Pallet-maker wins grant for thermoplastic composites development

Thermoformer Jeco Plastics Products has received a grand from Purdue University under the IN-Mac program to study fiber wrinkling in multi-cavity thermoforming applications.

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Jeco Plastics Products (Plainfield, Ind., USA) recently received a research grant from Purdue University under the IN­-Mac program to study how thermoplastic composites with continuous internal fibers in either single or multiple directions develop wrinkles when being molded with multiple-cavity thermoforming tools. The aim is to compete with thermoset composites used in applications such as aerospace and defense components. “Thermoplastic composites are lighter weight, less expensive and have fewer design limitations,” says Jeco president and CEO Craig Carson.

Jeco was the first to receive a grant under the program, which is tailored to help companies extend existing technology. In Jeco’s case, the grant focuses on the company's ability to design sophisticated multiple-cavity thermoforming tools for molding complex structures that cannot be manufactured using other processing technologies. In fact, Carson points out that, critical to his company’s selection for the grant, is its unique thermoforming capabilities, which were recently used to develop a thermoformed door liner for a cryogenic container to be used by NASA on the International Space Station. Carson says that this cryogenic container is formed from a PP composite reinforced with continuous PP fibers, which boasts significant durability even in thin gages at cryogenic temperatures of ­195°C/319°F.

Jeco’s mainstay has been the design and manufacture of rotationally molded, highly durable pallets and containers made of LLDPE and reinforced with steel or tension members for printing and automotive applications.

However, this forward­-thinking company has developed capabilities that include the ability to produce large plastic structural components made with continuous carbon, fiberglass and PP fibers in a variety of thermoplastics including PP, nylons, PEEK, PEKK, and polysulfones. Jeco has also integrated custom woven cloths of various metals and other fibers into laminated thermoplastic structures to create materials with unique properties.

“The IN-­Mac grant has allowed us to discover how to predict the wrinkling of the fabric and optimize our tool design to minimize this problem.” He also notes that controlling the amount of wrinkling is difficult as the necessary sheet control is too limited in existing thermoforming equipment. “It was necessary to develop and fabricate extensive modifications to address this shortcoming,” he notes.