Large, heavy-duty air compressors take a lot of abuse at construction sites, where they run jack hammers, concrete saws and other equipment - and now the canopy of Ingersoll-Rand compressors is made of plastic.
Spencer Industries Inc. of Dale, Ind., won the People's Choice Award at the 2005 parts competition, held during the Thermoforming Conference in Milwaukee, organized by the Society of Plastics Engineers' Thermoforming Division.
Other winners include Creative Forming Inc. of Ripon, Wis., which picked up the Consumer Housewares Award in the roll-fed category for a thermoformed lid for soft drinks that also holds a compact disc or digital versatile disc. In cut sheet, Dearborn, Mich.-based Meridian Automotive Systems Inc. won the Automotive Award for its bumper fascia that uses the paint film process.
The SPE Thermoforming Division handed out 19 awards for parts Sept. 26.
The People's Choice Award comes from a vote of conference attendees. Randy Rhoades, Spencer sales manager, said the 80-pound, thermoplastic olefin canopy - actually four twin-sheet parts that fit together - is a ``major breakthrough'' for industrial air compressors used by contractors. Traditionally, steel is used for the canopy, which covers the entire compressor.
``These are just now hitting the market,'' Rhoades said in a telephone interview after the conference.
The twin-sheet TPO version solves the problem of exhaust from the engine swirling back into the fresh-air intake, in what Rhoades called a ``whirlwind effect.''
``Using the twin-sheet sections as air ducting, we pull fresh air toward the rear, low-bottom area,'' he said. The outside air is directed to the air intake. The twin-sheet ducts also send exhaust air out of the front.
On construction sites, big air compressors are loud. Designers add foam around the metal housings, but Rhoades said TPO is a good material to deaden sound, and twin-sheet forming also cuts down the noise.
``It's really a major breakthrough in sound depression,'' he said.
Spencer extrudes its own sheet from Solvay TPO. Formed-in color means the canopy keeps looking good after heavy use. Spencer does in-mold trimming of the canopy parts. Employees do manual routing, as the canopies are made in a work cell.
In another cut-sheet part, a front bumper fascia won Meridian Automotive a lot of attention in Milwaukee and netted the company the Automotive Award. Bumper fascias normally are made by injection molding, then painted.
David B. White, Meridian vice president of sales, said General Motors Corp. is using the thermoformed fascias on 1,000 of its 2006 Envoy sport utility vehicles. Other Envoys will have the traditional top-coat-painted fascias.
Meridian also injection molds bumper fascias. The company thermoforms interior parts using film, such as parts with a wood-grain finish. ``We have a lot of experience in thermoforming, so that was one thing that gave us the confidence to get into it for these large parts,'' White said.
Meridian designed the vacuum formed bumper, using Solvay TPO sheet. Southtech Plastics Inc. of New Bern, N.C., applied paint film from Soliant LLC to the sheet. White said the parts were thermoformed on a machine Meridian rented at Profile Plastics Corp. of Lake Bluff, Ill.,
White said it was a challenge to make a sharply defined part like a fascia that requires stretching the paint film - like areas around the fog lamps - without wrinkling the film and distorting the color.
Tests show the thermoformed paint-film bumper holds up to chipping and scratching from stones kicked up on the roadway, White said. The testing machine, called a gravelometer, simulates the fascia's big nemesis.
White said the film is coated in paint, so paint film is a more efficient process than traditional automotive-part painting.
You might see the Consumer Housewares award winner, called the LidRock, next time you buy a soft drink at a movie theater or fast-food restaurant. Atlanta-based Convex Group approached Creative Forming to make a soda lid that could hold a CD inside, yet provide a perfect fit to standard drink cups and be strong enough to protect the CD or DVD. The straw goes through a hole in the lid that runs through the center of the CD, but the beverage must not come into contact with the disc.
Getting the CD inside, in a factory environment, was tough.
``The main challenge was designing a 10-mil drink lid that could be run through automation'' in the filling process, said Shawn Oakes, Creative Forming's project engineer for the LidRock. ``A typical drink lid doesn't need to be denested with a pick-and-place unit, be filled, and then re-nested.''
An earlier version's lids locked together when stacked. Creative Forming redesigned the lids so they would fall into place without being locked together, allowing Convex to fill more lids with CDs in a shorter amount of time.
Another challenge was forming the push-down buttons, which indicate flavors, out of the PET sheet, according to the thermoformer.
LidRock lids fit about 80 percent of commercial fountain cups.
Creative Forming handled the entire project. The company built the tooling and extruded the sheet at its Alphatec Extrusion division in Ripon.
Other winners were:
* Most Unique Package. Prent Corp. of Janesville, Wis., for a glycol-modified PET package to hold pins that are implanted on either side of a bone fracture or deformity.
* Consumer Electronics. Prent, for a point-of-purchase package that holds a portable USB drive. Prent formed the part from static-dissipative PET.
* Critical Barrier Package. Perfecseal Inc. in Mankato, Minn., for a PET-G package to protect medical-device implants during sterilization and shipping.
* International Submission. Plexipack Packaging Services Pty. Ltd. of Victoria, Australia, for a lid and base to protect fiber-optic assemblies. The material is antistatic high-impact polystyrene.
* Industrial Packaging. Plexipack, for an electronic dunnage tray, also formed from HIPS.
* Consumer Packaging. Creative Forming for a retail display that holds an air freshener. The angular, deep-draw part is molded on matched metal tooling.
* Electronic Enclosure. Freetech Plastics Inc. of Fremont, Calif., for a portable medical imaging system. Features include radical undercuts on the cabinet, which is molded from ABS sheet. The imaging system also has a deep-draw polycarbonate dome.
* Multipart. Profile Plastics Corp. for nine pressure formed parts on a dental X-ray machine. The company said the parts, with molded-in color and texture, required precise fit and finish.
* Twin-Sheet. Specialty Manufacturing Inc. of San Diego, for an instrument tray for an ultrasound cart, designed by Philips Medical Systems. The pressure formed tray has molded-in, threaded nuts, which SMI said was challenging because the proximity of adjacent walls restricted material flow.
* Pressure Formed. Mayfield Plastics Inc. of Sutton, Mass., for a cosmetic part with an extremely deep draw and tight radii.
* Industrial Application. Mayfield, for a radome formed from ABS sheet, with a painted finish.
* Vaccum Formed. American Standard Co. of Piscataway, N.Y., for a whirlpool bathing pool. The company was able to maintain a minimum thickness at the inside corners while molding an integral apron, using a single sheet.
* Consumer Electronic. Mayfield, for a twin-sheet monitor housing with a custom-painted finish.
* Recreational. Pelican International Inc. of Laval, Quebec, for what Pelican called the ``world's first twin-sheet thermoformed pedal boat.'' The boat is made of high-molecular-weight polyethlene sheet.
* Point of Purchase. General Plastics Inc. of Milwaukee, for a Miller Beer Nascar race-car hood display - a sentimental favorite in the beer capital city.
* Thermoforming and Other Processes. Plastics Unlimited Inc. of Preston, Iowa, for a large air scoop that fits on the rear of a combine to harvest wheat, corn and soybeans. Plastics Unlimited said the body panel is made from a new process called TEC, or Tool-less Engineered Composite. First, a thin skin is thermoformed using a standard tool. The skin then is placed into a holding fixture where it is backed up with a composite material using the vacuum bag process. TEC combines the best properties of thermoforming and composites without the cost of a composite tool, according to the company.