Held Sept. 9-11, the conference drew 534 people to the Wisconsin Center in Milwaukee for technical presentations and a trade show. Parts competition winners were announced at an awards dinner Sept. 10.
Parts competition Chairman Travis Kieffer said 18 parts entered the competition. This year, the SPE thermoforming division added two new awards, for parts that show sustainability and the use of recycled materials, and parts made with automation and new technology, he said.
Placon of Madison, Wis., took home the gold for the Orthofix tray package designed to hold two medical screws in place until they are used in the operating room. Placon thermoforms the packaging, which includes a retainer tray and a tray cover, from glycol-modified PET sheet.
Placon officials said they allowed the customer to save more than $50,000 — the average cost to validate a new medical package. The key challenge was finding a package that would hold the screws without causing the coating of hydroxyapatite to rub off while in the package. HA coatings in each screw help reduce chances the screw will back out after implantation into the bone.
Placon also won silver in the category for a bi-fold, standup clamshell packaging for a padlock from Pacific Lock Co. that gives 100 percent more space for marketing graphics than a traditional clamshell, thanks to a back panel that can open and close. The PET package can hold each of five lock models.
Placon says that in most cases, this type of package would be injection molded. "However, with precision trim and tooling options here at Placon, we were able to design a more lightweight package that can be thermoformed in a single piece during production," officials said in the award information.
Lindar Corp. of Baxter, Minn., won the gold for the Simply Secure tamper-obvious hinged package, formed from black and clear amorphous PET sheet, for holding single-serve bakery items.
The criteria included a design that could utilize the customer's production automation, handle automated label application and hold the product in place even if tipped upside down. The design has a tapered closure from the hinge to the front opening tab to ship and display more product in less space. Lindar officials said tri registration and consistent perforations to remove the tamper-obvious closure from the 10-cavity aluminum tool presented significant tooling and production challenges.
Placon won silver for a modular, stacking polypropylene and microwavable foodservice package, the HomeFresh Entree. A vent channel was designed and located within the base of the containers to allow steam from hot foods to evacuate from the container when closed. The channel allows the air to circulate through the container compartments and escape through a c-vent on the lid.
The lid was made with a steel-rule-trim modular tooling. Key components such as anvils and c-cut blades could be shared, saving on tooling costs and reducing setup and changeover time. The vent is trimmed at the end of the forming cucle, inside the form tool and then opened by Placon-designed tooling in the stacker.
The PP container, which can be washed, heated and reused for additional meal leftovers, has a lid made from Placon's Ecostar material, a food-grade sheet made from post-consumer PET.
CMI Plastics Inc. of Ayden, N.C., won the category for a tray and lid for holding 15 different items in the Hoppe's Black brand of gun cleaning kit. The package doubles as long-term storage at home.
The challenge was to design a rigid thermoformed tray that has the appearance of a heavy-duty injection molded part. CMI forms the black tray from recycled ABS sheet from Impact Plastics. The sheet contains a minimum of 70 percent recycled content, CMI officials said. The clear lid is made with PET containing at least 50 percent recycled content.
Profile Plastics of Lake Bluff, Ill., picked up the gold for a neonatal intensive care unit, formed of cast acrylic sheet, to achieve total clarity on all flat surfaces so nurses can have complete, unimpeded visibility of premature newborns.
Profile determined that to meet the target price point, the part had to be molded in a rotary forming machine equipped with a quartz oven. The company also incorporated a precisely "shaded" section to hide the unit's electronics and wiring, which was accomplished using distortion printing of each sheet before forming. Five-axis, close-tolerance CNC trimming was done to precisely fit with mating parts.
Say Plastics Inc. of McSherrystown, Pa., took home silver for a door assembly for a new generation of commercial tankless hot water heaters for use in places such as hotels.
According to Say Plastics, the customer originally planned to buy fabricated steel doors from China, but urgent timing needs and a desire for a lightweight door with higher cosmetic features turned to Say and thermoforming.
The tooling required was two single-cavity epoxy CNC machined molds and CNC machined trim and assembly fixtures. Say shipped the first production in six weeks.
The assembly consists of five thermoformed parts made of custom color-matched Kydex 100 sheet. The inner panel provides sharp color contrast to accent the customer's name and logo through machined reliefs in the outer paid. The assembly also features a 3D printed mounting bracket for the touchscreen — done by Say Plastics' in-house 3D printing department.
Recently, an aluminum mold was built to form the inner panel. The outer panel and hinge cover molds will remain in epoxy until the next phase of product design changes are completed, the company said. Also, the mounting bracket for the touchscreen has been switched over to injection molding.
Ray Products Co. Inc. of Ontario, Calif., grabbed the gold for multipart and multiprocess enclosure for an industrial Stratasys F Series 3D printer.
The initial design was intended for reaction injection molding, but once the customer understood the values and benefits of pressure forming, the design shifted to a 100 percent molded-in color, pressure-formed unit, according to Ray Products officials. Pressure forming allowed for making larger parts, reducing the total number of parts and tools needed. Also, paint was eliminated and all structural ribs were removed.
Only two bonded blocks are needed for the multipart assembly, by manufacturing the unit with pressure forming and using molded-in features and undercuts. Two large, deep undercuts into the drawers of the front of the housing was a significant challenge. A two-motion plug-assist was required the generate the double-undercut door handle.
Ray Products used Kydex T color-matched PVC-acrylic sheet and molded the parts on a Modern Machinery rotary pressure former. American Tool & Engineering Inc. built the aluminum tooling. Parts are trimming on Shape Process Automation six-axis robot routers.
Profile Plastics picked up silver for a cover for a motor drive for control systems. Profile forms the part using Kydex T, then does two-tone painting. Detailed and crisp cosmetics were required.
Limited space for internal components required a smaller-than-normal radii around the perimeter of the part, providing a challenge for the specific fastener types used and also to maintain critical part thickness when making the part with a deep-draw ratio. Profile used a full-part perimeter undercut for proper mounting to the base unit as well as maximum thickness in specific areas.
Profile Plastics won gold for a clear lid for a beverage dispenser that replaced a part for hot-plate welded two injection molded parts. Those earlier parts failed due to crazing.
The twin-sheet process was picked to meet part specifications of a 100 percent leakproof seal, dishwasher safe, impact resistance and optical clarity.
Los Angeles-based Kal Plastics won the gold for a vacuum-formed TPO truck camper, cab-over front cap for hauling behind a pickup truck. The customer made the move to reduce costly field repairs and warranty claims on an earlier glass-reinforced plastic camper and to reduce overall weight of the camper, Kal officials said.
The customer identified the front, curved surface to be most critical area of the part. Kal Plastics designed to make the mold in two cast-aluminum sections, allowing the flexibility to work out any imperfections in the finished mold. Another feature was the placement of thermal cooling system and the bracing of the mold.
Wilbert Plastic Services Inc., based in Belmont, N.C., won the gold for a medical equipment enclosure that is formed, robotically trimmed and then assembled using vision systems and augmented work instructions to ensure a complete and correct assembly.
The assembly has 88 components and 28 steps prior to shipment. Assembly operators are guided by augmented work instructions projected onto the surface of the part.
Plastics Unlimited of Preston, Iowa, won the People's Choice Award for a roof for a tractor cab, made of two thermoformed parts that are glued together.
The customer approached Plastics Unlimited about producing a cab room top that would incorporate mounting brackets and air ducts, with a color-matched Class A top side with a black textured bottom side — while keeping tooling costs low.
The outside material is a high-gloss acrylic capped ABS. The bottom side is black acrylic-capped ABS with a haircell finish. One challenge is controlling the shrink and making sure both sides fit correctly so the glue gap is consistent. Company officials said the two-sheet glued design was a huge tooling cost savings over other processes like long-fiber injection molding, sheet molding compound, injection molding or twin-sheet molded plastics.
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