Instructables

Instructables Labs' Vacuum Former (STEP VERSION)

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Greeting Instructabrarians!

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.
 
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Step 1: About Vacuum Forming

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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!
cebulifer1 year ago
What if I don't have an oven? Any suggestion? Can I use a microwave?
amilne cebulifer7 months ago

You can use a heat gun if you aren't forming large objects. There are a few instructables that use this setup.

SHIFT! (author)  cebulifer1 year ago
I wouldn't advise using a microwave, for its main difference than an oven. Rather than raising the temperature, microwaves would bombard the plastic with energy and studies have shown that this can release poisonous gasses as a result. Secondly, in order to get the plastic to deform, you need to have the temperature at least above 300 F and since microwaves don't cook by raising temperatures, I don't think it deform the plastic as required.

If you don't have an oven, it's going to be tough since you need something with a wide enough area to heat the plastic sheet uniformly. Your best guess is probably a Mojave Patio Heater, except your set up will look different. Use this a reference m.youtube.com/#/watch?v=maH5Ech0wK8&desktop_uri=%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DmaH5Ech0wK8

Cheers
AtomRat1 year ago
Nice work on this! How do you think the technique would work with paper that has been steamed slightly? Im trying to mould paper
Robot Lover2 years ago
My dad has made many vacuum forming machines. He has a lot of experience with this type of thing. He has made frames that clamp around the edge of the plastic so you don't have to staple it like you. I really recommend it!
Servelan2 years ago
What would have been really cool at this point is to see the plastic, still on the frame, and the frame in the pan with the molded item, before the frame was taken out of the pan and the plastic was taken off the frame.
I've wanted to vacuform something for a while now (it all started with a stormtrooper armor, but I think I've moved on to more practical applications by now). Anyway, is the frame supposed to fit inside the tin tray, or not? Seeing how you made different sizes of frames I do not think so, but that would mean that the plastic needs to stretch from frame to the base of the tray, so larger models, i.e. those filling the tray to a larger extend, would be harder to form, possibly overstretching the plastic near the edges... Does this make sense?

I'll try this anyway, thanks!
csswimdude2 years ago
mythbusters always use a vacuum former now i can... this is so awesome
SHIFT! (author)  csswimdude2 years ago
Totally, that's why I wanted to build one!
what kind of resolution can you get with one of these? How detailed, in other words?
SHIFT! (author)  stringstretcher2 years ago
Fairly high, depending on your object you want formed. I havent posted it yet, but I created a giant bust of someone's head and vacuum formed if extremely accurately.
M.C. Langer2 years ago
That's great!! Thanks for this instructable! :-)
SHIFT! (author)  M.C. Langer2 years ago
Thanks Mario! Did you get my messages?
canucksgirl2 years ago
Awesome ible. I've got many ideas in mind for this... Thanks for sharing. :)
SHIFT! (author)  canucksgirl2 years ago
YES! Make some awesome plastic stuff!
rimar20002 years ago
500 Fahrenheit degrees?

I am thinking to use a heat gun to heat up the plastic sheet. What do you say about it? I would make this while the vacuum cleaner is working.

Thanks for sharing this method.
SHIFT! (author)  rimar20002 years ago
Heat gun definitely works, but only for small touch up parts. It can't heat up the plastic uniformly enough to provide for an accurate vacuum seal.

But depending on the size of your item formed, it might work if it's smaller than an iPhone.
now yes!