NASHVILLE, TENN. — GE Plastics intends to stay on top of the industrial thermoforming market by expanding its research and development capabilities for the process.
To do that, GE is adding a four-station rotary pressure former with a double oven for twin-sheet applications at its Polymer Processing Development Center at company headquarters in Pittsfield, Mass. The equipment supplier: Modern Machinery of Beaverton (Mich.) Inc., which in the past couple of years has been sharpening its own industrial thermoforming technologies and building that market into a bigger piece of its total sales.
GE paid about $565,000 for Modern's machine, which has a maximum mold area of 6 feet by 8 feet, said Paul Bristow, GE Plastics' thermoforming program leader in commercial technology. Price was just one selling point for GE, he said. The rotary former also features a Windows 95-based control system and an adjustable clamp frame that makes changing sheet sizes easy and quick, he said.
``I just like the innovative approach,'' Bristow said in a Sept. 20 interview at the Society of Plastics Engineers' Thermforming Division conference in Nashville.
Modern, which delivered its very first pressure former in early 1997 to Grimm Bros. Plastics Corp. of Wapello, Iowa, since then has been pushing hard into the cut-sheet market. It just wrapped up a $400,000 expansion, giving it 26,000 square feet in Beaverton, said President Thomas Pohlman. The firm moved into the new space in late September and has added 15-20 workers for a second shift.
``If sales roll like they have been, we probably will be hiring another 10-20 people,'' Pohlman said.
Machine sales doubled in 1997, and Pohlman expects to repeat that by hitting his sales goal of $5 million to $7 million this year.
GE plans to install Modern's pressure former in November. The R&D center already has one thermoforming machine — a custom-made, in-line Maac for pressure and vacuum forming with a 5-foot by 6-foot platen and an older control system, Bristow said.
``We're doing a lot of work with composite materials,'' Bristow said. ``We felt we needed higher pressures than we have now.''
Among other projects, the Modern machine will do R&D work in multisheet forming of two- and three-layer, glass-filled materials for body panels, fenders, air dams and other parts for heavy trucks and recreational vehicles, Bristow said. The PPDC also is developing twin-sheet applications for the kitchen and bath market, especially sinks.
The new machine will help sheet makers and original equipment manufacturers prove out new thermoforming concepts, collecting forming data and other processing criteria, he said.
In applications, ``thermoforming has only scratched the surface in terms of opportunities,'' Bristow said. Many of those opportunities will come in replacing fiberglass and steel, he said.