Introduction: THERMOFORMER / VACUUM FORMER / PATTERNMAKER

Hi !

Let me introduce ourselves

We are a group of Industrial Design Engineering students from Belgium. For our product engineering course we had to make a tool that can embed a pattern in a sheet of PMMA. After looking for the best method we came up with a home made thermoforming machine.

In this instructable we will show how we did it.

If you have any suggestions to improve our design or you have any questions
please let us know in comments bellow

Have fun building it !

Step 1: MATERIALS & TOOLS

MATERIALS

- Brich Plywood 5mm

- Birch Plywood 8mm

- 4 x Aluminium rails (500mm)

- Heat unit ( one ceramic cooking plate or three quartz lamps)

- Adjustable resistance (2000 W)

- Wood glue

- Screws

- Ductape

- Aluminum sheet (thickness 0.8mm)

- Sandpaper

- 18 x Neodymium magnets ( Ø5 x 5)

- Zip ties

- Rubber sealing

- Silicone

TOOLS

- Screwdriver

- Lasercutter

- 3D-printer

- Soldering iron

- Hot glue gun

FILES

- VACUUM BOX.pdf

- HEATING BOX_1.pdf

- HEATING BOX_2.pdf

- HEATING BOX_3 + VACUUM SUPPORT.pdf

- PLATE HOLDER.pdf

- STAR.stl
- INDUSTRIAL DESIGN CENTER LOGO.stl

- POSITION PART (ABS)

Step 2: PREPARATIONS FOR LASERCUTTING

After you have gathered all of your materials you will need to cut the plywood to the right size. The size of your plywood sheets is dictated by your lasercutter. If you have acces to a big one, great cut your sheets of plywood big and arrange the lasercut files accordingly. If you have acces to a smaller one, then you might need to cut more smaller sheets of plywood and arrange your files to fit that size. We cut our plywood on the big panel saw at school, but this could be done with just a circular saw. If you don't have acces to a saw that can handle big sheets, you can always ask your wood supplier to cut it to size for you. The lasercutter we had acces to can handle 600x450mm so that is the size we arranged everything on.

ADVICE

- If you want no splinters paste some papertape where the cut will be.

- To save material, time and money you need to make sure that as many parts are placed on one plate.

Step 3: LASECUTTING THE FILES

Our thermoforming machine exist almost solely out of lasercutted plywood, this was the easiest way to get everything square and accurate. Every lasercutter uses software to convert the vector files in to usable data for the lasercutter it self. If you have a lasercutter, you probably know how to use one. So If you know how to prepare your files for the cutting, go ahead and do that. If you don't have acces to a lasercutter yourself the easiest way to get them cut is to go to find a fablab in your neighbourhood that has a lasecutter. They will gladly help you with the preparation and cutting, this can be expensive though so keep that in mind. After each sheet that is cut, you take out the finished sheet and put the next one in. make sure to keep track of al the components.

After you lasercutted the files check the part are properly formed
You should verify that the parts can be used or not and if not they should be lasercut again.

Step 4: SUB ASSEMBLY

Our thermoforming machine exist out of three sub-assemblies
first the vacuumbox , second the heatingbox and last but not least the plate holder

Everything is made separately and then assembled together

Step 5: MAKE THE VACUUM BOX

  1. Place the groundplate on the table
  2. Assemble the side plates with wood glue
  3. Assemble the support structure
  4. Place the support structure in the box
  5. Close all corners with silicone to make it airtight
  6. Glue the suction plate on tot he box
  7. Glue the spacers on the sides of the box

THE VACUUM BOX IS READY !

THE VACUUMBOX

There are 3 aspects that you have to consider

1. The hole for the vacuumcleaner has to have the right size. So the diametre of the hole depends on the diametre of the vacuumcleaner. The more it fits, the less suction their is lost.

2. The top plate of the box, or suction plate, has to be on the same height as the edge of the box. this ensures that you need less suction. From tests we know that, the higher the suction plate is situated above the edge the better vacuum you create.

3. The suction holes in the suction plate ensure the suction of the plate. Two very important facts about them that you need to know, are the diameter of the holes and the number of holes.

The diametre has to be as big as possible so that their is made an optimale suction on the plate. But the diametre may not be to big beacause otherwise the molden plastic will flow in the holes.

You have to make sure that the holes are distributed equaly and that their are as many as possible.

SUPPORT STRUCTURE

This has to be a firm structure and the air needs to go trough or in this case under the structure so that the suction is seperated over the whole surface.

FINISH

Place a rubber seal on the edges. This ensures an optimum vacuum.

Step 6: MAKE THE HEATING BOX

  1. Place the top plate on the table
  2. Assemble the side plates with wood glue
  3. Assemble the inside plates with wood glue into the box
  4. Assemble the top plate with glue
  5. Glue the small pieces to the box

  6. Cut aluminum plates to the proper dimensions so that the whole box is layered with aluminum. This ensures reflection of the heat and that the wood catches fire
  7. Screw the aluminium plates into the box
  8. Assemble the control box with wood glue
  9. Install the heating unit in the heatingbox (CAUTION !! do not do this if you know nothing about electricity because this can causes serious injuries)
  10. Connect the cables with the adjustable resistance and fit the adjustable resitance into the control box

  11. Connect the grounding cable to one of the aluminum plates

  12. Mount the control box to the heating box with wood glue.

  13. Place magnets into the holes at the bottom of heater box.

    Glue them with with your hot glue gun. Make sure the magnets are well placed. If this is not the magnets will push the plate holder away from the heating box instead of attract them together.

THE HEATING BOX IS READY !

What is important?
- The aluminum L-profiles serve in the first place to mount the heating element in the box, but on the other hand they provide for an air layer. This air layer is an insulating layer between the heat-d-element and the box.

- Make sure that the electrical circuit has been tested in advance for assembly.

- The adjustable resistor which is brought into the circuit, assures that the heat is adjustable

- The height of the heating box must be optimized so that the heat is evenly distributed. if its to small then there will be heated locally and not evenly.

Step 7: MAKE THE PLATE HOLDER

The plate holders are designed to lay the sheet between it. The position parts ensure that the plate fit nicely into the plate holders. In order to clamp the plate between the holders we have chosen for strong magnets

1. Place the magnets in holes of the upper and lower holder. In the upper holder you need to place two magnets. Glue them with with your hot glue gun. Make sure the magnets are well placed. if this is not the magnets will push the plates away from each other instead of attract them together

2. Glue the position parts to the lower holder with your hot glue gun. Make sure the thickest part of the position pieces are glued to the holder

Step 8: ASSEMBLE ALL THE PARTS

First drill holes in the rails so you can assemble it with the the vacuumbox and the heatingbox. Make sure your drill is sharp

The only thing you need to do now is mount the four rails with screws on the vacuumbox and the heatingbox.

Why aluminum rails?
Because of the relation between weight and strength

It is important to have a minimum distance between the heatingbox and the vacuumbox . Otherwise, the plate would be heated and at the same time it be sucked in.

Plate holder and heating box

Because there are magnets in the plate holder and in the heating box, the plate holder adheres to the heating box

Step 9: PRINTING THE MOLD

Congratulations you have reached the last step ,this means that you have a working thermoforming machine, to make parts you will need a would though. We chose to print our mould because it gave us a lot of freedom what the pattern could be. If you choose to print your own mould we would like to give you some tips.

  • Print in ABS or PC, these are both materials that can take more heat than your average PLA.
  • Do not print a PLA mould, the radiation from the heating element will make the PLA soft and weak. After a couple of tries your mould will be unusable
  • .Make sure to add draft angles to your part when you design it, this will help tremendously with the demoulding.
  • Create a platform that your part sits on, this way you will be able to cut out the part you want, otherwise the pmma might not be pulled far enough.
  • When deciding on how big to make your model, make sure to leave enough room for the PMMA to be sucked over the sides.

Step 10: WHAT CAN YOU DO WITH OUR PATTERN?

After you cut out the shape, you can mount a LED strip in it

Then you have your own DIY wall lamp !

Comments

author
EarthboundEmpire made it! (author)2017-05-06

Hey this looks great I've been wanting to make a vac former for ages but haven't come across a plausible build until now. i was wondering if you had the illustrator or .svg files for the laser cuts?

author
DajoM made it! (author)DajoM2017-05-17

you can open a PDF file in illustrator, but if you wait a little
I will upload a new and better version soon

author
malekith made it! (author)2017-02-16

Could you provide the pdf files in SVG or EPS formats?

Or recommend a laser cutting service in europe that accepts pdf files... :)

author
GeoForce made it! (author)2017-01-28

Nice design and very adaptable. Just wonder why go to trouble of laser cutting plywood when already perforated plastic or metal is easily available at reasonable price. Available from many sources online.

author
DajoM made it! (author)DajoM2017-02-14

Hi GeoForce

I've chose to lasercut everything because I can adjust everything quickly
the first version was a little box of 100 x 100mm to test if our idea worked

Then I increased it to 300 x 200mm
During testing I came to the conclusion that the holes were too big and the material was sucked into the holes and then I reduce the holes

and so on...

author
kraiv made it! (author)2017-01-26

Bravo! How thick acrylic sheet may be treated? At higher forms after cooling thickness of the product is very different?

author
DajoM made it! (author)DajoM2017-02-14

i've tried it with acrlic of 2.5mm thick but i'm sure it wil work with thicker material too

author
saritamarianyc made it! (author)2017-02-06

WOW. This is amazing. I've never seen one of these before. Great job.

author
DajoM made it! (author)DajoM2017-02-14

thank you ! ;)

author
skyhawk17 made it! (author)2017-02-13

Hi Dajo M,

like this very much,it's great...

someone from Belgium...

author
DajoM made it! (author)DajoM2017-02-14

thanks !

author
BrenoJ made it! (author)2017-02-06

Hi. I work with 3D printing for a while now and I would love to try and make a thermoformer machine. Could you give me some information about the plastic sheet use to make the molds? Is there a specific kind of plastic sheet? Or should I buy any plastic sheet with the right dimensions? What are the right dimensions btw?

author

you should be able to use any kind of thermoplastic. You will just have to adjust the temperature and time you leave it to warm up

author
DajoM made it! (author)DajoM2017-02-14

Hi, BrenoJ

My apologies for the late reply

as Artur says you can use any thermoplastic material.
I've tried it with 3 different materials
Polystyrene
polycarbonate
polymethylmethacrylate
the thickest I've tried with these three materials is 2.5mm
but I am sure that thicker material will also succeed

The dimensions that fits in the thermoformer are 300 x 240 mm

I am now working on a larger version (600x500mm) and maybe I'll put it online too

if you any other questions feel free to ask them

author
GoormansK made it! (author)2017-01-30

Looks super,

Is it possible to add dxf files instead of pdf

author
time_killer made it! (author)2017-01-27

Beautiful job guys! love this.

author
DajoM made it! (author)DajoM2017-01-27

thank you ;)

author
Chimemarkokezie made it! (author)2017-01-27

interesting.

author
ShekharSahu made it! (author)2017-01-27

Interesting

author
Josehf Murchison made it! (author)2017-01-26

I forgot to ask how come only one contest?

You can enter 3 contests.

author
DajoM made it! (author)DajoM2017-01-26

Can you tell me which contests I can still enter?
It's the first time I use instructables and I'm figuring out how everything works here

author
Josehf Murchison made it! (author)Josehf Murchison2017-01-26

Epilog, and if you reference other vacuum forming Instructables in the Intro, Remix.

author
realsaw made it! (author)2017-01-26

Congratulations on this awesome intractable! Thanks for the link to eBay for the heating plate. Could you do the same with the Adjustable resistance (2000 W)?

author
DajoM made it! (author)DajoM2017-01-26

this is a link where you can buy a adjustable resistor

http://www.ebay.com/sch/i.html?_from=R40&_trksid=p...

author
realsaw made it! (author)realsaw2017-01-26

Thanks for you fast reply, it was very helpful. It might help others to put the links to heating unit and resistance in the intractable? Maybe even a schematic how to connect them? Thanks again, hoping to see more instructables by you guys.

author
DajoM made it! (author)DajoM2017-01-26

I have exams at the moment but if you have a little patience, I would put an electric scheme online ;)

author
spatial guy made it! (author)2017-01-26

Very polished design...I really hope we are lucky enough to see more from you guys.
Cheers

author
DajoM made it! (author)DajoM2017-01-26

Thank you for the good comment

you will definitely see more of our work in the future ;)

author
kylegilbert made it! (author)2017-01-24

Really great Instructable! I've been wanting to build one for a while, and I love your design here!

author
DajoM made it! (author)DajoM2017-01-25

If you have any questions about our design feel free to ask

if you want to send me some photos of the result when you have made it ?

author
ozjudge made it! (author)ozjudge2017-01-25

would you setup work with kydex?

author
DajoM made it! (author)DajoM2017-01-26

I've never tried this but I want to try this out for you
if you have a little patience I wil post a video in a few days

author
zposner made it! (author)2017-01-26

This is a winner!

author
DajoM made it! (author)DajoM2017-01-26

thanks ! i hope i win the contest ;)

do you want to vote for my project?

author
mdeudon made it! (author)2017-01-26

It looks nice !! Good design :-) I think to build one for my self ;-)

author
DajoM made it! (author)DajoM2017-01-26

thanks ! and nice just build one and after its ready send me some pictures ;)

author
Swansong made it! (author)2017-01-24

Great instructable! Awesome photos and lots of good info :)

author
DajoM made it! (author)DajoM2017-01-26

thanks ! ;)

author
FishK made it! (author)2017-01-25

Great, but why don't you enter the epilog contest ? It is mainly llasercutting ;)

author
DajoM made it! (author)DajoM2017-01-25

This content has been completed , so I can not enter it anymore

author
FishK made it! (author)FishK2017-01-26

Just go on the contest page, and click enter.

rules are : "Entry with Previously Published Instructable. If
you published a project to the Sponsor Site after the Start Date, but
you did not already enter that project in the Contest, you can enter it
in the Contest by following these steps

Go to the "How to Enter" page for the Contest, and review the requirements for entering a project in the Contest

Click on the "How to Enter" link to review a list of projects you published after the Start Date.

If
you believe a project in the list meets the entry requirements for the
Contest and want to enter it in the Contest, select it for entry in the
Contest and click Enter This Instructable.

Projects
published prior to the Start Date are not eligible for entry. You may
not register the same Instructables project in more than three (3)
Instructables contests in total. Further information about entry can be
found in Section B below."

Maybe we could met one day if you come to Rijsel ;)

I'll try to make your design with Lille Makers !

screenshot-enter-contest.png
author
Josehf Murchison made it! (author)2017-01-25

I made one for small parts.

I used a 250 watt lamp to heat the plastic.

vac,m(2).JPG
author
DajoM made it! (author)DajoM2017-01-25

Cool ! Our assignment was to melt PMMA (acrylic) in a fast way so if it was for us a 250 watt lamp would be too little ;)

author
Josehf Murchison made it! (author)Josehf Murchison2017-01-25

I can see that.

author
geo bruce made it! (author)2017-01-25

realy cool project!!

author
DajoM made it! (author)DajoM2017-01-25

it was indeed a really cool project !

author
FebeMo made it! (author)2017-01-25

ah ma das mooi gemaakt hoor jongens

author
DajoM made it! (author)DajoM2017-01-25

dankje febe !

author
skistler made it! (author)2017-01-25

Awesome! Can you say a bit more about the "Heat unit (one ceramic cooking plate...). I'm not quite sure where/how to source one and I'd love to make this. Thanks!

author
DajoM made it! (author)DajoM2017-01-25

I think you mean where can you get a ceramic hob element?
This is a link where you can buy it ;)
http://www.ebay.co.uk/bhp/ceramic-hob-element

Meanwhile, I'm working on larger versions of the thermoformer (500 x 600mm and 1000 x 1200mm) in those versions, I use quartz lamps. It is as good as a ceramic hob element.

The cheapest way to have these lamps is to remove the from patio heaters. If you buy the lamps separately it will cost 90 euros a piece.

If you have any other questions feel free to ask

If you've made it and let me know and if you would then send me some pictures of it

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