Flexibility of thermoforming process stirs demand
Thermoforming has been on a roll lately, enjoying a rise in popularity due to its flexibility. Whether the job calls for large or small quantities, the process boasts an array of benefits that make it an increasingly attractive option.
“Thermoforming is in a great place right now, mostly because it is such an adaptable process,” said Gary Sowden, North American sales director for Gabler. “From a volume standpoint, thermoforming can produce high-quality packaging products at both very low and very high quantities, in both cases with tooling that is more economical than other processes.”
Benefits of the process include fast cycle times, and the ability to make quick changeovers, incorporate automation and reduce materials costs — all with a high degree of repeatability.
Gabler has been particularly busy over the last year or two, having introduced several new and upgraded machines since 2015. The machines are in direct response to customer demands and developing trends, Sowden said.
“There are several common themes among most, if not all, of our customers at the moment,” he said. “The first is an increased demand for automation on our machines, which is due to ongoing demands to reduce cost as well as labor shortages in some markets.”
From a machinery standpoint, manufacturers need to provide simple, fast, reliable automation on the thermoforming machine itself. They also need to be able to seamlessly integrate with downstream equipment like sleeving and cartoning machines. With those guiding principles in mind, Gabler’s recent activity includes:
• Upgrades to the M-Line series of tilt-bed thermoformers in 2015 and 2016. Gabler has implemented its Reverse Stacker automation across the entire product line, re-engineered the main drive system to eliminate cams and introduced a completely new HMI. The improvements were designed to improve performance and make the equipment easier to operate.
• The expansion of the M-Line series with the introduction of the M100 at the end of 2016. The company calls it a “game changer” for tilt-bed thermoforming, offering as much as a 50 percent increase in output over previous platforms. Several of the units have already been sold and are being installed now, although Gabler couldn’t provide specifics.
• The debut of the Rotos stacker early this year as an option for automation on the Varius-
series machines. This rotary pick-and-place system increases the reliability of product handling, and does not have the cycle-rate limitations of traditional linear pick-and-place systems.
• The launch of the Focus 80 form/cut/stack machine late in 2015. Slotted between Gabler’s Focus 100 and Focus 60 machines, the 80 gives the
company a mid-sized offering.
Throughout all of the upgrades and new product introductions, one concern that never goes away is energy consumption. “We are constantly working on new drives, heating systems and controls to maximize the efficiency and minimize the energy usage of the machines,” Sowden said. “There is a strong emphasis on making the machinery as easy and intuitive as possible to operate and maintain. This includes the HMI and controls, the mechanical aspects of the machines and changeover features and procedures.”
Maac focuses on a few key areas when designing or upgrading its offerings. “In higher-volume applications, we look for material size and thickness-reduction features on our machines, as the volume usually justifies adding a few more features and our customers will benefit greatly if we can reduce material cost by 5 percent to 15 percent,” sales manager Mike Alongi said. “On the lower-volume projects, we look for quicker machine changeovers, features that help our clients get molds in and out quickly, set up the machine and memorize all the parameters. In the lower-volume markets, it is all about getting part-to-part changeovers down to the 15-minute range.”
He added that the automotive industry will continue to be the market that drives innovation, in terms of products produced by both OEMs and after-market manufacturers. That’s because carmakers tend to have higher volumes and a narrow focus on end goals, forcing them to focus on a single application and do everything possible to reduce costs.
“Aerospace, medical, and non-automotive transportation markets are traditionally lower-volume markets when compared to automotive,” Alongi said. “These clients tend to push the innovation on changeover and repeatability.”
Maac has upgraded its R3PT and R4DPT pressure formers within the last couple of years, and more improvements are in the works. One area that Maac is watching closely is the market for specialty clamp-frame systems. “The two more popular systems we have been further developing are 3-D articulating clamp frames and slip-sheet articulating clamp frames,” Alongi said. “Both these systems are mainly for material reduction, but our customers are now finding ways to further utilize them. In many cases, the thermoforming process was not an option prior to this technology, but now it is giving our customers the ability to be more competitive with other processes, and allowing them to compete better with lower costs.”
Michael T. McCue, copy editor
For more information
Gabler North America,
Louisville, Ky., 989-615-6365, www.gabler-thermoform.com
Maac Machinery Corp.,
Carol Stream, Ill., 630-665-1700, www.maacmachinery.com