Nov 10, 2016 | By Alec

When placed alongside each other, the different benefits of both 3D printing and molding are obvious: 3D printers fit on your desktop and allow for unique and intricate creations, while molding is much quicker but only cost-effective for very large batches because the molds are so expensive to make. Why not combine the best of both worlds? That is, in a nutshell, what Italian making experts Robot Factory are now advocating. They are now launching the 3D FORMING thermoforming machine, which allows you to quickly make (food-friendly) molds from any 3D printed object. Perfect for transforming your desktop into a mini-factory.

It’s exactly the type of making innovation that can be expected of Robot Factory, who have previously successfully launched several desktop machines that add a whole new dimension to making. Back in 2015, they did the same with Copperface kit for coating plastic or resin 3D printed parts in metal. They also manufacture several 3D printers, including the 3D One FDM 3D printer and a series of 3DLPrinter SLA models.

This newest machine is especially interesting because it brings a very commonly used industrial technology to your desktop. In a nutshell, thermoforming is a process for rapidly forming molds out of heated plastic sheets. These are pulled over objects, creating a very accurate imprint (or packaging) that can be used as a mold for other plastics, edible materials and more. While usually available in hugely expensive industrial settings, 3D FORMING brings the same technology to your desktop for small batch production.

Most importantly, the 3D FORMING is very easy in use. “3D FORMING uses a sheet of thermoplastic material, made malleable by heat, positioning this one on an object (a template), when the air (between the object and the sheet) is removed, the sheet takes the form of the template,” the Italian developers explain. The process is also very quick. The heating element takes about five minutes to heat, and afterwards heats thermoplastic sheets in just one or two minutes. The object is then placed beneath it, and the sheet is pulled down and a vacuum is formed. The mold is formed immediately, and is ready to be removed once it is cooled (which takes just a few minutes).

As the plastic really fills every nook and cranny, it’s a very potent solution for a variety of applications. The Italian developers therefore envision it being used to make molds for decorative arts, foods, jewelry, toys, and a lot more. It is also a fundamental process for various dental procedures and obviously very attractive for use in classrooms. “In the context of teaching this device can be a great aid for the creation of learning objects usable in case of dyslexia, visual impairment, and in general in cases of learning difficulties. In the schools in which there are already 3D printers, 3D printed objects can be used as templates for the thermoforming,” they say.

Especially that latter application is seen as key to the 3D FORMING, which obviously combines very well with a 3D printer. We can already imagine making custom chocolate treats from molds made from 3D printed objects. And yes, several of the compatible thermoplastics (including PETG and HIPS) are food-friendly, though a very wide range of plastics can be used for thermoforming. In fact, the 3D FORMING is compatible with PS, PC, PP, PE, PMMA and ABS as well, in sheets anywhere from 0.2 to 1mm thick. The machine itself comes with 12 sheets of PETG and 12 of HIPS to get people started.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Technology

 

 

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