So here at Instructables Labs we have several truly impressive machines. We have several Epilog laser cutters which can cut through most plastic and wood material and etch almost any shape (Including cylindrical objects!). And we also have a couple of truly astounding, expensive, 3D Printers with an extremely high DPI resolution and can create a real copy of any digital computer model.
BUT, as strange as this may sound, for me these two just weren't enough. Sure the Laser Cutter is impressive at raster etching and vector cutting but its limited by the flatness of its material. And the 3D printer, while awesome, does tend to rack up in the price range as well as take up to several hours to finish. For my interest in rapid prototyping I wanted something fast, accurate and able to create near perfect molds within seconds.
That's why, after nearly a month of development, I successfully created Instructables Lab's first Vacuum Former, Office Edition.
Editor's Note: I'm reposting this as a STEP BY STEP after getting so many requests.
Step 1: About Vacuum Forming
For those of you who don't know what vacuum forming is, there's a really nice description on Howstuffworks.com The phsyics is really simple: take a piece of sheet plastic, stretch it across a rectangular frame, and heat it up to a boiling degree. Then, using either a perforated board or a single sheet with a hole connected to a high suction vacuum, a desired object is placed on top. When the plastic is heated to a malleable degree, the plastic is placed on top of the perf board/ board with vacuum. Vacuum turns on, plastic forms around the object, and instant mold!
Step 2: Parts and Materials
To build Instructables' NEW vacuum former, all you need are these common household objects
- Tin Tray
- Shop-Vac Vacuum Cleaner (the more industrial strength, the better)
- Strong wooden, rectangular frame
- Large oven
- Cardboard Box
- Painter's Tape
- PVC Pipe connector (or some kind of connector piece that attaches to vacuum nozzle)
Step 3: HOW TO VACUUM FORM EASILY Step 1:
Take a thin piece of sheet plastic. Anything larger than 1/2'' is too large and will not be malleable enough to mold using a domestic shop vac. For best uses, I suggest polystyrene sheet (from Tap Plastics) 1/8'' or any thin flexible clear plastic sheet.
Step 4: Step 2: Attach Plastic to Frame
Cut an appropriate sheet from your sheet plastic so it fits over the frame. Then using the blue painter's tape, tape down the edges of the sheet to the frame. You might also want to staple the frame to the plastic, for extremely large objects.
Step 5: STEP 4: Attach Object to Tray
Step 6: STEP 5: Preheat Oven
Step 7: STEP 6: Most Important Step
EDITOR's NOTE: I know I'm using an iPhone instead of the head in this step. That's because I ended up posting this photo afterwards.
Step 8: STEP 7: Remove Plastic From Frame
Optional Step: If plastic has not formed nicely around your object, use a Heat Gun and melt the plastic a bit more so it deform to a more accurate shape. Turn on vacuum.
Once plastic has dried, carefully remove plastic from object.
Step 9: Conclusion
Vacuum forming is a process I have been interested in a very long time. The appeal of creating an exact instant mold without having to spend several dollars on expensive casting or resin, was something I was very dedicated to pursue.
Even though I have a bunch of projects lined up using the new vacuum former, I really built this with the hope that the entire instructables team might find a use for it. DIY Snowglobes, Instant Robot Heads, Waterproof Enclosures, the possibilities are endless!
Well, hope this helped. Go make some cheap plastic crap!
PS Tap apparently sells both recycled and BPA safe plastic. Or so I've been told.