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CHICAGO — Thermoforming machinery maker Maac Machinery Corp. (Booth S423) and Tooling Technology LLC are announcing a strategic alliance at NPE. Paul Alongi, Maac founder and chief executive officer, and Anthony Seger, co-founder and president of Tooling Technology, said they think the deal is the thermoforming industry's first such relationship between a machinery maker and a tooling manufacturer.

``This alliance of the two firms means customers can go to a single resource for both machinery and tooling,'' Alongi said.

Tooling Technology also recently announced that a private equity group, River Associates LLC of Chattanooga, Tenn., had taken an equity position in the company to help Tooling Technology do strategic planning and finance acquisitions.

Maac is based in Itasca, Ill., in a 25,000-square-foot plant. Tooling Technology runs two plants, totaling more than 60,000 square feet, in Fort Loramie, Ohio, near Dayton. Tooling Technology claims to be the largest U.S. maker of cast-aluminum temperature-controlled thermoforming tooling.

In November, Maac acquired the assets of thermoforming equipment manufacturer Comet Industries Inc. of Sanford, Fla.

At NPE, Maac also showcased an edge seal clamp frame system for its custom heavy-gauge sheet-fed thermoforming equipment, and enhanced its 1-year-old System 9000 computerized machinery control software/hardware package.

The clamping system is designed to grip plastic sheet with less material required, creating less waste and cutting both trim scrap and material costs. Heavy-duty clamps, needed to hold sheets of heavy-gauge plastic up to 10 feet by 20 feet, are used in the thermoforming of pickup bedliners, door panels, suitcases, hot tubs and pallets.

The system allows processors to run smaller sheet, leading to savings in material costs of as much as 20 percent. A reduction in sheet size minimizes material trimming, regrind, transporting and storage, as well as the labor, energy and maintenance required for those tasks.

Four specially designed aluminum frames hold and dissipate heat, as well as hold the large sheets in place. The system also is equipped with braided hoses with quick connects and disconnects, making for faster setup and sheet size changes. High-temperature air-operated cylinders mounted on 12-inch centers reduce the material needed for clamping to three-eighths of an inch from 11/2 inches on most other machines, the company said.

Maac claims the initial purchase cost of a complete Maac clamp frame system is about half that of other suppliers.

The updated software allows the Itasca firm to make changes to customers' machines via modem, so users do not have to program the system. This offers labor cost savings and ease of use, since programing can be done anywhere in the world.

The system, also known as a Man-Machine Interface, improves part finish and cycle times, saves energy, distributes material more efficiently and lowers scrap rates. It is available on all new machinery.

``This is a very intelligent system — it is a maintenance person's dream,'' said senior product engineer Jesse Shadle.

The system, which uses an Allen-Bradley workstation, offers access to forming techniques, platen settings and heat-transfer technology with time and temperature settings.

Other features include 10 complete preprogrammed forming techniques, which are available at the push of a button, as well as an 11th technique allowing customers to create customized parameters based on specific needs and requirements. It also has unlimited storage capability, up to 300 individual heat settings, complete diagnostic and monitoring, help options on every screen and optional multilevel security codes.

Maac sold about 35 machines last year, mostly rotary pressure formers. All Maac systems are designed for specified cycle times and often can exceed production rates 400 percent over existing machines, according to the company. Sales rose about 20 percent in 1996, Alongi said. He plans to double that growth rate this year and add more production people.

Alongi recently returned from Wilhelmsdorf, Germany, where he attended the first International Thermoforming Conference, sponsored by the Society of Plastic Engineers Inc.'s Thermoforming Division. Only 50 people were invited to attend the international summit of companies engaged in thermoforming.

``What impressed all of us was the openness of all attendees to share certain information which will ultimately benefit the many customers all of us serve worldwide,'' he said in a news release. ``Despite the many language barriers and differences in technology, it was a completely open forum.''

Maac claims to serve the top 40 percent of domestic and international manufacturers of plastic products such as automobile door panels, truck bedliners, tubs and spas, plastic pallets, luggage and small recreational boats.