About 1,100 people attended the Society of Plastics Engineers Thermoforming Conference, held Sept. 24-27 in Milwaukee, according to Gwen Mathis, conference coordinator.
The trade show had about 90 exhibitors. Attendees also heard technical presentations on advances in roll-fed and cut-sheet thermoforming, product design and decorating and assembly.
The SPE Thermoforming Division has 1,876 members in North America, according to division Chairman Roger Kipp. He said attendance at the annual conference has run consistently around 1,000-1,100.
Thermoforming remains a growing sector of the plastics industry, Kipp said. ``That's primarily due to the fact that we have different material options now - things we can do with molded-in color, things we can do with patterns and decorative plastics, and bigger machines, bigger parts and larger sheets,'' he said.
Thermoformers also have embraced part finishing, purchasing automated routing equipment, Kipp said. Another advance has been in direct machining of molds.
An enhanced image for the process is the payoff. ``The perception of the value of thermoforming is higher than it was 15 years ago, 20 years ago,'' said Kipp, who is vice president of marketing and engineering at McClarin Plastics Inc. of Hanover, Pa.
Kipp said thermoformers also have an entrepreneurial spirit. Many are small, privately held companies.
The division's board has earned a reputation as a hard-working group that gets things done.