Small Vacuum Former
This is a very basic, 5"x5" working area Vacuum former with a built in heater and vacuum which allows you to make formed copies of small items with minimal effort.
It can be used on plastic up to 0.020"/0.5mm thick, depending on the type of material, and takes less than 3 minutes from the time you insert plastic to the time the mold is made.
Common end uses include making molds for chocolate or resin casting, forming decorative pieces and creating a rigid interior structure that can then be plastered/cast over to save weight and materials.
Watch this 1m10s video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8LzsP2GN_rk) for the basics - it's that easy to use. The steps are:
Cut material to size (approx 6.5"x6.5", so that it can be clamped into the frame)
Clamp the material into the frame
Using the red lever, move the material up into the locked position close to the heat source
Place the item to be copied( See details below)) onto the perforated vacuum bed
Turn on the heat source and pivot the heater head over the clamped material
Watching from the side, wait until the material droops about 1/4"
Turn on the vacuum switch and then use the Red lever to quickly and smoothly move the clamped material down onto the perforated vacuum bed.
After about 3 seconds, turn off the vacuum and heat.
Pivot the heated head away from the material and vacuum bed.
Unclamp material (CAUTION: MAY BE HOT), remove from bed, remove part from material
Remove any loose plastic from the perforated vacuum bed.
Type of items you can copy
Parts suitable for vacuum forming should have straight or inward tapering walls (like a spur gear or pyramid, not like a ball or a trophy cup). The reason is that the formed material is not very flexible, so removing a part can destroy the mold if there is no easy way for the part to slide out of the mold.
There are tricks to forming around more complex items (eg place a matchbox car on a small piece of wood so that you're copying the top profile but not conforming to the wheels), but plenty of videos online on those methods.
Free material - PET plastic
Due to COVID material surplus, we have a nearly endless supply of 13mil PET plastic. This is not the ideal material for all purposes, but it is food-safe and free, so a great way to experiment as many times as you need to get the hang of the machine. A large roll is on the floor next to the 3d printer shelves, and as time permits we will laser cut the material into right-sized blanks... for now use scissors.
Plenty of commercial materials sources exist for Styrene, including vendors such as MicroMark:
Larger vacuum formers exist, and if this tool is used and there is enough interest in expanding into that realm for Cosplay and other accessories that will be considered in future budget cycles.
For the moment, send any Vacuum Forming questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or ask on the internal 3D printing Slack channel.