3Form's LightArt unit in Seattle fabricates lighting fixtures and illuminated installations and millwork from plastics.
3Form's LightArt unit in Seattle fabricates lighting fixtures and illuminated installations and millwork from plastics.
At 3form, a Salt Lake City architectural millwork firm, fabricating plastics has become a fundamental part of the business strategy.
The company has developed specialized product offerings built around its own brands of resin-based substrates - including Chroma and Ecoresin -  that are formed into inventive shapes and can be laminated with a wide variety of wood veneers and other laminates.
3form's business embodies a growing trend: architectural woodworkers have been moving ever more deeply into fabricating mixed materials. For years, cutting non-ferrous metals, acrylics and a range of non-wood solid surfaces has been part of the mix for interior millwork projects.


Five Steps To Rout a Clear Arylic Edge

How to get a clear routed edge finish on acrylic.  ZThis is usually an application for displays, awards, and advertising specialties where the edge of the product is exposed.

But interest in cutting, shaping, and machining plastics, in part a result of the rising popularity of outdoor kitchens -  has led more custom cabinetmakers into the plastics arena as well.
Picking up on these trends, the AWFS Fair decided to create a special emphasis on plastics and plastics fabrication during the 2015 Las Vegas woodworking expo in July.

Products that have been featured in past editions of the show were highlighted on the AWFS Fair website, and companies interested in aligning with the effort could sign on. Clearly AWFS hit a trend, as nearly 80 companies joining the initiative during the show - from 3M to Whiteside Machine Company.

“This was a really focused effort on behalf of AWFS, to address a market that we believe will present the Fair with additional growth in 2015 as well as future events, in addition to adding value for both our exhibitors and buyers,” says Dan Hershberger, the 2015 trade show chair (and Stiles Machinery regional manager.)
Tooling companies were well presented in the effort,  including Amana, Freud, GUHDO USA, Leitz Tooling, NAP GLADU, Onsrud, Riverside Tools, Southeast Tool, Valuemax Tools, and Vortex Tool. A fundamental concern - and frequent question for firms beginning to fabricate plastics - centers around the types of tools to use, as well as the feed rates and speed of tool rotation during the cutting process. 


Stiles Shows Plastic Machinery at AWFS 2015

Stiles hosted live machinery demos for plastics including the Weeke ABP 155, a CNC-controlled diamond edge polishing machine for acrylic components, a Kuper KNF 300 V-Grooving machine and a Euracryl V-2 diamond acrylic chamfer machine.

During AWFS, LMT Onsrud's Scott Feimster conducted a workshop on adding plastic routing services, covering tool selection, finding correct feed and speeds, approaches to part holding, and effective variations of machining techniques. Southeast Tool answers plastic related questions at its site, including, "What is an 'O Flute' tool and why do they work better on plastic?" (Answer: an O Flute tool does not really cut any differently than a regular tool; the distinction is in the way it handles the chip. The O Flute curls the chip to allow it to cool and helps avoid rewelding of the chip.)
Likewise CNC cutting and routing machinery companies joined into the AWFS program - many of them are already supplying equipment to the aerospace and marine industries where plastics fabrication is the standard application. 
Participants also included, naturally, AWFS exhibitors supplying fasteners, adhesives, and the plastic materials themselves, such as Outwater Plastics and King Plastics, which has been exhibiting at the show for several years. In fact, Mike Fabbri, national sales manager for King Plastics, joined the AWFS board of directors earlier this year.
"King Plastics has been going to AWFS for the last several years," Fabbri notes. "What’s exciting about the show it is it is opening up new markets and materials new materials for cabinet shops and mill shops – and finding a material that solves a problem for them." 
King Plastics motto, "It works like wood,” suggests that plastics are an accessible substrate for woodworking companies. King sells a high density polyethylene but architects and designers do not yet know about the product.
"We started in the outdoor kitchen market," Fabbri says, "and from there we noticed that the market with the most potential was the commercial market universities and hospitals. We opened up some new segments that no one had really approached, such as solid surfaces and laminates."

To communicate through its dealers to the millwork and cabinetry markets, "We train their specification reps and they can introduce it to the architectural design community." King Plastics has also moved into the componentry market, fabricating doors made from plastic.

"We learned there are cabinet shops that don’t have the equipment to do a raised panel door, so we decided to get into that market at the beginning of this year. So if they are making an outdoor kitchen cabinet.”  For woodworkers processing plastic for the first time, Fabbri says King's motto - "It works like wood" - still requires some education.

“There are the feed rates and speed rates that are a little different than wood. And woodworkers want to know how to get the swirl marks out during CNC operations," says Fabbri. "We experiment, and we have been able to tack some of that information on to machine manufacturers . . . we even provided machinery companies with plastic  materials for to work at the AWFS show."   

Biesse is among the CNC machinery companies increasing the focus on plastics. Lance George, named Plastics Division Manager for
Biesse America. "Innovative techniques in the development of plastics and composites have created new applications and opportunities in the aerospace, automotive, medical, packaging, display and sign markets, to name a few," says George. To address the needs of these markets, Biesse has created the Advanced Materials Division.

"Commercial and residential is what we have targeted," says George. "There big push is in the plastics industry and that’s why I am on the board so I can educate them on other materials.”

Giving plastics a very high profile at the show was Stiles Machinery, which along with AWFS co-hosted the owners of TANKED, a reality television show about a Las Vegas millwork shop that builds large aquariums and displays made of acrylic - and sometimes mounted on wood cabinetry.

Stiles also brought along equipment for plastics fabrication - such as a cutter and a polisher that machine materials without marring, and which can restore the clear see-through quality as required.

"Overall response at AWFS was pretty positive," says James Swanson, Stiles' product specialist. "The AWFS Plastics Initiative is important because at a lot of plastics industry trade shows, plastics material manufacturers don’t see get to see machines under power run their materials." Swanson says the ability to see plastics being machined drew an additional crowd. "Acrylic is becoming a very popular as an esthetic medium within a traditional customer or cabinet shop or furniture manufacturer," Swanson says.

Swanson says that at AWFS he saw woodworkers moving into plastics; as well as fabricators who were exclusively plastics manufacturers, and that’s all they did, the latter "people we would not have typically attracted in the past."

Visitors to the show were were learning how to adapt CNCs and other machines so they can go from wood to plastics to acrylic and aluminum.

"It’s the tooling, how you secure the work piece, and how fast you push the tool through the material," Swanson says.


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