About a week ago, maker Eric K. demonstrated plastic thermoforming for an enthusiastic class at Nova Labs. He used the thermoformer he built himself and maintains at Nova Labs. You may have seen the video of Adam Savage’s vacuum forming machine, which works similarly, but Nova Labs’ machine is even bigger, with a total forming area of 2 feet by 4 feet!
Here’s some video of the Nova Labs thermoformer in action during the class:
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A thermoforming machine has essentially four parts:
To make a part, you first place an object on the hard surface, and then clip the plastic onto movable frame. The frame is lifted so that it’s close to the heating element, where the plastic is then heated until it’s soft and droopy. You then lower the plastic and frame toward the platform and object, and flip a switch to activate the vacuum. The plastic is then sucked onto your object, wrapping around it.
There’s a lot more to it than that, and Eric did a great job of explaining the ins and outs of using a machine like this. For example, you want the plastic to sag to about the height of the object you’re wrapping. The object itself should be solid, not hollow, or it could collapse and damage the machine.
Eric was also kind enough to bring a number of small wooden objects, and each student thermoformed their own object. He even showed off several parts that he was thermoforming for large drone work.