Proto-Form Vacuum Forming Machine

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Proto-Form Vacuum Forming Machine
Make/Model Proto-Form
Arrival Date TBD
Contact User:Bcuocci
Where TBD
Authorization Needed yes
Hackable no
Host Area CNC

Proto-Form Vacuum Forming Machine Area: CNC


A new (2018) to us vacuum forming machine has been donated by SAIC and is currently installed in Hot Metals area. A Danger Committee is forming and that machine is not yet ready for member use. To volunteer to be on the Danger Committee for that machine, email [email protected] or tell one of the other members of the Danger Committee. A wiki page for that machine is also in the works.


This machine is now under construction! If you want to help, criticize, offer advice, or donate parts, contact Brian (auraseer at

The machine has been provisionally adopted by the CNC Area Host. Its physical destination is TBD. It's current location is in the General Work Area adjacent to the Kitchen, Small Metals and Cold Metals.

Authorization will be required. Authorization format is TBD.


Plans are purchased from this site: Due to copyright they cannot be reproduced here, but contact Brian for more details.

Usage notes

This device can handle any thermoformable plastic up to 1/4" thick. Acrylic, styrene, ABS, and polycarbonate are the most commonly suggested. Initial construction is for a platen to accept 2' x 3' plastic sheets. An optional later mod is to create swappable platens to accommodate smaller or partial sheets.

The "buck," or form, may be any sturdy shape that can tolerate a bit of heat. Wood, metal, and polyester resin work well. Avoid shapes with hollows underneath because they have a tendency to collapse. Shapes with undercuts, or shapes taller than they are wide, will be very difficult to remove from the formed plastic. Paint, shellac, or epoxy resin can cause the hot plastic to stick.

The oven must be used only for vacuforming. Please do not attempt to use this machine to dry plastic, cure epoxy, get a suntan, or anything other than its intended purpose.

Safety notes

The Proto-Form has an oven surface for heating and softening the plastic. It is made of multiple nichrome wire elements, draws 7200 watts, and reaches full operating temperature very quickly.

The most likely source of problems would be for someone to leave the plastic under the heater for way too long and set it on fire. To help avoid this error, the blueprints suggest that the oven's power switch should be a five-minute timer. Alternate options include adding a "deadman switch" such as a foot pedal. In any case, defeating any safety devices should probably be considered cause for revoking authorization.

The plans call for 18" of clearance on each side of the machine during operation, and 36" above. This will be difficult to idiotproof, but the clearance requirements will be clearly displayed on the structure of the machine. The top surface will have projecting vanes to prevent accidental blockage of the vents.

Fumes from most plastics are not expected to be significant when the machine is used properly (i.e., nothing is on fire). If fumes do turn out to be a concern, the machine can be retrofitted with a fume hood. Then we would just need to figure out where to direct the other end of the ductwork.

Construction Phases

  • Blueprints - DONE
  • Area host blessing - DONE
  • Wooden base - DONE
  • Steel chassis - DONE
  • Oven structure - DONE
  • Oven heat elements - DONE
  • Wooden oven surround
  • Forming platen - IN PROGRESS (50% complete, needs CNC drilling followed by layer assembly)
  • Control panel
  • Lifting frame and mechanism
  • Vacuum pump and tank
  • Vacuum plumbing
  • Control components
  • Electrical wiring
  • Electrician inspection