Vacuum former created for the Community Connected Hackerspace

After Gil returned from my Makertour earlier this year a number of local Melbourne Makers reached out wanting to catch up, build, and socialise together. This became a group we call Melbourne Maker Links which meets up every second Sunday of the month to talk about what we are building, show some new tools or skills, or just build something cool. If you are interested in coming along you can join our Facebook group, or sign up on our contact list.

After a few meetings, we decided to throw in all of our respective talents and help construct a Vacuum Former. This is a machine that uses heated plastic to mould a shape over a plug or pattern. The plastic is drawn over the plug and suction used to transfer the detail to the plastic that the cools and then holds the shape.

Vacuum forming has been used to replicate parts and shapes in a little amount of time, and some of the most famous things made through vacuum forming are the hard shells of the Stormtrooper costumes made for Star Wars.

The Community Connected Hackerspace had a vacuum former project that had been dormant for a few years, so the Melbourne Maker Links group picked up from where the project left off (a simple base and vacuum set up) and launched into getting the process and machine built.

We first tackled the base, opening it up and putting wooden channels in place to increase the suction of the vacuum. At the same time, two bar heaters which were bought for the project were dismantled for their heating elements and electrics. By the end of the first Sunday, we had all the parts we needed and the base sealed and ready to be built upon.

The next month, we created the framework and heating cage with which the plastic would be heated. The idea was to heat the plastic until it is flexing and then slide it along the runners that will activate the vacuum, turn off the heating element, and draw the pattern all in one movement.

We welded on side runners and connected the heating cage to the top, basically finishing the outlay of the main parts of the vacuum former. Some work was needed to fold up some of the metal sheeting into a box and it was great learning new folding techniques by watching some of the more experienced members create what was needed.

The next month, we put the finishing touches on some of the electrics so we could test the system and see if our theory would work in practice. While the runners were not in place, we held the plastic in place as it was heated and manually activated the vacuum to see if it would work. The only plastic we had was 3mm styrene and after putting some hand tools on the table, we got a great result!

First successful test

First successful test

Looking forward to finishing up this machine and allowing Hackspace members to use it to create plastic versions of what they would like. All that’s needed is to finish the rails, enclose the electrics and place a handle on the machine to slide down the heated plastics.

I know that CCHS members are keen to make plastic car bodies for their AI cars and I have a few ideas up my sleeve for what I will make with the vacuum former.

If you would like to come down and help, learn and generally get your hands dirty, feel free to join our mailing list here.