International Journal of Mechanical Engineering, Volume 1, Number 1, 2009 Printed in Nigeria.

All right Reserved Copyright © 2009 Blackwell Educational Books

Nwoye, C. I., Eziuzo, C., Mark, U., and Mbuka, I. Department of Materials and Metallurgical Engineering Federal University of Technology, PMB 1526, Owerri, Imo State ABSTRACT A thermoforming machine suitable for production of disposable thermoplastic trays has been designed and fabricated. The machine was designed to produce trays of sheet thickness 0.2 – 2.0 mm using a female single cavity mould. The mould was designed from automobile piston scraps (cast aluminum alloy) by casting and then machined to finishing on the lathe machine. The machine consists of a pneumatic system equipped with a delay-timer to hold the sheet tightly against the mould as it cools. Channels were created in the mould for water circulation by 0.5 h.p. water pump. This was necessary for efficient mould temperature control which reduces cycle time and improves the quality of moulding. The cycle time was found to range from 0 – 60 seconds. The performance of pPVC was found to be better that that of HDPE.
Keywords: Design, Fabrication, Thermoforming Machine, Production, Thermoplastic Trays.
NOMENCLATURE: HP - - - Horse Power, HDPE - - - High Density Polyethelene, pPVC - - - Propyl Polyvinyl Chloride

INTRODUCTION Thermoforming incorporates a wide range of possibilities for sheet forming but basically there are two subdivisions: vacuum forming and pressure forming (Throne, 1996). Thermoforming has been referred to as group of processes that form or draw product from extruded thermoplastic sheet by softening the sheet with heat and forcing it to conform to a mould contour with the aid of vacuum of low pressure (Florian, 1987). Products from these processes include skin and blisters as well as container e.g. disposable plates and cups. MATERIAL REQUIREMENTS/ SPECIFICATIONS Material requirements and specifications were considered with respect to the heating, pneumatic and cooling systems. Also considered were the mould, clamp and heater stand. Heating System The requirements and specifications required for the heating system are 220V/50Hz contactor, 1.8kW Nichrome coil heater, thermocouple wire (k-type) 3 in. x 3 in., 0 - 400˚C temperature controller. Others are: toggle switch, connector, wires, and heater shield with baffles, 3 pin plug and rail. Pneumatic System The requirements for this system are 0.5 hp single phase vacuum pump, 220V delay timer, start and stop/reset push buttons, 220V relay and base well (Fig. 4). Cooling System The requirements and specification for the cooling system are 0.5 hp single phase water pump, reducer, water reservoir, hoses and clips, nipples and toggle switch (Fig. 4). Mould, Clamp and Heater Stand The requirements and specifications are automobile piston scraps (cast aluminium alloy) 1ft.sq galvanized plate, 2 in. x 0.25 in. rod, 6 in. diameter x 1 in. mild steel, 8 in. x 4 in. x 5 in. mild steel bar, galvanized stand. MACHINE DESIGN The thermoforming machine was designed in parts: Heating System, Pneumatic System, Clamp Frame and Mould.


Design and Fabrication of Thermoforming Machine for Production of Disposable Thermoplastic Trays

Heating System Design A heater of 1.8kW/sq.ft Nichrome coil wire was enclosed in a 140 mm diameter steel shield to reduce heat loss to the surroundings. As shown in Fig 3, the shield has baffles consisting of 274 x 3 mm holes. The holes ensure uniform radiation of heat from the heater to the surface of the sheet. The heater has three (3) holes and two of them were connected to the shield using two (2) 6 mm bolts and nuts. It is positioned in such a way that a clearance of about 4 mm exists between it and the base of the shield. The temperature of the heater is regulated by the thermocouple wire which is designated to be in contact with the heater always. It dictates the actual temperature of the heater and sends it to the device controlling the output of the heater. Other components of the heating system are shown in the electric circuit diagram. The heater is designed to slide on the stand. By using the bolts behind the stand, the heater can be set to the desired height from the mould. This is so because forced convection heating is required for thicker sheets. Pneumatic System Design The vacuum system was designed during mould construction. After constructing the mould cavity, the surge tank, with a total volume of 2.2 × 10 was constructed. Four (4) 1 mm holes were then drilled on the base of mould cavity which joined the surge tank. Also, a 12.7 mm diameter elbow was welded to the plate, which when coupled to the mould completes the surge tank. A corresponding hose was attached to the elbow with a clip and the other end is connected to the vacuum pump as shown in Fig 4. Clamp Frame Design The clamp frame is adjustable such that it can be moved. In this case, the clamp frame is in two (2) halves one half is a mild steel ring as shown in Fig 2, which has an interference fit with the mould. It is used in holding down the plastic above the mould while the hole on it provides a means through which the radiant heat from the heater is transferred to the sheet. The other half is an improvised piece welded on the mould sides. It performs the function of clamping the ring to avoid slipping of the plastic sheet during drawing. MOULD DESIGN Mould Design Considerations Following the need to have a mould with near perfect configuration and quality; some design considerations were made, viz.: 1) Mould should be highly polished to ensure easier part demoulding and surface finish and prevent air entrapment. 2) Mould should be water cooled through channels machined into the mould. 3) Vent holes should be counter-bored to reduce air flow resistance and to ensure speedy cavity evacuation. 4) Mould should be 1% oversized to allow for thermal shrinkage. Based on the foregoing, the mould was designed by making a pattern of the disposable tray from a piece of mild steel bar 8in x 5in x 4in in size. The bar was cut to the size of the tray to be produced by filing, shaping, trimming and grinding. A cylindrical mould was formed with a steel sheet and the pattern fastened to the cylindrical mould. The casting material which is automobile piston cast aluminum alloy was melted and cast into the mould. After the casting has cooled, the steel sheet was removed and the pattern detached. The mould was then machined for a good finishing. The depth of 15 mm was cut (for the clamp frame) and the next stage involved cutting of the surge tank, followed by the drilling of the water channels on the mould. The water channels were designed by drilling two (2) 8 mm holes through the base of the mould. Again, four (4) horizontal holes of 8 mm diameter were drilled to intercept the previously drilled holes. Other finishing work involved the drilling of four (4) 1 mm vent holes on the base of the mould cavity. The four (40 holes where the water nipples are attached were threaded as well as those at the bottom which serves as a means of coupling the mould to the plate. See Figs 1a and 1b. MACHINE TEST RUN AND DISCUSSIONS The designed machine was subsequently tested by inserting into the mould known dimensions of pPVC and HDPE and the operation of the machine monitored. Also ascertained were how the following contributed to the smooth operation of machine; working principle of the pneumatic system, temperature control, working principle of heating system, mould-temperature control, cycle time and mould. Working Principle of the Pneumatic System The stop/reset push button is normally closed (NC) and it allows the current to flow to any part. After sufficient heating has occurred, the start button is pushed (which is normally open, NO); and the current


International Journal of Mechanical Engineering, Volume 1, Number 1, 2009
flows to the coil of the delay timer. As the coil has been energized, current normally flows through its NC contact ¼ to the relay coil, R1. Due to magnetic action of the relay coil, its contact 6/8 closes thereby allowing the current to flow to the contactor coil, C1 hence the vacuum pump starts its action. The timer as soon as it is energized starts its decrementing counting and when on zero its NC contact ¼ opens and the supply to the relay R1 is cut. This in turn cuts the supply to the pump as a result of breaking the relay contact 6/8, which supplies C1. All other contacts of C1, (13/14 and 1/2) are broken. It should be noted that contact 13/14 of C1 is incorporated into the system so as to retain the voltage when the start push button is released (Fig 5). Temperature Control The heating system consists of a 1.8kW/m2 Nichrome coil heater (with 18 to 20% efficiency), thermocouple wire, which dictates the actual temperature of the heater, 3″ x 3″ temperature controller in addition to a contactor and a toggle switch. The heater is enclosed in a 140 mm diameter hood with baffles (3mm x 274 holes) as shown in Figs 3 and 5. The cycle time is controlled by the heating and cooling rates, which in turn depends on the following factors: the temperature of the heater and the cooling medium, the initial temperature of the sheet, the convective heat transfer coefficient, the sheet thickness and thermal properties of the sheet material. The mid plane or the areas near the clamp frame, when heated but not hot enough will be harder to draw down and likely to add to residual stresses due to thermal shrinkage. For thick sheets forced convection air heating gives more uniform heating than direct heating. Working Principle of Heating System The toggle switch Q2 controls the supply to the heating system. As it can be seen from the electrical circuit diagram, when Q2 is switched on, current flows to the coil of the temperature controller, H1. Its input contact H1 7/6 is closed and automatically the heat contactor coil is energized resulting in the closure of the contact C2 1/3. As the live terminal of the heater is connected to the output of contact C2 1/3, it is energized thus heating commences. When the preset temperature is reached, the thermocouple (which dictates the actual temperature of the heater/sheet) sends signals to the coil of H1 in form of electrical pulses. In event H1 is de-energized thus the electrical power output device to the heater (C2) is de-energized and heating stops. Heat regulation is achieved with help of the thermocouple wire as it ensures that the sheet is neither overheated nor under-heated (Fig 5). Mould-Temperature Control The mould cooling system is integrated into the machine to enhance part quality on one hand and mouldtemperature control on the other hand. The former is necessary because part of the radiant heat from the heater is transferred to the mould. The cooling system is simple as shown in Fig 4. Four water nipples attached at points A – D on the diagram provide the means by which the flexible hoses are attached to the mould. The principle of operation is simple. Prior to forming, the water pump, K2 is switched on and it draws water from the reservoir R and pumps it through the channels on the mould via the flexible hour hoses. Water circulation path is shown in Fig 4. Mould temperature control is achieved by conduction heat transfer from the mould to the relatively colder water. The water then returns to the reservoir and the cycle continues. Cycle Time The cycle time for pPVC was determined experimentally following series of heating and drawing process. For instance, the heating time for a 0.2mm pPVC sheet is 5 seconds and drawing and cooling time of 10 – 15 seconds brings the cycle time to about 20 seconds and the process starts all over again. The Mould The mould is a female single cavity type. The mould material is cast aluminum alloy mainly used in automobile for piston. It is used because of its low thermal expansion, though it is quite costly, it gives a smooth mould cavity and easier to shape. In general, female moulds provide easier release, are less likely to get scratched or damaged, produce thicker and stronger rims in containers, and can use smaller sheet blanks. Figs 6 and 7 show the control panel and the fully constructed machine. CONCLUSION A thermoforming machine for the production of disposal thermoplastic trays has been designed and fabricated to produce trays of 0.2 – 2.0mm sheet thickness using a female single cavity mould. The


Design and Fabrication of Thermoforming Machine for Production of Disposable Thermoplastic Trays

performance of pPVC was found to be better than that of HDPE despite the high thermal sensitivity of the former. This is believed to be because HDPE sheet have high heat distortion temperature and shrinkage. REFERENCES Anyanwu, I.J., Morris, N and Olopade, O. L.,(1983). Electrical Engineering Sciences. Macmillan Publishers Ltd., London. Avalone, E.A., and Baumeister, T., (1997). Marks Standard Handbook for Mechanical Engineers, 10th edition., Singapore:Mc Graw Hill Inc. Graw-Hill Brady, T and Clauster, R.,(1979). Materials Handbook, 11th edition, Mc Graw Hill Company, New York. Graw-Hill Florian, J. (1987). Practical Thermoforming, Marcel Dekker, New York. p 120. Dekker, Giogio, R. (1992). Principles and Applications of Electrical Engineering, 3rd Edition, Ohio, McGraw Hill. McGraw-Hill. p 320. Hall, A.S., Holowenko, A.R., and Laughlin, H.G., (1982). Theory and Problems of Machine Design. Metric Edition, Schaun Outline Series, Mc Graw Hill Int., New York. Outline Graw-Hill Throne, J. L. (1996). Technology of Thermoforming, Hanser Munich, Germany. p 86.

Figure 1a: Plan View of the Mould a:

Figure 2: The Clamp Frame :

Figure 1b: Side View of the Mould

Figure 3: The Heating System :


International Journal of Mechanical Engineering, Volume 1, Number 1, 2009

Figure 4: The Cooling and Pneumatic Systems :

Figure 5: The Electric Circuit Diagram :

Figure 6: The Control Panel :

Figure 7: Front View of the Thermoforming Machine : 77