HP Forges Bold New Look With Thermoforming
Pressure Forming With Style
HP Forges Bold New Look With Thermoforming – Spring 1999
With so many new CAD-CAM tools coming on the market today it seems designers have been given tremendous freedom to create products with ever more style and complexity. These designs are usually only produced in very high volume to defray the expense that a complex configuration brings with it. What happens when the market demands that high-end designer look but the over all quantity of the product can’t justify the tooling expense high volume processes require? The answer for many has been a Thermoforming process known as Pressure Forming.
This process has allowed many to produce World-Class award winning products, while keeping tooling and startup costs within reason.
Thermoforming often goes unnoticed as an industry, yet you probably come in contact with products made by this process every day. These range from the package that holds the sauce for your chicken McNuggets to enclosures for Medical, Scientific, and Telecommunications equipment. Thermoformed parts are also used widely in the automotive industry for interior trim, pick-up bed liners, camper shells, as well as truck, tractor and R-V interiors. The US Postal Service now ships a large -portion of your mail on Twin Sheet Thermoformed pallets. It’s a multi-million dollar industry with just a few big players, with the balance made up mostly of smaller companies doing between 1-10 million dollars per year in sales.
Additionally, because of the structural integrity of properly formed and fabricated Pressure Formed parts they can perform many mechanical roles. These include supporting operator interfaces, holding circuit boards, keyboards, LCD Displays and other components. This is allowing designers to use Pressure Formed parts in more structural applications than ever before. Using these parts in structural applications saves both the cost and weight of metal substructures further adding to Pressure Forming’s appeal. This can make Pressure Formed Parts even more cost effective, as they become an integral part of the product t, not just it’s face to the world.
For example the HP Media Streamer for Interactive TV can send up to 10,000 concurrent video streams over phone lines. It is an extremely high tech, state-of-the-art product using all new technology. Hewlett-Packard Video Communications division’s Senior Industrial Designer Richard Nyquist stated “The design challenge was to give HP a memorable and exciting look which was critical in this new market they were entering. The low volume and large part size 67″ x 22″ as well as its complexity make Injection Molding or Structural Foam out of the question as tooling would have been well over one hundred thousand dollars. So Pressure Forming was chosen instead. The tooling for Pressure Forming came in at just under twelve thousand dollars, which was quite a saving. The Striking and difficult to execute design ended up costing around $625.00 per unit due to low volume and extensive secondary operations. However it was strong enough structurally to replace a $500.00 weldment so in real terms it only cost HP $125.00 per door. The result was a strikingly handsome product for the entertainment market where appearance is crucial at an exceptional price to value ratio.”
A similar challange had to be met for the new HP Broadcast Video Server. It’s designed for real time insertions of video spots into live programming such as newscasts. The combination of narrow ribs blending into a constantly changing spline required some tricky 3D programming to make the tool. The door’s complexity also presented both forming and fabrication challenges. However the final result was will worth the effort providing a dramatic product design that looks as high performance as it is.
Richard Nyquist, Senior Industrial Designer for HP observed “Pressure Forming is allowing me to get a look and feel for these products that would be out of the question for any other process because of the volume constraints in the broadcasting equipment business.
But since these are expensive state-of-the-art products they really need to stand out from a design standpoint. Using Pressure Forming we’ve been able to achieve that. It’s really allowing HP to get a look that it hasn’t had in the past.”
Albert Kovalick, Head Scientist for HP’s Video Division, said “I have to explain this technology to our customers and it’s filled very state-of-the-art equipment. So after spending about a half hour with a VP at Nynex (the New York Phone company) telling him about all this high tech gear he says “Nice door Al. It was good to find out that the same kind of engineering effort went into that door as what’s inside.”
In order to produce these complex designs, Freetech uses a combination of state-of-the-art 3-D CAD-CAM and CNC machining to develop the precision tooling needed to make these high tech products. Additionally their 30+ plus years of Thermoforming experience gives them the expertise necessary to manufacture parts on the cutting edge of design. As Gerard Furburshaw of Lunar Design says “Freetech never makes us change our look and feel to fit the process but stretches the process technology to fit what we need.”
These collaborations between designer and former have won many awards over the years including the top prize for Thermoforming in 1996 for The Coherent Ultrapulse Laser (which is used for Opthalmology and plastic surgery).
This year a similar collaboration won an ID (industrial designer) Magazine award for another laser system for hair removal.
Yes, Pressure Forming has really reached the age of style. With more processors putting in state-of-the-art Thermoforming machines and computerized second operation equipment for consistent quality and results. Improved forming techniques have made it possible to mold severe undercuts to accomodate hidden fasteners allowing for cleaner product lines. Now complex rib structures for ventilation and support that were considered unformable a few years ago are becoming more common.
These new structural applications, along with the high appearance look and feel these products provide, have really started to make Pressure Forming the process of choice for low and medium volume products. As more Thermoformers add these new technologies and techniques to their operations this process will continue becoming an ever more outstanding resource for both the OEM and the Design community.
Freetech Plastics is just one of the many key manufacturers and suppliers that help make Silicon Valley work. Freetech has been providing high quality Pressure Forming and Fabrication for the Medical, Scientific, Telecommunication, and Electronic Enclosure markets for the past 22 years. They have collaborated with several highly regarded industrial design firms to produce many award-winning products.