Plastic Thermoformer Thinks Big with CAM Software

In McSherrystown, Pennsylvania, SAY Plastics creates thermoformed plastic solutions for the rail, bus, material handling, recreation, and entertainment industries—everything from WiFi antennae covers for the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field to material handling systems for Harley-Davidson Motor Company.

During the thermoforming process, a plastic sheet is heated until pliable and placed in or over a mold before air is removed by vacuum. Surface finish and trimming operations are performed on formed parts with CNC routers equipped with 5-foot x 10-foot work surfaces to accommodate large parts. Despite these seemingly spacious work surfaces, SAY programmers face machine-size limitations. They looked to Mastercam to help resolve this issue and manage process improvements with CAD/CAM technology.

say plastics thermoforming

“Mastercam has powerful geometry creation tools that I can use to machine at the angles I need to fit within the envelope of our equipment,” said Thomas Slaybaugh, SAY Plastics engineering manager.

SAY needed a way to push the envelope—or at least expand it. For example, its 3-axis machine, used mainly for machining molds and surface finishing, has height limitations. So, if a machinist tries to cut a 108-inch part on a machine with a 120-inch X travel and a 20-inch spindle, cutting both ends is problematic. He must drag or push cuts on the two opposing sides. Mastercam Dynamic Motion toolpaths enable him to do just that.

say plastics thermoforming

“Mastercam allows us to slice a model that’s too high into multiple layers,” said Slaybaugh. “And it allows me to rapid extremely close to my existing stock so I can maximize what I am able to fit on my machine.”

Designers can import part design files from other modeling software into Mastercam and explore options like analyze distance, angle, and position editing to resolve potential issues. One customer partnered with SAY Plastics to design and manufacture a large plastic cover to encase a toilet, a bathroom safety feature for people with disabilities. Fitted alongside a toilet fixtured to a wall, the cover fills the gap between the wall and toilet, reducing the potential risk of a person falling off or sliding to the floor.

say plastics thermoforming

To machine the 4-foot x 3-foot x 3-foot parts, tooling was designed at an odd angle to prevent undercuts which could hinder part ejection from tooling. Mastercam, specifically the translate and rotate options, enabled the duplication of that angle within the program. Slaybaugh explained that when the part was created, it was trimmed to a perfect part sitting on top of a perfect fixture. Using the multiaxis toolpath on a 5-axis CNC router, he modified the CAM program and directed the tool to trim deeper in some places and less deep in others.

“Without the CAM software, I have to do tricky things at the machine or use a trigonometry calculator to recalculate all of my G-code,” said Slaybaugh.

Mastercam’s Dynamic toolpaths and modeling capabilities helped SAY Plastics expand its customer base by manufacturing larger, complex parts and improving product quality. You can learn more in the case study published on Plastics Technology: CAM Software Routes Thermoformer to Profitability.