Milwaukee — Original equipment manufacturers who do long-run thermoforming have been adopting automation in heavy-gauge thermoforming machinery. But automation is also picking up at job-shop custom formers, said Paul Ryan Alongi, sales manager of Maac Machinery Corp.
Alongi was a one of four speakers at a panel discussion on advances in heavy-gauge machinery for running thick sheet at the Society of Plastics Engineers Thermoforming Conference in Milwaukee.
Alongi pointed out that every machine system is a little bit different, built for the specific parts it will form. Automation can include automatic loading and unloading and part unloading. Maac systems also can be outfitted with integrated cover-stock inserters for multi-layer parts such as a carpet over formed substrates, he said.
Thermoformers are starting to look at robotic in-mold trimming, although in 95 percent of parts, trimming continues to be done in a secondary process such as by CNC trimmers and routers, he said.
Maac is based in Carol Stream, Ill.
Sven Engelmann, head of packaging technology at German machinery maker Illig Maschinenbau GmbH & Co. KG, said Illig has sold 20,000 forming machines and holds more than 180 patents. Its heavy-gauge machines feature high speeds and quick mold changes to make parts such as shower stalls and automotive components. All the company's machines are inline.
Engelmann gave a case study of a fully automated system to make logistic trays. Features include a loading unit and pre-heater, three heating stations and a forming station. Illig systems can be equipped with pneumatic drives or servomotors, which reduce cycle time.
The tray former can turn out 82 parts an hour, nearly double the old rate of 44, he said.
Trends in clamp frames was the topic of Doug Parmele, senior design engineer at Modern Machinery in Beaverton, Mich. The company is known for its patented four-way adjustable clamp frame that requires no tools and can be changed in five minutes.
Many types of clamp frames are available, he said, including articulated, zoned, automatic-adjustable and clamp frames that stretch and relax, which allow the material to pull into, and wrap around, the sides of the tool to "take the slack out of it."
Automatic-adjustable clamp frames are automated and designed for OEMs doing mass production, Parmele said.
Steve Clark, owner of Monark Equipment Technologies in Auburn, Mich., said the company does a lot of machinery rebuilds, including new wiring, conduit, valves, heaters and controls. Monark can equip a thermoforming machine with cameras to help the operator and management do troubleshooting.
"The system has all the features that you would expect from a new machine," Clark said.