If you’re a product designer or manufacturer you have a lot of options to choose from when it comes to production. 3D printing is great for prototyping, but not very cost-effective when dealing with volume. There’s also injection molding but the lead time is several months and only becomes cost-effective in high volume. The production method that’s right for you depends on the variables, but if the conditions are right, you should definitely consider vacuum forming.
Up until now, vacuum forming had been a difficult process too, as the machines have been expensive and industrial. The Vaquform designed by John Tan of Vaquform Inc. is an easy, relatively inexpensive way to create and manufacture products from the comfort of your own space.
Vaquform is the perfect marriage of digital and industrial technology. It works like any other thermoforming machine, you heat up a plastic sheet, add air pressure, then watch with satisfaction as the hot sheet completely congeals to your mold. Vaquform has an internal database of heating profiles which takes the guesswork out of knowing what temperature to heat your plastic up. The key difference between this machine in others is the form of the infrared probe that monitors the temperature of the plastic sheet to 0.1-degree celsius precision, effectively automating the process without much supervision.
It delivers the type of results you’d see from a machine that’s quadruple the cost, mostly in part to its hybrid vacuum unit that combines high airflow and high vacuum speed. It works by removing approximately 90% of the air from under the plastic sheet at -3 PSO (normal house vacuum), then the second vacuum takes hold with incredible suction at -12.8 PSI. The results of which yield the coverage around even the smallest details. These two phases are where they get their expression “suck fast, squeeze hard.”
John was kind enough to come by our office and give us a demonstration of how the Vaquform works, and let me tell you this thing sucks! I mean that in the best possible way, of course. I was blown away by the tightness of the plastic was on the mold and how it conformed precisely to the tiniest details. If you’re a product designer, manufacturer or just like to tinker around with plastics you should be considering this compact powerhouse of a vacuum former.