND DOOR DETAIL AND RAILING SYSTEM

1 1
1
1

1/2x 11/2iron angle

Steel cable to fix it to the ceiling of the place.

No. 50 wheels

3/4x 2(1500 rail) closet- type profile

Furnace door

Hook formed 1/2" cold-rolled bar.

profile Furnace door Hook formed 1/2" cold-rolled bar. 1/2 ” cold rolled bar. Joint of the
profile Furnace door Hook formed 1/2" cold-rolled bar. 1/2 ” cold rolled bar. Joint of the

1/2cold rolled bar.

Joint of the fastening system for acrylic sheets.

door Hook formed 1/2" cold-rolled bar. 1/2 ” cold rolled bar. Joint of the fastening system
LATERAL VIEW AND DETAIL OF THE FURNACE DOOR AND RAILING SYSTEM Steel cable to fix
LATERAL VIEW AND DETAIL OF THE FURNACE DOOR AND RAILING SYSTEM
Steel cable to fix it to the
ceiling of the place
1 1/2” x 1 1/2”
iron angle
1 3/4” x 2” (riel 1500)
closet -type profile
No. 50 wheel
2 1/2” x 2 1/2”
iron angle
Furnace door
Infrared
heating
furnace
It is normally used in automatic thermoforming machines, heating a sheet by means of
radiation at a speed 3 to 10 times faster than in a pressured air circulation furnace,
thus, with very short heating cycles. It should be noted that the ratio temperature/time
becomes critical and it is harder to heat the material uniformly.
 

Infrared energy is absorbed by the acrylic surface exposed, rapidly reaching tempera- tures over 356 ºF (180 °C), that later on, is transmitted to the center of the material due to temperature conduction.

Infrared radiation heating can be obtained using tubular metal elements, spring elec- tric resistors, or by grouping infrared light lamps. To get a more uniform heating distri- bution, a net or metallic mesh can be placed among the heating elements and the material which can work to expand the temperature. It is also convenient to place an infrared heating plate, about 12from the material and 20from the bottom plate.

To regulate energy input into the equip- ment, we recommend using devices such as different transformers or percentage meters that will help to control tempera- ture. Planning electric energy charges and great capacity equipment is also advis- able, an electric sub-station will also be needed.

electric energy charges and great capacity equipment is also advis- able, an electric sub-station will also

Lineal heating

An electric resistor can only be used to make bends in a straight line; to achieve this, you also need a spring type electric resistor (20) or armored type (about 1KW X 1.2 m.).

electric

resistors

 

Lineal resistors are made of wire, inside Pyrex ceramic tubes. The material must not be in contact with the tube to avoid marks on the surface. A distance of 6 mm. from the tube to the material is recommended to get uniform heating on thin material.

When more than 3.0 mm thick material is going to be heated with this procedure, the resistors should be placed on both sides of it. In the next picture, it is shown how an asbestos plate bender at the beginning of production will provide a suitable bend, but as production advances, the heating area expands making a bigger radius bend, that is why a resistor with water re-circulation is much better for acrylic bending.

22

Thermoforming

Acrylic Sheet

Heating zone

Acrylic Sheet Heating zone Electric resistor Asbestos plate

Electric resistor

Asbestos

plate

Acrylic Sheet

Acrylic Sheet H e a t i n g z o n e Electric resistor Asbesto

Heating zone

Acrylic Sheet H e a t i n g z o n e Electric resistor Asbesto

Electric resistor

Asbesto

s plate

n g z o n e Electric resistor Asbesto s plate Basic criteria to build a

Basic criteria to build a lineal heating electric resistor. Bi-dimensional thermoforming or lineal bending, can be made with a spring type resis- tor or a tubular one. Building these equipments is conditioned to thickness, kind of bending and volume to be produced. Generally, a 1.32 yd. long resistor is the most common, though a 24one is also acceptable, the specifications for this resistor are 1Kw for each 1.32 yd., thus, with a rule of three consume can be deduced both for a longer or a shorter resistor.

Acrylic benders are more common than the ones built with asbestos plates on the lat- eral walls, these are suitable as long as you do not have to produce a huge volume, since when asbestos plates are exposed to the same infrared radiation they tend to get hot and therefore, the heating area will expand changing a piece production standard. In other words, at the beginning of production, there will be small radiuses and as production advances, the heating area will be wider creating a bigger radius.

An electric resistor bender with water re-circulation will be more effective and produce better quality bent pieces. This equipment needs tubular profiles that allow water re- circulation, which will keep the surface cool and will only allow a heating zone. The required materials to build this kind of bender are listed below.

It is important to include a rheostat to control temperature intensity on an acrylic sheet, since it will provide the suitable pace of production and, obviously, it will reduce costs of electric energy.

ASBESTOS PLATE FOLDER

WATER RE-CIRCULATION FOLDER

Spring-like, tubular or nichrome tape resistor

Spring-like, tubular or nichrome tape resistor

No. 16 or 18 cable with glass fiber insulator

No. 16 or 18 cable with glass fiber insulator

Terminals.

Terminals

2 X 14 Heavy duty cable

2 X 14 Heavy duty cable

Plug

Plug

500, 1000, 2000 or 3000 watts dimmer

500, 1000, 2000 or 3000 watts dimmer

1/8", 3/16" o 1/4" asbestos plate

3/4" x, 3/4" aluminum tubular profile

6.6 yd. hose

Clamps

10 to 20 lt. container

Garden water pump

Vacuum

forming

Complementary equipment: vacuum, pressured air and mechanical forces

The thermoforming process consists in heating and softening a sheet of any kind of thermoplastic material and making it adopt the form of the corresponding mold to get an almost finished product with a particular form.

Some times, an external force has to be used to turn a flat sheet into a different form and to make it copy the outline and details of the mold. The level of energy or use of this force must be adjusted, so that the plastic sheet can be easily forced to take another form.

The most common used forming forces in the thermoforming process are: vacuum or pressured air, mechanical forces and the combination of these three. Choosing a form- ing force in the forming process generally depends on the size of the product, the vol- ume to be produced and the speed of the forming cycles.

In addition, the following factors must be considered, since any of these can make a difference in selecting the forming force:

a) Intrinsic limitations of each thermoplastic material

b) Construction and material of the mold

c) Thermoforming equipment available

The oldest method to form a plastic sheet into a utilitarian piece is vacuum forming. The original description of the thermoforming process was precisely "vacuum-forming".

The basic principle of the vacuum-forming process is having a softened thermoplastic sheet in a mold perfectly sealed and where the air inside is evacuated by the vacuum force or suction. As the air is evacuated from the mold, it creates a negative pressure

on the surface of the sheet and therefore, natural atmospheric pressure yields, forc- ing the hot sheet to take the place of the empty spaces, as it can be seen in the picture.

Acrylic sheet
Acrylic sheet

Acrylic

sheet

Vacuum equipment There is a great variety of vacuum pumps: reciprocal piston, diaphragm, blades, eccen- tric rotor, etc. All these provide a good vacuum but cannot evacuate great volumes of air at high speed; that is why a stock tank has to be connected to be used as "vacu- um accumulator". On the other hand, there are compressors that can evacuate a great volume of air but are limited for vacuum force.

A suitable vacuum system needs a pump that can displace from 28 to 29" Hg or from 0.5 to absolute 1 Psi (710 to 735 mm of Hg.) in the stock tank before the forming cycle.

The line, duct or pipe between the stock tank and the mold should be as short as pos- sible with a minimum of angles. It is important to eliminate air leaking due to damaged piping, perforated hoses, loose couples or nipples, as well as unnecessary valves.

Rapid action or globe valves should be used. Vacuum pumps are available in one or two steps. A two step vacuum pump can evacuate pressures below 10 Psi; displace- ment capacity or evacuation for a one step pump is reduced by half. Table 11 shows vacuum pumps typical capacities

Table 11: Vacuum pump typical specifications

SPECIFICATIONS

 

VACUUM THEORETICAL CAPACITY

 

No. OF

DIAMETER

RUN

ONE STEP

TWO STEPS

SPEED

POWER

DIAMETER

CYLIN-

(inches)

(inches)

(yd 3 /min)

(yd 3 /min)

(RPM)

NEEDED

OF PIPING

DERS

(Kw)

OUTLET

1

3.04

2.8

0.280

----

800

0.56

19

2

3.04

2.8

0.561

0.280

800

0.74

25

2

4.08

2.8

0.996

0.498

800

1.48

32

2

5.08

3.2

1.87

0.935

750

2.2/3.7

38

2

5.6

4.08

3.08

1.54

900

3.7

52

3

5.6

4.08

4.64

3.08

900

5.6

52

Vacuum tanks Excepting some vacuum equipments, most have a stock tank. Bearing in mind that work pressure is about 10 Psi (about 21 inches Hg/530 mm. Hg) vacuum, then the vol- ume of the tank should be 2.5 times bigger than the volume between the molds, the vacuum box and the piping. Doubling the volume of the stock tank (along with other similar conditions) pressure can be increased 15% (11.5 Psi), according to what is established, the theoretical limit for the vacuum forming process is only 14.5 Psi.

In many cases, a rapid displacement of vacuum is very important. This can only be made by placing the vacuum tank as near the mold as possible and reducing the pip- ing friction as much as possible, which can be done by:

a) A bigger piping diameter.

b) Piping with wide curves, avoiding 90° angles.

c) Changes in the transversal section of the piping (diameter changes).

Many equipments in the market do not meet these requirements. In general, the piping must be 1" diameter to displace 1 ft 3 of air, for big pieces a 2" or 3" diameter is suit- able. There should also be a flexible plastic hose internally reinforced with wire or a similar material that prevents it form collapsing; it should be connected between the mold and the piping, as shown in the picture.

Stock tank (400 lt.)

2” flexible hose Bearings
2” flexible hose
Bearings
Stock tank (400 lt.) 2” flexible hose Bearings Air deflector globe valve Solenoid valve

Air deflector

globe valve

Solenoid valve

Vacuum forces, applications. In general, pumps work constantly to keep vacuum in the stock tank, there is a varia- tion on the vacuum-meter readings in each cycle. The vacuum generated on the formed part must be kept enough time to cool and stand the internal force of the mate- rial which will tend to keep the original form, causing waves and bending.

As a general rule, the faster the vacuum is made the better the piece will be formed. Occasionally, slow forming speed for deep forming pieces or intricate sections is rec- ommended. When the matrix is very deep and when the configuration is problematic, slow vacuum can allow plastic more time to contract in the transversal section, this way a deficient configuration can be avoided.

Pressured air

forming.

28

In operations where vacuum force is replaced by pressured air, it should be considered that it is harder to seal the mold satisfactorily. The forming force can easily multiply up to 10 times if the pressured air is at 100 Psi. However, the molds can stand such pres- sure very few times.

To form by using pressured air, it is necessary to take as many precautions as possi- ble. A regular size mold requires a closing pressure of some tons, which obviously a common vise (type "C") cannot stand. Then, various clamps or rapid action fasteners, which are very useful in this case, should be used. With the pressure exerted, a badly built mold may explode like a bomb. An aluminum or machine finished metal mold is a good choice; resin or wooden molds must not be used unless they are reinforced with metal.

Pressure forming equipment must be stronger than the vacuum forming one. It must have a similar tank for the compressor as well. Piping does not need strict specifica- tions since pressure drop is not considerable. If in a piping pressure drops 5 Psi, pres- sure loss in the system will be 10 Psi, 50% of the pressure. But if the pressure system is 100 Psi, it will be 5%. A valve to reduce pressure and a manometer should be also installed, as well as a baffle or filter at the entrance of the mold, so that cold air is never in direct contact with a hot sheet. Some times, heaters should be incorporated to the air system, since they will help in great blows, which must be kept hot until a piece is formed on the mold.

If possible, there should also be filters to eliminate water that tends to condense in the system and in the long run can make the equipment rusty, in addition, combined with

air particles, it can block air ventilation orifices in the molds. Periodical maintenance is

a must.

When needed, the mold should have ori- fices to eliminate the air caught inside and avoid wrinkles or deficient forming.

Vacuum Acrylic Mold Vacuum orifices Pressured air Acrylic Mold Air exhaust
Vacuum
Acrylic
Mold
Vacuum orifices
Pressured air
Acrylic
Mold
Air exhaust

Pressured air forming has become popu- lar, specially for small pieces. The advan- tages of this method are: improvement on dimensional tolerance, forming speed can be considerably increased and fine details are better defined.

Thermoforming

Mechanical

forming

29

The thermoforming process is not limited to pneumatic techniques. There are sev- eral mechanical forces that can be applied. The simplest form of mechanical forming is used for bi-dimensional form- ing. In this case, a heated sheet is placed on the surface of a curved mold which is usually a smooth surface and gravity is enough to curve the sheet; the edge of the sheet should be fastened to keep it in position until it cools. That is the case for the manufacturing of the cannon arch whose sides are tightly fastened and there is not thickness variation.

are tightly fastened and there is not thickness variation. Mechanical forming, matrix and male mold. Matrix-male

Mechanical forming, matrix and male mold. Matrix-male molding is used, among other things, to shape complicated pieces. In this molding technique, a heated sheet is shaped between 2 opposing but similarly outlined molds (matrix-male). When the molds are joined, the outlines force the sheet to take the same shape, in the space left between the two molds. Any protuberance on the male mold, mechanically, will force the plastic into the counterpart (matrix). For big or medium production, mechanical equipment is used to close the molds; in other cases, the movement is created by servomotors. If both molds have a controlled temperature, cooling time can be reduced.

There are three basic criteria to achieve good thermo-shaping performance when using this technique.

The first, is applied force, regardless of its source (pneumatic, hydraulic or mechani- cal), it must be strong enough to make plastic deform, of course, a huge surface or an intricate mold will need a bigger pressure force.

The second refers to suitable elimination of the air caught inside. The pressure exert- ed between the two molds causes that air gets caught between them and the sheet, and air must be removed to shape the piece well. Boring some holes in one or the two molds in the areas where this anomaly is spotted, can eliminate the air.

The third is related to the depth limit of stretching, that derives from the forces used in the process. It can be easily understood that maximum stretching is only successful when the mold has exit angles bigger than 5° and very big and smooth curve radius- es, the angles close to 90° may diminish stretching and even tear the plastic material.

This sophisticated thermo-shaping method should not be used on the whole mold, its use is limited to only some parts of the mold.

Thermoforming

Combined

Mechanically forming with matrix-male molds does not only depend on the forces used, usually, this kind of forming can be combined with vacuum, pressured air or both at the same time. Therefore, the matrix-male mold does not have to coincide accu- rately, the male mold may be relatively inferior in dimensions and have a substantially different form from the matrix.

When male molds are made like this, they can act as "pushers" of a plastic sheet. This kind of support is called mechanical support, because it presses the softened materi- al into the matrix. The purpose of this support is to stretch the material so that the final form is accomplished in combination of vacuum and/or pressured air.

techniques

Using mechanical support in the process has the advantage of a better distribution of the thickness of a product, than using any other process. Many variations in the process can be obtained combining these techniques. Those variations can be vacu- um pressure changes, vacuum or pressure application time, mold closing speed time or forming cycles.

Mechanical

Usually, mechanical supports are made of wood. Hard or tropical wood is the most used to make supports. In some cases, pieces of other plastic material such as: nylon,

support

design

rigid polyurethane, acrylic, aluminum or steel, which are easily machine finished, can be incorporated.

If production volume requires it, a cooling and/or heating system can be incorporated. The decision to heat or cool the support, must be made from the beginning of the design, since later on it will be harder if not impossible to try to adapt a heating ele- ment, that is why required machine finishing should be made to incorporate the sys- tem.

When a support is very cold, a sheet will surely get cold on it. Cooling usually takes place between the points of a support and a sheet and the sheet and the mold. In extreme cases, the sheet may shrink on the support during the forming.

The form of a support has a determining influence on the wall or thickness of a fin- ished piece. In the next picture, there are three different kinds of support.

on the wall or thickness of a fin- ished piece. In the next picture, there are

30

Thermoforming

Flat surfaced and blunt edged support This allows a sheet to stretch between the support and the edge of the mold, and meanwhile, the part of the sheet in contact with the edge of the support gets cool. A piece formed this way will have a thick bottom and thin walls

Tin-like support In this second alternative, a sheet is in contact with the support and cools fast only on the perimeter of the support. Stretching is similar to that of the flat support, but the central area of the support allows extra stretching.

Sphere-like support On the other hand, in this case, only a small area is in contact with the support. There might be a significant stretching as the support moves forward, therefore, the area of the perimeter between the edge and the support decreases.

Flat surfaced and blunt edged support Tin-like support Sphere-like support

Flat surfaced and blunt edged support

Tin-like support

Sphere-like support

Choosing the type of thermoforming technique

Criteria to

design

thermoformed

products

32

Thermoforming molds

One of the most important aspects to be taken into consideration in thermoforming pieces is the thermoforming technique to be used. Depending on the characteristics of the product if the wrong technique is used, there may be problems before you can get

a piece with the specifications initially determined, finished. And many times the oper- ation will fail, with the consequence of a waste of time, money and resources. Thus, before manufacturing a mold, the following should be considered:

1.- Form and dimensions of the piece. 2.- Desired aspect. 3.- Thermoforming technique.

Based on these factors, you can plan and anticipate possible defects in the pieces. In this chapter all the variables that emerge when a thermoforming mold has to be man- ufactured, are analyzed.

It must be mentioned that: products made using thermoforming technique, though this

technique is versatile and flexible, regarding aspect and characteristics, differ from

products manufactured using injection molding. In the following comparative table the basic differences can be analyzed. To conclude, to design thermoformed pieces the following criteria must be established:

1. - Thinning of material should be considered, this mostly depends on form, size and technique used (chapter 8). Generally, thinning of material is directly proportional to the height of a piece.

2.- A 3° and 5° exit angle of the mold should be considered.

3. - It must be taken into consideration that a piece will contract 0.6 to 1% when it cools.

4. - In general, the surface of a thermoformed piece will be smooth, though some tex- tures can be obtained.

5.- In designing a piece, big radiuses should be included; there may be edges but they can tear the material.

Thermoforming

Table 12 Basic differences between Injection and thermo-shaping processes.

VARIABLES

PROCESO

INJECTIÓN

TERMOFORMING

Thickness

Constant

Variable

Mold exit angles

0.5° to 1°

3° - 5°

Molding temperature

392ºF-464ºF (200°C 240°C)

320ºF-356ºF (160°C 180°C)

Dimensional tolerance

Excellent

Relatively good, not for accuracy.

Inserts

Possible insertion of elements in other materials.

Mold surface can be prepared for inserts

Surface finishing

Smooth surfaces or any other texture can be obtained.

Only smooth surfaces, some shallow textures

Production

High production, hundreds or thousands of pieces a day.

Medium, some dozens a day.

Mold

Steel with alloys or expensive treatment, complex design, matrix-male mold.

Variety of materials, rather low cost, simple design, may use matrix-male mold.

May create ribbings, all types of holes, coils, etc.

Yes.

No.

Scrap, material waste

Very little, recoverable.

Depends on the shape, about 25% waste and recoverable.

Radius

Must blunt edges, about 1.5 thickness of material.

Larger radiuses, 0.4to 2need- ed. Depending on shape and depth.

Time to make a piece (design, mold, tests).

From 3 to 6 months.

Maximum 1 month.

Subsequent treatment and finishing

Any treatment or finishing, paint- ing, hot-stamping, serigraphy, metallization, etc.

Any treatment or finishing, paint- ing, hot-stamping, serigraphy, metallization, etc.

Criteria to

design

thermoforming

molds

34

The following criteria are key factors to successfully produce thermoformed pieces. They are the core of any development, but it is also vital to thoroughly analyze these concepts and later we will see in detail each consideration in the design of molds. Then, these basic criteria and considerations will be the fundamental parameters to manufacture thermoforming molds, regardless of their complexity. It should be noted that when these molds are manufactured, the following concepts must be assessed.

1. - Form and dimensions of the piece.

2.- Aspect of the piece.

3.- Estimated production volume.

Probably the most important of these concepts is the estimated production volume, since it will depend on the definition of the kind of mold, material, finishing, thermo- forming technique, etc. Next, the model designs are shown:

1. - A male mold is easier to use, less expensive and more suitable to form deep pieces. In general, a matrix should not be used to form pieces deeper than half the width of the piece. The matrix is used when the concave face of the fin- ished piece must not be in contact with the mold.

the fin- ished piece must not be in contact with the mold. 2.- The molds must
the fin- ished piece must not be in contact with the mold. 2.- The molds must
the fin- ished piece must not be in contact with the mold. 2.- The molds must

2.- The molds must have enough vacuum orifices so that an annealed sheet can conform to the critical parts of the mold, the vacuum orifices have to be made in the deepest parts and areas where air is caught, and must be small enough not to leave marks (1/32" to 1/8" diameter). Vacuum can be more effective if the hole is enlarged from the inside.

3.- There must be ducts that allow water or oil circulation through the mold when temperature control in it is needed.

Thermoforming

4. - When the dimensions of a formed

piece are critical, molds must be built big- ger to compensate for the contraction of the material.

Expected contraction from molding tem- perature to environment temperature is 1% maximum.

5.-A slight curving of the flat big areas of the mold will allow flat areas when the material cools.

- obtained; the mold must have an exit angle of at least 3°.

6.

walls cannot be

Pieces with 90°

7. - Edges should be blunt, since vertex

form accumulates internal efforts. A piece will be more resistant designing blunt edges and corners.

8.- The thin or weak parts can be rein- forced with reinforcement ribs, which will also reinforce big flat areas.

parts can be rein- forced with reinforcement ribs, which will also reinforce big flat areas. 3
parts can be rein- forced with reinforcement ribs, which will also reinforce big flat areas. 3
3 0
3
0
parts can be rein- forced with reinforcement ribs, which will also reinforce big flat areas. 3
parts can be rein- forced with reinforcement ribs, which will also reinforce big flat areas. 3

Considerations in the design of thermoforming molds

36

9.- If it is necessary to mold using a per- manent incrustation, you should consid- er: the difference between the expansion coefficient and the various materials, oth- erwise, there can be a failure due to a forced insert, because of different expan- sions and contractions of the materials in contact.

10.- The surface of the molds can be lined with cotton flannel, felt, velvet, suede, etc, to diminish mold marks. The most com- mon is cotton flannel.

to diminish mold marks. The most com- mon is cotton flannel. One of the advantages of
to diminish mold marks. The most com- mon is cotton flannel. One of the advantages of

One of the advantages of the thermoforming process is the diversity and kinds of molds that can be made at a very low cost and relatively fast, being highly accepted for other applications, over other processes.

Usually and unlike injection molds, only half the mold is needed and it depends on the form of the product, desired aspect and chosen technique (may be male mold or matrix).

Choosing the right one is much more important when the part to be thermoformed is very deep. When the pieces are shallow, profiles are small or when thinning is irrele- vant, choosing will depend on the aspect of the piece. If details of the mold are impor- tant, then the side of a plastic sheet in contact with the mold surface should be the front of the piece.

Some times, a bigger radius or smooth aspect is desirable if a sheet of material shows a nice surface, then the surface which does not touch the mold will be the front of the piece, besides, a dimensional control closer to the surface of the mold can be obtained.

Thinning of the material

Under every condition of thermoforming when pieces are formed of a plastic sheet, the area of the surface will get bigger, there will be some stretching and the material will get thinner.

One of the decisive factors of this thinning is the ratio, generally defined as maximum depth or height ratio with a minimum space through the opening. To estimate this thin- ning, the area of the available sheet to be thermoformed must be determined and divid- ed into the area of the finished piece, including waste. It is always desirable that the

Thermoforming

molds and thermoformed pieces have generous curving radiuses. Theoretically, there is a formula to determine the thinning percentage of the material, considering that the material is uniformly annealed and stretched.

Thinning % =

Final thickness of the material Original thickness of material

A X B

A X B X E (2C + 2D)

available area of a sheet

=

=

total area of shaped piece

A=3 A=3 B=4 B=4 C=2 C=2 D=1 D=1 E=1 E=1
A=3
A=3
B=4
B=4
C=2
C=2
D=1
D=1
E=1
E=1

In practice, with a micrometer or calibrator you can determine thickness directly on the thermoformed piece, cutting small pieces on different sections. Other methods use translucent sheets and correlate color intensity vs. thinning of the sheet. Thickness can also be determined making squares with an oil marker on the sheet before thermoform- ing it and observing stretching of the material.

thermoform- ing it and observing stretching of the material. In a matrix the opposite happens, the

In a matrix the opposite happens, the sheet will expand to the 4 vertexes of the mold surface, becoming very thin. This can be seen in most of the thermoformed tubs.

One should consider the possibility of wrinkling on some critical areas or on the bottom of a male mold or matrix. If an annealed sheet cannot contract from the dimension A to E, excess material will cre- ate wrinkles.

If an annealed sheet cannot contract from the dimension A to E, excess material will cre-

Next, some techniques to prevent wrinkling are shown:

Next, some techniques to prevent wrinkling are shown: When low molding temperature is used, a sheet

When low molding temperature is used, a sheet will keep a greater tenacity and elas- ticity. For big pieces, molding time and temperature should be increased on difficult zones to be thermoformed, minimizing this kind of defect. For deep molding sheets, because of their partially cross-linked structure, they tend to minimize wrinkling. When there are many molds, there should be enough room to prevent wrinkling, a distance 1.75 times the height of a piece, is suitable.

Dimensional shrinking and tolerance. Dimensional shrinkage and tolerance in thermoforming vary for pieces formed on matrix or male mold. On a male mold, shrinkage can be reduced if the piece cools most of the time on the mold. If cooling reaches environmental temperature on the mold, shrinkage will be minimum. Thus, the internal dimension of the piece will be very close to the one of the mold, but then a production cycle will not be productive.

However, the fact is that a piece must be removed from the male mold when it is still hot, otherwise removal will be difficult. This is exactly thermal shrinkage, which is the proportional difference between the environmental temperature and the one at the time of removal. Thus, to keep the specified dimension of a piece, the model must be slight- ly bigger.

On the other hand, a piece formed in a matrix will begin shrinking as soon as the tem- perature of the material is below the one of forming. To keep a close continuous toler- ance, the mold dimension must be considerably increased and vacuum pressure kept during the whole operation.

As a guideline it can be assumed that shrinkage on male molds it is .127 mm/mm (0.005 in/in) and in a matrix it is bigger. For acrylic, polycarbonate, thermoplastic poly- ester and oriented polystyrene .203 mm/mm (0.008 in/in) can be considered. Anyway, one should be cautious about these values, since the following conditions can signifi- cantly alter them.

1.-Mold temperature: a difference of 15°F (10°C) can change shrinkage over 0.001 in/in. (0254 mm/mm).

2.- Size and thickness: this refers to the exit angle limited by the mold and the effect of greater thickness regarding temperature profile.

3. - Final use temperature: Due to expansion and contraction proportional to lineal expansion coefficient, a thermoformed piece will keep on varying with environmen- tal temperature changes.

4.- Use extreme conditions: Shrinking can reach top values after the first exposition to the highest temperature of use.

5.- Molecular orientation: There might be bigger shrinkage related to the molecular ori- entation of the material.

Some times, to prevent distortion and shrinkage, cooling templates are needed until a piece reaches the environmental temperature. Further more, the pieces thermoformed at a temperature below the one specified, tend to go back to their original state due to the plastic memory of the material. It is advised to monitor shrinkage and deformation during production.

Aspect of the mold. It must be clarified that the surfaces obtained by injection and extrusion processes cannot be reproduced by conventional thermoforming techniques. Even highly brilliant materials may lose their glow during the process. In addition, they tend to emphasize mark and waving when they touch a cold mold and undergo thickness changes. A change of thickness will cause small distortions. Thus, cleaning the working area is a must. All the outlines should be rounded, actually, a mold with big radiuses will bene- fit the thermoforming operation, since the material will tend to stretch better

NO YES

NO

YES

will bene- fit the thermoforming operation, since the material will tend to stretch better NO YES

If you want a sheet to copy details of a mold, like non-skid textures or similar ones, those detail should be at least three times bigger than the thickness of the material. Actually, it is better to have a not so smooth molding surface, this way, the piece will not copy the mistakes of the mold. It may even be sand-blasted with glass fiber micro spheres or an abrasive material. This way you can eliminate the air caught between the mold and the piece. Some times it is a good idea to sand the surface using rough sandpaper, this helps at the time of removal, to break the vacuum between the mold and the piece.

Superficie lisa, bien pulida S u p e r f i c i e á

Superficie lisa, bien pulida

Superficie áspera

Vacuum bores When using thermoforming techniques with vacuum or pressured air, it is very impor- tant to eliminate most of the air between a mold and a sheet in a minimum of time. Depending on the kind of mold, 1/2" or 1" orifices can be used, as in the case of ther- moformed skylights, up to homogenous distribution in all the vertexes of the mold.

Metallic frame

Acrylic Base
Acrylic
Base

1/2or 1piping

Metallic frame Acrylic Base 1/2 ” or 1 ” piping These pictures show the distribution of
Metallic frame Acrylic Base 1/2 ” or 1 ” piping These pictures show the distribution of

These pictures show the distribution of the vacuum pressured air bores, typical for pressure-free forming molds, male mold and matrix

In general, the diameter of vacuum bores should be slightly smaller than the thickness of the material. As a starting point, the vacuum bores will have a diameter equivalent to the final thickness of a thermoformed piece. This rule does not apply when the material is very thin or very thick, or when the marks of these orifices are irrelevant. It can be considered that a suitable range is from 1/32" to 1/8" diameter. To eliminate a

great volume of air, 1/8" or _" diameter holes can be drilled. Depending on the manu- facture of the mold, the bores can be widened on the inside of the mold, as shown in the picture. To reduce the time to eliminate the volume of air round a softened sheet and a vacuum box, the space can be refilled with polystyrene foam balls or polyurethane pieces.

Widened bores on Increased diameter the inside bore

Widened bores on

Increased diameter

the inside

bore

bores on Increased diameter the inside bore Another function of a mold is to contribute along

Another function of a mold is to contribute along with a frame to stabilize the position of a sheet and provide good sealing all around the mold. In some cases, a canal around the piece is helpful, exactly on the external zone of the cutting line.

Mold cooling Some times when production runs are very long, the mold should have a cooling sys- tem, generally copper piping is used. It should be placed adequately and have enough capacity to carry a considerable volume of water or refrigerant. A relationship between the temperature of the sheet and the mold should be established so that the material does not get too cold and it does not thermoform below the bottom limit of the mold- ing temperature.

There are different methods to cool a mold, for example, when there are critical mold- ing zones, plastic or poly-tetra-fluorine-ethylene inserts can be incorporated. In some cases, a plastic covering can be applied to reduce thermal conductivity, or even after thermoforming, pressured air can be injected through the bores or holes. Three cool- ing systems are shown in the next picture: First an undulated cooling system, the sec- ond is a branch system and the third is an external multiple alternative flow branch system with 2 inputs and 2 outputs.

Undulated

system

Branch system

Undulated system Branch system External multiple alternative flow branch

External multiple

alternative flow

branch

Materials used to manufacture thermoforming molds

42

Mold supports As it has been mentioned before, when thermoforming a piece the material always gets thinner. Molding supports are used to get a better distribution of material in a thermo- formed piece. Their purpose is to stretch a softened sheet, as a pre-forming. This tech- nique is very important, specially with very deep pieces. In general terms, the molding supports can be made of the same material as molds. There are three categories of mold supports:

Metallic supports Usually they are made of iron or aluminum, must be very smooth, with radius on the edges. The range of temperature is 10 to 15°C (10°F) below the temperature of the material, if their temperature is too high the sheet will stick to them.

Thermal material supports These are made of wood, plastic or metal and they are built under the principle of a good thermal insulator. The surface may be of soft wood, plastics like nylon, or anoth- er thermofixed, synthetic foam or any other material including soft flannel.

Skeleton type support Skeleton or frame type supports are only rounded bars welded forming intersections, which should be totally rounded to avoid tearing the material.

Support dimensions are related to the size of a piece, since they have a great influ- ence on the thickness distribution of the material. It must be noted that in some cases, by only changing the depth penetration of a support (75% depth of the piece), the thickness of the material between the faces and the surface can be controlled. Therefore, the equipment must have the required depth adjustment capacity, pene- tration power and speed.

Materials used. Unlike other plastic molding processes, such as injection or compression, thermo- forming has the advantage of using relatively low pressure and temperature. That is why a great variety of materials can be used. Usually, wooden molds can be used, they are ideal for low production and as wood has a low thermal conductivity, it helps the annealed sheet not to cool quickly at first contact, but these molds are not good for medium or high production. Manufacturing molds with phenol laminates are better because they are not seriously affected by heat or humidity.

There are also molds made of mineral or metallic charges and polyester or epoxy or rigid polyurethane resins. These are easy to remove off a mold and may even have a mold with multiple cavities. The thermal properties of epoxy and polyester resins make them suitable for medium production. Copper piping can be used as cooling system to better control the mold temperature, but even then, it is not enough for high production.

Thermoforming

Aluminum molds are the best for high production, but because of the thermal conduc- tivity of aluminum, the mold has to be pre-heated by means of circulating hot water through the cooling/heating system or radiating heat with electric resistors, or even heating the mold with the same material to be thermoformed. For long runs, a thermo- stat has to be incorporated, to ensure there is the least temperature fluctuation on the surface of the mold, thus, preventing over cooling. Applying poly-tetra-fluorine-ethyl- ene to aluminum can improve its properties.

Summarizing, there are 4 groups to manufacture thermoforming molds:

1) Wood. 2) Minerals. 3) Plastic resins. 4) Metals.

Table 13. Use of materials for thermoforming molds

GROUP

MATERIALS

USED

PRODUCTION

VOLUME

ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES

Woods

Pine

Mahogany

Cedar

Maple

Triply

Agglomerated

Low

These are low cost molds, their time of manufacturing is short and they have good surface finishing, though in some cases the grain of the wood leaves marks. Wood should be seasoned, for better finishing and preventing dimen- sional changes due to humidity, molds must be sealed with casein, phenol- varnish or epoxy resin diluted in methyl- ethyl ketone. For better finishing the grain of the wood must be parallel to the length of the mold. Triply or agglom- erated molds last longer, which can be prolonged by reinforcing the intersec- tions with metal.

 

MATERIALS

PRODUCTION

 

GROUP

USED

VOLUME

ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES

Minerals

Cast

Low

Cast Molds are more durable than wooden ones and can be cast of a composite of low shrinking cast, highly resistant and interiorly reinforced with metallic mesh, glass fiber or materials that do not absorb humidity. Cast on the molding is left to cure 5 to 7 days at envi- ronmental temperature. If surface is good it does not need finishing. Polyester, epoxy or phenol resin coverings provide more resistant surface. Care must be taken not to chip cast when making vacuum holes, which may be eliminated if pieces of wire are inserted previ- ously and removed after hardening.

(Calcium

Medium

Carbonate)

Sodium

Fluoric-silicate

Plastic resins

Polyester

Medium

Plastic resin molds are more expensive and elaborated than cast or wooden ones but more durable, smoother surfaces and dimensional stability. These resins can be charged with alu- minum powder which provides a more homo- geneous temperature of the mold or with kaolin, glass fiber etc. A vacuum system can be incorporated to these molds, fitting a card- board pipe at the back of the mold.

Epoxy

Phenol

Plastic

laminated

Nylon

Metallic

Aluminum

High

They are ideal for big production runs, high pressure or metallic forming. Aluminum, bronze, or any other low point fusion alloy founding molds can be used, and also machine finished steel, brass or bronze. They are the must expensive, making them takes a long time, have better surface finishing, main- tenance low cost and better dimensional sta- bility. Cooling system must be used, and avoid rapid cooling of the piece.

Beryllium-

copper

Iron

Recommendations for thermoforming molds

1.

For wooden molds, the best remover is baby powder or flour.

2.

For metallic or plastic resin molds, removing waxes are recommended.

3.

Soft wood must not be used with very sensitive materials such as polystyrene, foamed or acrylic P.V.C., since they get marked because of the grain of the wood.

4.

For long production runs, wood must not be used since slow cooling makes the mold expand, creating separations on the joints.

5.

For plastic resin or metallic molds, aerosol removers can also be used.

6.

For wash basins, tubs, or bath room modules, a porcelain-like glow can be achieved sand-blasting the surface of the mold, roughness will achieve a finish with these characteristics.

.

Bi-dimensional

thermoforming

46

Thermoforming techniques

Thermoforming is the simplest and most used process to form an acrylic sheet. Being a thermoplastic material it softens and it is easy to handle and can take any form when heated at suitable temperature and time.

As it cools it recovers its rigidity and keeps the form it was exposed to. The cost of equipment and molds is relatively low and bi or tri-dimensional forms can be obtained by means of a great variety of processes.

This is a bending process that can be achieved through two methods:

Lineal heating bending. A Chemcast acrylic sheet is heated on a lineal resistor, bending at the desired angle. To bend, remove the protector paper of the bending line (the rest of the paper may be left to protect the areas that are not to be worked on), then place the sheet on the sup- ports with the bending line directly on the heating line, bending on the heated side. Heating time varies according to the thickness of a sheet. To bend an acrylic sheet over 0.16thick it should be heated on both sides to obtain a suitable bend. Heat the sheet until it gets soft on the bending zone. Do not try to bend the sheet before it is well heat- ed, this may cause irregular or creased corners.

Heat carefully, irregular heating may cause arching on the bending line. Some times this is hard to avoid, specially on pieces over 24long. Arching may be diminished fas- tening the recently formed material with some clamps or a template until it cools. Templates can be made of wood, fixed or adjustable.

YES No

YES

No

With suitable heating, clean shining corners are obtained

Thermoforming

Acrylic

Electric resistor
Electric resistor

Top

Place the sheet on the support with the fold- ing line directly on the heating line

Support with adjustable hinge at any angle

Support with adjustable hinge at any angle

Use fixed or adjustable templates to keep the piece at the desired angle

Butts
Butts

Acrylic

Three-

dimensional

thermoforming

(with molds).

47

Cold forming

Chemcast acrylics sheet can be cold formed on curved frames, as long as the radius of the curve is 180 times bigger than the thickness of the material used.

Formula: R (radius) = 180 X T (Thickness of material in inches.)

R=180 X E
R=180 X E

The procedures for tri-dimensional forming in general, require using vacuum, pressured air, mechanical equipment, or a combination of these to mold Chemcast acrylic sheets to a desired form. These techniques are described next:

Acrylic Mold
Acrylic
Mold

Male mold

Male mold Frame Matrix

Frame

Matrix

Thermoforming

Free or gravity shaping This method is the simplest of all, because once the material is softened, the sheet is placed on the mold and the material adopts the form by its own weight. The edges of the material can be fastened to the mold to avoid waves that tend to occur when cooling.

Mechanical forming with matrix and male mold. A Chemcast acrylic sheet can be formed pressing the annealed material between the male mold and the matrix, to produce pieces of very accurate dimensions. This procedure requires excellent finishing of the molds to reduce their marks to a min- imum.

Free, pressure or vacuum forming The pieces that require optical clarity like skylights, helicopter cabins, etc., can be formed without mold, Chemcast acrylic can be vacuum or pressured air formed. The form of the finished piece is given by the form and size of the ring that fixes it to the frame and by the given height. However, these forms are limited to spherical outlines or bubbles freely formed. Vacuum is better for this kind of forming, or pressure if it is over 1 atmos- phere.

Vacuum and pressure forming, matrix. This procedure allows forming pieces, on 1 piece molds whose form requires more accuracy than the ones vacuum formed. However, high pressure leaves marks of the mold on the piece. As high pressure is required, the molds should be of metal, epoxy resins or other materials that can stand high pressure without deforming. Good finishing of the molds is a must to obtain quality pieces.

Pressure forming with the help of a pis- ton and matrix The technique of piston help is used to reduce thinning at the bottom of the formed pieces. The piston stretches the material before pressure is applied. Piston speed of 6.6 yd./min., is required, it may damage the material at initial contact. Forming pressure 6.16 pounds/in 2

the material at initial contact. Forming pressure 6.16 pounds/in 2 Presi ó n de aire Vac

Presión de aire

Presi ó n de aire Vac í o

Vacío

the material at initial contact. Forming pressure 6.16 pounds/in 2 Presi ó n de aire Vac

Vacío

Vac í o Vac í o

Vacío

Vac í o

Vacío

Vacuum with return and male mold forming. This technique is useful to form pieces that require uniform thickness on the walls and fewer forming marks. An annealed sheet is stretched in a vacuum box until it reaches the necessary depth for the mold; once it is inside it, vacuum is freed gradually so that the acrylic returns to its original form meeting it. More defined forms can be obtained if at the point of returning, vacuum is applied to the male mold

Pressure forming with the help of a pis- ton, matrix and vacuum. This is the most sophisticated of all, since it is a combination of almost all the oth- ers, it is generally used for very deep thermoforming which requires more con- trolled thickness and when breaking is possible because of excessive molding depth.

Infrared heating furnace molding techniques

50

In this section we will try to expand the techniques mentioned before. Although these examples are designed for infrared heating equipments, it is possible to apply them to the conventional molding systems.

Vacuum forming, matrix and mechanical support

Vacuum forming, matrix and mechanical support

Vacuum forming, matrix and mechanical support

Vacuum forming, matrix and mechanical support

Thermoforming

Pressured air pre-stretching, mechanical support and vacuum

Pressured air pre-stretching, mechanical support and vacuum

Vacuum forming, matrix

Vacuum forming, matrix

Free pressured air forming

Free pressured air forming

Pressured air stretching, mechanical support and vacuum

Pressured air stretching, mechanical support and vacuum

Pressured air pre-stretching, matrix, mechanical support and vacuum

Pressured air pre-stretching, matrix, mechanical support and vacuum

Free pressured air forming

Free pressured air forming

Vacuum forming, matrix, mechanical support and pressured air.

Vacuum forming, matrix, mechanical support and pressured air.
 

Cooling thermoformed pieces

Cooling a thermoformed piece is as important as heating it, but in some cases, it takes longer than heating. That is why it is important to choose the right method. Some times, when very thick pieces that can stand less internal effort are formed, normal cooling should be delayed, covering the piece with soft cloth or flannel. If the piece is fastened with clamps, fastening force diminishes as cooling takes place and shrinkage will show the great efforts of this process.

Most of the heat absorbed during the heating cycle should dissipate off the plastic before it is removed off the mold, otherwise, the piece might get distorted and warped. If the piece is formed on a male mold, it should be removed before shrinkage, which will make it hard to remove.

Conventional

Conduction and convection are practically the only methods to dissipate heat, since thermal conductivity is low, pieces over 0.08thick require long cooling. The most common is using electric ventilators to cool the piece; this method has the advantage of allowing cooling the piece on the mold. The disadvantage is that the air draft is not enough to cool the mold in each cycle, and the mold will be too hot, interfering with the normal heating cycle.

Cooling a piece in contact with a mold is very efficient if it is a metallic mold and has cooling ducts with water re-circulation. In these cases, enough volume of refrigerant liquid should be used to keep a constant temperature on the mold. If the cooling water is kept at a certain temperature, marks on the piece (usually known as undulations on its surface) due to a cold mold, can be minimized. Aluminum or epoxy resin and/or polyester molds are very suitable if you want to include a refrigeration system. Wooden molds are not convenient for long runs because they do not dissipate heat quickly.

cooling

methods

Non

 

conventional

There are faster cooling methods that use a spray or a very thin de-ionized water cur- tain or liquid carbon dioxide, which rapidly cools a thermoformed piece. This method is not common because of its cost, but both methods can be justified, specially if they are applied locally to prevent thermal tearing of very deep pieces. Irregular fast cooling of a formed piece causes great efforts that affect durability.

cooling

methods

52

Thermoforming

Cutting

equipment.

53

Cutting thermoformed pieces

Once the forming cycle is finished, pieces have to be cut to eliminate excess material.

It is very rarely that a finished piece does not need cutting, as in the case of lighted signs. Most thermoformed products need some kind of cutting.

The right equipment and technique must be chosen. Anyway, there are some factors that determine the choice, as sheet measures, size and depth of a piece, acceptable level of roughness of the cutting surface, required dimensional tolerance and cutting speed among others.

There are several equipments to cut thermoformed pieces:

Electric tools.

Circular saw.

A circular saw must have straight teeth to help cooling and not to soften the material.

Tungsten carbide teeth provide excellent cutting and keep sharp longer. Cutting must be slow to prevent heating or stretching the material. The saw has to be operated at

relatively high speed and before starting, make sure that the saw has reached its high- est speed. The thicker the material, the bigger the diameter of the saw must be, and have the least number of teeth (minimum 2 teeth per 0.8.). When a hand circular saw

is used, the sheet has to be held and pressed firmly as it cuts at a steady speed to

avoid chipping.

Table 14. Cutting specifications for circular, radial, or travel saw.

SHEET

 

DISK

Thickness inches

DIAMETERS (inches)

Thickness (inches)

No. TEETH (*)

0.06-0.12

8

1/16-1/32

96

0.12-0.16

10

3/32-1/8

82-96

0.2-0.4

10

1/8

82-96

0.48-0.6

12

1/8

82-96

0.72-0.84

12

1/8

48-52

1-2.08

12-14

1/8-5/32

48-52

*Teeth with tungsten carbide bit, teeth with straight surface at the center, combined or alternated

Thermoforming

Band saw

A band saw is the right one to make curves in flat sheets and rethread formed pieces.

A band saw with variable speed up to 5000 feet/min. and minimum 10" deep groove is

recommended . It is convenient to use the special bands to cut metal or plastic; the guide must be adjusted as close as possible to the material to avoid chipping on the cutting line and to reduce the vibration of the saw to a minimum. Next, cutting speci- fications with a band saw are listed:

Table 15, cutting specifications with a band saw.

 

BAND

ENGINE

SHEET

Thickness (inches)

WIDTH MIN

TEETH X

HP

RPM

(inches)

(inch)

0.06-0.12

3/16

18

1

 

0.16-0.24

3/16

14

1.5

DE

0.32-0.48

1/4

10

1.5

2500

0.6-1

3/8

8

1 .5-2

A

1-2.08

3/8

8

2

3500

Table 16 Radial cutting specifications, with band saw

SHEET

 

BAND

MINIMUM RADIUS TO CUT IN (inches)

WIDTH OF

TICKNESS OF

TEETH X

BAND (inches)

BAND (inches)

INCHES

0.48

3/16

.028

7

0.52-0.76

1/4

.028

7

0.8-1.52

3/8

.028

6

1.56-2.28

1/2

.032

5

2.32-3.04

5/8

.032

5

3.08-4.56

3/4

.032

4

4.6-8.12

1

.035

4

8.16-12.2

1 1/4

.035

3

12.24-20

1 1/2

.035

3

Router Chemcasts acrylic sheets can be cut with a portable or fixed router (electric or pneu- matic). A 1.5 HP and 20,000 to 30,000 RPM electric router is recommended, and bits or cutters with tungsten carbide bits with 1/4 or 3/8" diameter and ideally 1/2" to avoid that vibrations break the bit.

This method provides very uniform cut and is good to form as well as to make big diameter holes. The router can be fixed to a table and a copying guide can be used for intricate designs.

The cutting tool of a circular saw or router can be changed for an abrasive normal disk or even a diamond one; this kind of disk should not be used when an acrylic formed piece is reinforced with glass fiber, as in the case of tubs, wash basins, phone booths, etc.

Automatic equipment. This kind of cutting equipment is used when a high automatic level is required; gener- ally, this equipment has a computing system and specialized software, like CAD-CAM- CAE, which is used to design the cutting pattern, and later send the information to a peripheral one, that in this case may be 1 or 5 head routers, pressured water system or laser. Cutting capacity is not limited to a direction or plane, it can perform any kind of cut or perforation.

Pressured water cutting The abrasive system with pressured water eliminates many of the problems related to the machinery and cutting operations of conventional cutting. A very fine jet of pres- sured water 50.000 Psi, is concentrated, at a speed of about 3.3 yd./min and a pres- sure of +/- 0.04.

Using a combination of highly pressured water and abrasive materials, such as silica powder, the water jet can cut every material without heating and provide an exceptional finishing on the cutting surface.

The advantages of this cutting system on acrylic are: eliminating heating distortions, any cutting angle can be performed because of its multi-directional type integrated to computing systems, it eliminates secondary operations like sanding, and reduces material waste since the cutting area is very reduced.

Cutting with laser Cutting with laser is a technique that has already been used in other industrial sectors for several years and its main characteristics are:

High pressure cutting

Manufacturing flexibility

Reduced cost

An advantage of the laser cutting is its application versatility, since apart from its direct use to cut acrylic sheets, it offers the possibility of processing many other materials.

With a laser device you can cut, weld and hew surfaces up to 1.2” thick,
With a laser device you can cut, weld and hew surfaces up to 1.2” thick, because laser
energy is concentrated on one spot and heat generation can be limited to a minimum
zone, which avoids any heat deformation or structural changes in the material. Very fine
cuts with accurate edges can be obtained which is good for acrylic pieces with intri-
cate forms. You can make 0.004” diameter bores at a speed up to 150,000 holes per
hour. A laser equipment can cut 1/2" of acrylic at a speed of 12”./min.
Swaging
This technique is not much used because of its limitations; it may be used on thermo-
formed pieces when they are still hot and are not over 0.08” thick, the blades should
be at a temperature between 104ºF and 140ºF (40°C and 60° C). Even then cutting
quality is not very good. This kind of cutting is better for plastics-like acetate poly-
styrene and foamed P.V.C.
Cutting
techniques
Although there are non conventional cutting techniques and highly automatic ones,
their practical application is far from popular, because of their high investment and
maintenance cost compared with traditional techniques like router or circular saw cut-
ting.
Some cutting alternatives of thermoformed pieces are shown next. As long as it is pos-
sible, you should build a cutting template as support for the thermoformed piece, this
way you will avoid variations on a piece and production will be standardized.
Cutting with router and bullet bit
Cutting with router, straight bit and copying guide

56

Thermoforming

Cutting with bench saw and iron or aluminum angle butt

Cutting with bench saw and iron or aluminum angle butt

Cutting with router and cookie cutter or abrasive disk on the outside

Cutting with router and cookie cutter or abrasive disk on the outside

Cutting with radial saw and template on the inside

Cutting with radial saw and template on the inside

Cutting with bench saw and wooden butt

Cutting with bench saw and wooden butt

Cutting with router and cookie cutter or abrasive disk on the inside

Cutting with router and cookie cutter or abrasive disk on the inside

Cutting with radial saw and template on the outside

Cutting with radial saw and template on the outside
 

Thermoforming variables

In the thermoforming process there are variables that can affect aspect, quality, dimen- sions and distribution of the material of a formed piece. Knowing these variables can help to solve difficult production problems in the thermoforming process. Following, the most frequent variables as deviations in the thermoforming process are shown.

Material

Thickness of a sheet When electric resistors or infrared radiation is used to heat, changes on caliber of the thickness of the material can cause an uneven heating, creating variations in the formed part. In pre-stretching or deep forming, close dimensional tolerance is needed to avoid breaking the material in very thin areas, because of the force exerted by vac- uum or pressured air. In very deep pieces there is a variation in the thickness of the material which depends on the thickness used, the area and maximum depth of a piece. When there is a thickness variation between each sheet, the heating tempera- ture must be reduced to prevent material from over softening. If the temperature of a sheet is homogeneous, even a piece with thin areas can be well made.

Sheet pigmentation

variables

In the case of radiation heating (electric resistors) the different colors of the same mate- rial can cause temperature changes and heating cycle changes. In a convection fur- nace (hot air re-circulation) this variable does not apply.

.

Size of a sheet. To get a better distribution of the material of a very deep piece, it is more economic to increase the size of a sheet instead of its thickness.

Temperature uniformity of a sheet When the temperature of any material is increased, tension force is reduced and there- fore the sheet becomes malleable. Simple or deep forming made at a lower range than annealing temperature provides the best results.

For high quality pieces, it is important that a sheet heats evenly at annealing point length-wise and width-wise. The sheets that are not evenly heated will be deficiently formed: there will be more stretching in the normal temperature zones than in the ones that were not softened.

Mold variables

Vacuum bores or orifices Vacuum speed is directly proportional to the quality of a piece. A slow vacuum makes the part of the sheet where the first contact with the mold takes place to cool faster than the rest. Therefore, there are sections with very thin walls or incomplete pieces. To eliminate air quickly, 1/8" and _" vacuum bores should be used. When possible, there should be vacuum canals or ducts since they display a greater volume of air.

Mold surface When a thermoplastic sheet is formed it will take the form of the mold, one with opaque finishing, will give an opaque finishing, a very polished finishing (mirror finishing) of course, will provide a shining piece.

Mold temperature.

A

mold surface temperature influences directly the duration of the forming cycles, the

size and a better aspect of a formed piece. A thermoformed piece final shrinkage depends on having a mold temperature similar to the thermal expansion coefficient of the material.

Mechanical support temperature To prevent a sheet from getting cold during a pre-stretching operation causing "cool- ing marks" and deformations, a mechanical support should be heated at a tempera- ture over the distortion point.

Pre-stretching

Vacuum box

variables

In

vacuum with return and free forming it is very effective to use a vacuum box of 3.2

to 4.8longer than the total depth of the formed bubble to prevent cooling on the perimeter of the sheet in contact with the mold. Before forming the bubble, the sheet must be strongly sealed on the mold. In a vacuum with return operation, maximum thinning will occur at the bottom of the formed bubble. To get thicker walls, there must be a two step edge in the vacuum box which will cool the top area making it thicker.

Air temperature Sometimes the air of the system should be pre-heated. When air at room temperature gets into the system, it may cool the sheet, affecting its size and form. With thin mate- rials, the cooling problem is more serious. With pre-heated air, the temperature should be about 10% below the temperature of the sheet. An air deflector or an air diffuser should be used at the intake of the mold since they can prevent a sudden cooling in some areas of the material.

59

Thermoforming

Mechanical

Mechanical support form This must be closely adapted to the form of the cavity of the mold, but must be 10 to 20% smaller length-wise and width-wise (or diameter). When these dimensions are 4.8or larger, the small supports must allow at least 1/4" margin between the final part and the support, to prevent thickness irregularities of the material as far as possible.

When the mold has canals (corrugated tin) with sudden changes from flat to narrow zones it is important that the support is made with detachable parts that fit into the canals of the mold. These parts will help add more material to increase thickness in a particular area. For boxes in the mold, the same projection of the support must be applied. In the case of deep depressions on the walls of the mold, a support mecha- nism should be incorporated to take material to that zone, all the corners should be softened and have generous radiuses.

support

variables

Support materials. To get good results, the mechanical support must have excellent qualities to transfer heat, and must have constant and prolonged resistance at high temperatures. Aluminum is one of the best materials. For short or prototype runs hard wood is better and to prevent it from getting too dry or cracking because of the heat, the surface has to be greased frequently.

Support temperature. The temperature of a support must be kept below that of the forming of a sheet. The support may have low working temperatures, anyway, if the temperature drops, the cooling marks will be more visible.

is not so critical to strictly control the temperature of a mold. In the case of a sup- port, a maximum uniform heating of 50°F must be kept without variation, with suitable regulated temperature the molding marks are generally eliminated.

It

Support surface.

A

smooth surface with well polished radiuses, dust-free and rubbish-free, will produce

good pieces

Support height An effective mechanical support is the one that is longer than the depth of the mold, since it can regulate adjusting.

Support vacuum speed. Increasing the speed of a support raises air compression capacity in the cavity of the mold. The vacuum system capacity and its duration related to the run of the support affects pressure in the cavity of the mold. Normally, the vacuum cycle must start at the same time as the support touches the material.

 

60

Thermoforming

Support, depth of action The best results are achieved when a support penetrates 78 or 80% in the cavity of the mold. This creates the best combination between the thickness of the bottom and the walls of a piece.

Material variables when forming with support The kind of material used will affect the amount of pressure needed to keep the right con- tact of the material around the support. High resistance of materials such as acrylic and ABS, need air pressure between 15 and 50 Psi.

Problems and solutions guide

DEFECT

POSIBLE CAUSE

SUGGESTED SOLUTION

Bubble or blister on the sheet

Excessive moisture

Pre-dry sheet.

Dry both sides of sheet at 140°F (60°C)

Heating too fast

Reduce furnace temperature.

Increase distance between sheet and heater.

Irregular heating.

Check and fix the furnace.

Check heating elements.

Incomplete forms and details

Insufficient vacuum

Eliminate obstructions in vac- uum system

Increase number of holes

Increase their diameter

More tank and vacuum pump capacity.

Leakage.

Slow vacuum displacement

Check vacuum system for possible leaks.

Use vacuum canals in possi- ble areas.

Insufficient heating of a sheet.

Increase temperature or heat- ing time.

Color change of a sheet

Excessive heating

Reduce heating time.

Reduce furnace temperature.

Low mold temperature.

Heat mold.

DEFECT

POSIBLE CAUSE

SUGGESTED SOLUTION

Color change of a sheet.

Low temperature of mechanical support

Heat mechanical support.

Too much thinning of a sheet.

Increase sheet thickness.

Sheet cooling before its formi- ing is completed.

Place sheet more quickly on the mold.

Increase vacuum speed.

Heat mold and mechanical support.

Mold wrongly designed.

Reduce mold depth.

Improve vacuum air flow.

Use more curved radiuses.

Inadequate material

Change material.

Excessive warping or bend- ing of a sheet

Sheet too hot

Reduce heating time.

Reduce furnace

 

Sheet too big.

If possible, reduce sheet size

Use screens, mainly on cen- ter of sheet (only infrared heating furnaces).

Cooling marks on a formed piece.

Sheet too hot.

Reduce mold

Reduce heating time.

 

Insufficient temperature of support.

Raise support

Use soft flannel filter on sup port surface

Mold low temperature (Shrinking stops at contact with mold or cold support).

Raise mold and/or support - temperature, without exceed ing temperature range.

Soften and/or round mold critical areas.

DEFECT

POSIBLE CAUSE

SUGGESTED SOLUTION

Small wrinkles or circular marks

Sheet too hot

Reduce mold temperature.

Reduce heating time

 

Too big vacuum bores.

Refill and bore again smaller diameter.

Bending variation of sheet.

Sheet irregular temperature.

Check there are no drafts in furnace, deflectors must be incorporated.

Wrinkles while forming.

Excessive heating of sheet.

Reduce furnace temperature.

Reduce heating time.

As far as possible, more dis- tance between 2 heaters and sheet (only infrared heating furnaces)

Excessive bending of sheet.

Reduce molding range tem- perature.

Insufficient vacuum

Check vacuum system.

Increase vacuum canals or ori- fices.