Strategic partnership advances innovative twin-sheet thermoforming process


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Foam core stiffens thermoplastic polyolefin panel; durable, lightweight multi-use shipping pallet is first application Solvay Engineered Polymers, Inc., has been chosen as a strategic partner by Novo Foam Products LLC. The company was selected because of its portfolio of thermoplastic polyolefin (TPO) materials that are designed for use in the thermoforming process. Novo Foam is forming a network of alliances to advance its proprietary thermoforming process. The group includes partners in process consulting, in thermoforming, in design and tooling, in shape molding, in polymer materials, and in thermoforming equipment. The collective resources of Novo Foam’s extended enterprise enables the company to deliver significantly greater value to its customers in the area of both product and application development. Unique twin-sheet thermoforming process In this high-tech twist on conventional twin-sheet vacuum forming, two sheets of TPO are simultaneously formed around a core of expanded polypropylene (EPP) foam. Because the sheet and the foam are both polypropylene based, an excellent melt bond is achieved over the entirety of both surfaces of the foam core. At the same time, the pre-formed core helps to shape the heated exterior sheets by directing them into the two mold-halves. The resulting composite panel is light in weight, structurally strong, stiff, and dimensionally stable. Its surface can be tailored at the extrusion stage for such characteristics as color, texture, and grain. Versatile, high-performance shipping pallet Currently, the process is being used to produce a line of shipping pallets that feature a truly flat deck, with ground clearance provided by nine integrally formed feet. Called the Air Ride Pallet, the product has been tested to the ASTM standard, and is capable of supporting a 7,000-pound static load. The use of SEQUEL® E3000 TPO for the top and bottom surfaces brings excellent low-temperature impact resistance and superior dimensional stability to the pallet. Combining this performance with the insulating properties of the EPP foam core makes the Air Ride Pallet ideal for use in the food processing and distribution industries. Because the pallet is a sealed unit, it is intrinsically hygienic. Its flat surface can be totally washed – or even sterilized, if necessary – which makes it appropriate for use in the pharmaceutical industry as well. Contributing to future applications Tom Bohan, Managing Partner of Novo Foam Products, points out the value Solvay Engineered Polymers brings to his company’s partnership. “SEP is doing computer-aided engineering work to advance the process. They’re modeling different materials, of different gauges, in combination with different densities of foam, in order to optimize the Air Ride Pallet as well as future applications. Our materials partner has already been able to identify a lot of potential uses for the process.” Among the areas under consideration are structural panels for the automotive industry, such as tonneau covers and load floors – horizontal, load-bearing panels, including trunk decks and RV floors. Bohan explains that “the process itself can be adapted to existing thermoforming equipment, without any proprietary hardware. We expect that the possibilities will expand as SEP develops more materials for the exterior surfaces. As our materials partner, SEP has been very responsive to Novo’s needs and has proven itself to be a world-class organization with high quality people and superior business practices. One of the interesting challenges in the automotive area has always been the achievement of a Class-A finish – either by using paint or through some other surface technology, such as paint film or high-gloss laminate.”