Thermoformers sometimes have their hands full mixing and matching aesthetics and function.
Take General Plastics Inc. and the design of a new floor display for Burger King restaurants. At first blush, the project seemed as easy for the thermoforming company to get its hands around as a quarter-pound hamburger. The company was asked to make a simple kiosk to advertise children's promotional toys.
Yet, appearances can be deceiving, as General Plastics soon discovered.
``Our desire was to put out a highly aesthetic-looking unit that would draw the attention of parents or students in Burger King,'' said Robert Porsche, president of the Milwaukee company. ``But functionally, it got challenging when we had to work with 14 different components, most of them formed or [computer numerically controlled] trimmed or flat pieces. They had to match perfectly at different angles or contours.''
That jigsaw puzzle of matching parts, made for display advertising company Howard Co., ended up in the fast-food restaurants as a colorful stand-up piece. It also gained the attention of judges at the annual awards ceremony sponsored by the Society of Plastics Engineers' 2003 Thermoforming Conference, held Sept. 13-16 in Cincinnati.
General Plastics received the Best Point-of-Purchase Award, joining other winners who also displayed a mix of interesting surface finishes and strong function foundations.
There was the halfway whimsical, such as a green-camouflage-covered, square-stern canoe made entirely in polyethylene by Pelican Boat of Schererville, Ind., which won the Recreational Products Award. And there was the entirely serious, such as a protective package formed in a transparent blister by thermoformer Prent Corp. of Janesville, Wis., for a Medtronic Inc. catheter. Prent's package won the Critical Barrier Award.
And in between, there were plenty of challenges for thermoformers to create winning designs that also can be manufactured easily.
At Brampton, Ontario-based Shepherd Thermoforming & Packaging Co., the challenge was in making something entirely new. Shepherd's client, Toronto-based gas-can producer Scepter Manufacturing Ltd., needed a new spout attachment to meet California's stringent emissions standards.
With the new design came the need for a new package to encase the spout's venting tubing, said Shepherd President Barry Shepherd. Scepter decided to move from a corrugated paper wrapper to hold the spout - the conventional package for that industry - to a plastic clamshell package that Shepherd thermoformed.
``They were going to have to modify the package anyway, so they decided to reduce costs and come up with something that offered a better design,'' Shepherd said. ``They went for a clear package where you could see the whole product. They saved money, too, in both the material and the labor.''
Shepherd assisted that cause by making the package from recycled PET. While the material was a little more difficult to form than PVC or virgin PET, it also was less expensive and provided enough clarity to form a nice package, he said. The package won the Housewares Packaging Award.
The design and the distinctive product have helped sell units, Shepherd said. ``We didn't even know that gas-can spouts could be packaged,'' he said. ``We assumed they just put it on the can and threaded it. Now, they have something a little more unique.''
That desire for uniqueness - and to merge form and function - also faced Spencer Industries, winner of the Consumer Products Award. For the Dale, Ind.-based company, the problem was one of thermoforming the back sheet for a 57-inch, big-screen television set produced by Toshiba America Inc.
The problem was, the backs of televisions primarily have been injection molded to provide a smooth surface, said marketing director Francis Hirt. Yet, Toshiba wanted a more durable television and one that did not need to go through an expensive painting process, Hirt said.
The company designed a twin-sheet television back that mates the various parts while adding structure and strength. It includes mounting features and an interior mirror, as well as a joining bezel that attaches the screen to the television's base, Hirt said.
An injection molded unit would need extra ribs and bosses, showing the sink marks and detracting from surface appearance, he said.
``We had been working on this project with others for three years,'' Hirt said.
``It just takes time to develop. It's considerably better than an injection molded unit and does not need painting.''
The company used high-impact polystyrene sheet to form the backing and added both secondary trimming and assembly fixtures that were developed in-house, Hirt said.
While those winners were well-noticed at the thermoforming show, the People's Choice Award was given to the Better Bath Components/Kinro Composites division of Drew Industries Inc. of White Plains, N.Y.
Drew, a maker of recreational-vehicle and manufactured-housing components, had moved to a new realm by designing a boat deck and hull for Genmar Holdings Inc.'s Four Winns Horizon 180 watercraft. A new process to make the parts was displayed at the show, incorporating a thermoplastic shell with composites for better durability.
The development was a joint effort between Drew's Kinro division, based in Waxahachie, Texas, and engineers from Minneapolis-based Genmar, GE Plastics and sheet extruder Spartech Plastics. The hull and deck are not yet in production, and Genmar has not awarded a production contract to Kinro.
The thermoforming award winners reflect some of the challenges the industry is facing in developing many of the new products starting in thermoforming, Porsche said. In General Plastics' case, the advertising-display customer wanted a complex product quickly, he said.
``We enjoy that challenge,'' Porsche said. ``In point of purchase, the fast pace means that many products have to be orders today and to the customer tomorrow.
``You can't have materials be late or tools be late, but it's that challenge that keeps you going.''
Other winners include:
* Industrial Packaging Award: Universal Protective Packaging Inc. of Mechanicsburg, Pa., for an optical window ``catch-all'' package holding a variety of parts.
* Consumer Packaging Award: Alloyd Co., based in DeKalb, Ill., for a bifold clamshell package that provides customers with a nearly 360-degree view of the product.
* Food Container Award: Creative Forming Inc. of Ripon, Wis., for a McDonald's cup and locking lid with a leakproof seal.
* Automotive Award: Jacob Composite GmbH of Wilhelmsdorf, Germany, for a vehicle rear- seat back made of a polypropylene/glass composite.
* Multipart Assembly Award: Associated Thermoforming Inc. of Berthoud, Colo., for an enclosure panel assembly for a three-dimensional copying machine.
* Electronic Award: Profile Plastics Inc. of Lake Bluff, Ill., for a multipart assembly used for an enclosure for an identification-card printer.
* Material Handling Award: The TriEnda Division of Wilbert Inc., based in Portage, Wis., for a multipurpose shipping pallet made of PE.