Solid Surface thermoforming


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Jon Olson explains solid surface thermoforming

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Solid Surface thermoforming

  1. 1. Shop Management Matters Figure 4 - All storage racks must be visibly labeled with their weight loads. Taking a Look at Solid Surface Thermoforming By Jon Olson H ow many surfaces can be heated in an beautiful lines and shapes that we create oven, briefly cooled, and then shaped bring out the aesthetics of a design. Shapes and twisted into countless designs? are crafted that are pleasing to the eye and Not many; and solid surface is one of the few. add to the daily enjoyment of using and living This makes solid surface a material with truly with the design. Who doesn’t enjoy it when unlimited design potential. their surroundings are as beautiful as they are functional? Think about the possible applications of this technology. Thermoforming can produce The Process of Thermoforming furniture, sinks, bathtubs, cabinets, benches, Many people recognize that solid surface lampshades and coved backsplashes. And that thermoforming can produce some really cool is only scratching the surface of the endless projects with unique selling opportunities, but possibilities. Kitchen designs can really benefit may wonder how practical it is to attempt. Is from solid surface thermoforming. How about it attainable for only a few select companies? an island top with a thermoformed edge that To address these concerns, let’s look at the drops to the floor? (See Figure 1.) That look process of solid surface thermoforming a little gives a countertop design a high drama, one-of- more closely. a-kind look that adds tremendous value to the finished product. The key to thermoforming, as with any process, is to do your homework. It is always a good idea I can’t over emphasize how important solid to talk with the manufacturer of the material surface thermoforming is to our industry. The to find out suggested procedures. You may Figure 1 —This kitchen countertop with an eye-catching drop apron utilizes Figure 2 —When solid surface is thermoformed, it goes from a durable sheet to the thermoforming capabilities of solid surface to take this project beyond something the consistency of cooked spaghetti, and after cooling, once again just another flat countertop surface. retains the sought-after properties that has put solid surface among the premium surfacing options.22 • Vol. 4, Issue 1, 2011 • International Surface Fabricators Association
  2. 2. Figure 3 — Vacuum forming heated solid surface material is a great way to achieve complex 3-D shapes.also want to talk to fabricators who are familiar F for about 10 to 12 minutes. When it’s taken When it comes to polyester material, it canwith the process. Additionally, be prepared out of the oven it has the flexibility of cooked be bent, but there are some restrictions whento do some trial-and-error practice on scrap spaghetti (see Figure 2). The remarkable part compared to acrylic solid surface. Polyester, formaterial. Thermoforming is both an art and a of this is, after cooling for just 30 to 40 minutes, example, can’t be bent into the 3-D shapes youscience, and hands-on work experience can’t it is rock solid again and retains the strength of can achieve with an acrylic surface because itbe replaced. a flat piece of solid surface but in the new form can be prone to tearing or even burning. it has been shaped to.There are really three types of solid surface Also, material with larger particulates tends tomaterial, acrylic, polyester and acrylic- Please note, however, that heating times can have problems with those particulates poppingpolyester blend surfaces. Each type can be vary greatly depending on the type of oven out during the forming process. Additionally,thermoformed, but the process will vary from used. For instance, a convection-style oven, polyester solid surface has different heating andmaterial to material. which circulates heat around the sheet, can take cooling times than acrylic. The general rule of 45 minutes, while platen ovens, which have a thumb for polyester-based solid surface is toWhen bending acrylic surfaces the general rule heating element actually touching the material, reduce the heat by 30 degrees F and plan onof thumb for heating the material is 330 degrees are significantly faster. heating the material 10 to 15 minutes longer International Surface Fabricators Association • Vol. 4, Issue 1, 2011 • 23 Circle Reader Service # 08 on the Reader Service Page or go to
  3. 3. Figure 4 — Some thermoforming ovens, such as this platen-type system, are large enough to heat an entire 30- by 144-in. sheet of solid surface. than acrylic. Of course, please make sure to available for thermoforming that come in a clam looks, which is why they are referred to check with your supplier of polyester sheet different sizes and shapes. Smaller so-called as “clamshells.” They have heating elements stock for its recommendations. “strip” ovens are typically used just for heating on both the top and the bottom part of the build-up pieces to be formed, whereas some clamshell, and generally have a smaller footprint Acrylic-polyester blends of solid surface will ovens are large enough to accommodate an in the shop for space savings. Many times a fall somewhere between the two ends of the entire sheet of material that is 30-in.-wide by vacuum table will be underneath the oven for spectrum when it comes to thermoforming, 144-in. long (see Figure 4). even more economical use of space and easier depending on the exact content of the material. transfer of material. Platen ovens would usually Generally speaking, the more acrylic included in have the vacuum table next to the oven. the product, the shorter the heat times required Good molds are as and the more radical the bends can be. Once important as a good oven. Good molds are as important as a good oven. again, make sure to check with the supplier for If you minimize how strong a form needs to recommendations on thermoforming. If you minimize how strong be while bending, you might crush the form a form needs to be while under the stress a vacuum table puts on it. There are different ways to form solid surfaces. Also, whatever your mold looks like is what the Some ovens come with a vacuum table, which bending, you might crush piece of material will look like after it’s bent. is very handy when working with complex the form under the stress a The form will decide how successful you are 3-D bends (see Figure 3). But, these types of vacuum table puts on it. with your solid surface thermoforming project. complex projects can also be done by building We should emphasize that a good knowledge male and female forms or stand-alone bending of engineering, CAD design experience and forms. Some fabricators even form the material Some ovens are similar in nature to those you mold-making skills are important if you’re to be right to the project they are building. would find in a home. Others can be opened by successful in 3-D solid surface applications. I lifting the top section which is attached to the suggest starting slow, working on bends that There are many different types of ovens bottom section by hinges, mimicking the way aren’t as difficult. This will allow you to build24 • Vol. 4, Issue 1, 2011 • International Surface Fabricators Association
  4. 4. your confidence and skill before moving onto multiple parts. a solid surface fabricator based in Sheffield, 3-D work. U.K., said, “We are seeing an increasing Also, when approaching a fabricator to discuss amount of designs which require advanced Thermoforming from a Designer Perspective a thermoforming job, ask what they have thermoforming skills. I believe this will continue For designers who are thinking of developing a already made for forms. You may be able to to advance as more and more high profile project using solid surface thermoforming, there design your project off of a mold already made projects are completed.” are a few essential things to be aware of that that will lower the cost significantly. I hope that will help bring a design to fruition. keeping in mind these tips will help you get you And from a manufacturer’s perspective, Joseph designs off the page. Elia, of Wilsonart Int’l, based in Texas, said, First, for complex projects the cost to create “In many ways I see our industry still looking the base form can be one of the largest at solid surface the way we did 10 years ago. expenses involved. The fabricator has to When bending acrylic Innovation and the way we use the material engineer the forms to fit your design. Many surfaces the general rule will define the next 10 years. The use of solid times, the type of 3-D form will require the use surface as a millwork material for instance of a CNC machine to cut the parts. They also of thumb for heating the is one of those ways. It’s time to go beyond require skilled craftsmen to build them. All of material is 330 degrees F for countertops alone. The versatility of this this has to happen before you even get to the material is only limited by one’s imagination about 10 to 12 minutes. thermoforming part. This isn’t meant to scare ... Showing that to our customers will only you off, just to make you aware of what goes strengthen our industry.” into the process. The Growing Value of Thermoforming Thermoforming in the solid surface segment of The scene of the solid surface world is changing Another important thing to remember is that the industry is starting to move along at a rapid rapidly. Convincing evidence of this can be seen most projects bent in a form still require some pace, and a lot of people are taking notice: at any trade show you may attend. Whether at additional fabrication. As they cool, they may “Thermoforming is a differentiator,” stated ICFF, Neocon, KBIS or Green Build, the value need pieces trimmed off so they can be properly Russ Berry, president of A.S.S.T. a large of solid surface thermoforming is front and seamed to other pieces. Keep this is mind as commercial fabricator based in Hannover, center. Designers are certainly taking note, the you design. Consider how many steps will be Pa. “Thermoforming is valued by the design quotes are coming in and the sales are being needed to create your design. More steps equal community. Young designers understand made. Perhaps all fabricators aren’t yet ready more labor which, of course, equals higher cost. thermoforming and will be incorporating to purchase their own thermoforming ovens, applications that require the technology. but why not collaborate with companies that Some forms can be used as part of the project, The industry needs more great fabricators already have one in the mean time? After all, such as in thermoformed walls. But forms that embracing and using all of the attributes of solid solid surface thermoforming is what allows solid will be used more than once can give you a lot surface. It’s not just a counter ... solid surface surface to have unlimited design potential, far of bang for your buck. Offering thermoformed applications are growing.” beyond just flat countertops. I N T E R N AT I O N A L S U R FAC E FA B R I C AT O R S A SSO C I AT I O N products that are repeatable in nature and can be incorporated into a variety of projects will The same seems to hold true in Europe. Jeff allow you to amortize the cost of the mold over Vickers, director of Solid Surface Solutions Co., USA 800-822-2875 Int. 928-345-8717 Thermo-Forming Equipment for Solid Surface Schultz Form LLC has put durable forming equipment that is simple to use in your price range. Our Ovens and Vacuum Formers come in two basic sizes for Solid Surface material, but we are happy to custom make any size needed, from shower pan ovens to strip ovens. Manufacturing Thermoforming equipment is more than our specialty…Itʼs all we do and weʼre good at it. Let us help you.Circle Reader Service #05 on the Reader Service Page or go to International Surface Fabricators Association • Vol. 4, Issue 1, 2011 • 25