A fledgling company is targeting the thermoforming market with new technology and a plan to develop a consolidated database of plug-assist materials, processing parameters and applications.
To start, CMT of Dedham, Mass., is focusing on its Hytac-brand plug-assist material for in-line, roll-fed vacuum forming, said partner Noel Tessier. Hytac, which combines syntactic foam with an epoxy matrix, comes in three grades for different temperature needs. CMT mainly creates standard shapes that thermoformers then machine into tooling.
CMT, which just started up in April, will use those Hytac sales to help fund development of a new concept: an engineering thermoplastic plug-assist material.
The ETP forms the core of plug-assist tooling that features an outer shell of tough, syntactic foam using hollow glass microspheres.
Plug-assist formulations typically require low thermal conductivity and specific heat to keep the heat in the sheet as the plug pushes it into the female cavity, reducing warm-up time and keeping material from sticking to the plug. This becomes even more important as sheet gets thinner, as thermoformers attempt to cut materials costs.
One problem CMT faced with the new ETP product was its high thermal conductivity, Tessier said in a recent telephone interview. So far, the new plug-assist ETP product, which has good thermal performance at temperatures as high as 320§ F, is being offered for trial use only, he said.
``What people really like about this thermoplastic plug assist is damage tolerance and abuse resistance,'' he said. ``That's why people are switching to it.''
During the next year, CMT plans to work with a university, a resin supplier and a toolmaker to come up with a definitive body of work on plug-assist tooling for the thermoforming industry. CMT expects to earn its reputation as an expert in the field, and capture the market, Tessier said.
``The plug-assist materials business is too small for most companies to work on,'' Tessier said. ``It's never going to be worth more than $5 million a year worldwide.''
Next on CMT's agenda is creating plug-assist tooling for heavy-gauge sheet applications, he said.
Tessier formed CMT along with partners Anthony Colageo and Thomas Murray. Together they have 30 years of experience as materials engineers working in the composites industry, Tessier said.