29 September, 2015
The four men in the photo are standing in front of a Ceramicx heating oven that forms an integral part of one of the largest shuttle thermoforming machine systems in North America — possibly the largest.
From left to right they are: Vince Hicks and Corey Pohlman, partners in thermoforming machine manufacturer Modern Machinery of Beaverton, Michigan, Brett Wehner, President of Weco International, and Brett Terbrack, Technical Sales Specialist at Weco. Weco is the North American distribution partner of Ceramicx. The full system was in the final stages of assembly in Modern’s factory.
So how big is big? The Modern Model 9’ x 23’ SS (Single Station Shuttle) vacuum forming machine has a work area measuring 9 feet by 23 feet (2.7 m by 7 m). Modern’s customer will primarily be using the system to form swimming pools for rehabilitation therapy and hot tubs.
The Ceramicx oven designed and built by Modern Machine using Ceramicx ceramic heating components sourced from Weco International consists of a top platen (visible in photo) and a bottom platen, each measuring 11 feet by 24 feet (3.4 m by 7.3 m) and each having 754 Ceramicx FTE ceramic infrared heating elements. There are 754 heating zones wired for 2 elements per zone of percentage control through the PLC operating system.
Well-known as a designer and manufacturer of a broad variety of thermoforming machines and systems, Modern Machine has worked closely with Weco and Ceramicx for some time. Many of its machines have been shipped with Ceramicx heating technology. The thermoformer who will be using this big shuttle machine already had one of Modern’s machines. Modern’s Vince Hicks says those machines use quartz heating technology, but for this large machine the customer wanted to work with IR ceramic-based technology from Ceramicx and Weco.
Although most people immediately think of packaging when they hear the word thermoforming, the other products that make up about 15 percent of the North American thermoforming business also are growing, and many of those are large: bases for dental chairs, logistics containers, car hoods/bonnets, pickup truck bed liners and many more.
At the recent SPE Thermoforming Conference where Ceramicx and Weco exhibited, large parts were numerous, and more than a few of them had been converted to thermoforming from injection moulding and reaction injection moulding (RIM).
Generally speaking, if a part is large and production volume is low, the economics of thermoforming can beat out injection moulding. Competing against RIM, thermoforming can offer lower part weight, lower cost tooling and better surface finish, including high gloss. It is likely that more big things are in store for thermoforming.
A full report on Weco International business will be carried in the upcoming edition of HeatWorks magazine - the Ceramicx quarterly journal on IR heating matters. Contact Ceramicx directly for your free copy.