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Author Topic: Raxx's Vacuum Forming Project  (Read 3601 times)


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Raxx's Vacuum Forming Project
« on: January 14, 2012, 12:38:02 am »

Chronicles of a Vacuum Forming Machine
Raxx's Special Model

Woah woah woah!?!
Yeah, that's right. Another DIY project by yours truly. What happened to the 3D printer? Well, it's complete but I have to take a break from it to get this done! Generally speaking this is not fully a 3D project. In fact, there is hardly any 3D CG involved whatsoever. However, I wanted to put it here because it involves making art functional in the form of cosplay and such, and may inspire some of you guys to do it yourself as well.

The Machine
The last decade or so, vacuum forming machines have become more and more popular amongst costumers/cosplayers thanks to its capacity to make plastic forms using molds. The vacuum former melts sheets of plastic and casts it over molds using suction to make the plastic fit very tight over the details before it cools and hardens. Common usage of this machine is seen in movie props, concert props, costumes, etc. It is extremely handy since there is a large surface area available (my machine will be able to form up to 20"x20" pieces), and depending on the mold, you can make many casts over and over of the same object. It's often used to make armor for characters like the Stormtrooper in Star Wars.

There are many different variations in size and design of the vacuum forming machine. However, like with 3D printers, you can't find a good one that prints a decent amount of volume anywhere for less than $2,000.

The $$$
Yes, this is yet another set of costs to add to my DIY bill :P Cost-wise, it should be around $400-$500 to build. My model will be a middle-range, low-maintenance all-in-one machine. You can build a vacuum former for less than $100 if you use just your oven and an old shop-vac lying around, but you know me...gotta go all out.

The Project

Like with the 3D printer project, I have a project that I wish to complete using the vacuum forming machine as the primary tool. This time, however, I have until May 25th to finish it, so I have five months to work on this project. This forum topic will cover the building of the actual vacuum forming machine very lightly, with only a bill of materials and maybe a few videos of it in action. The primary focus is the entire project itself.

I mentioned cosplay before. Conventions are a great way to just let go of yourself and be someone else with other people who do the same. I participate in anime conventions, primarily Animazement in Raleigh, NC. It'll be my third time going to this convention, so I wanted to start getting serious about my outfits and set myself a world apart from the casual cosplayer that does the same stuff over and over.

3D printing introduced me to a bit of hobbyist/prototyper technology that I think could be used to make some really nice costumes.

For my project, I want to build the costume of a redesigned Megaman series' character or boss with a full suit of armor (or a similar type of futuristic armored/mecha character). You may ask, "so what?", since there has no doubt been quite a lot of those around already. The thing is, I intend to also implement a robotic voice changer with speakers in my helmet, and implement LED lights in my suit of armor and weapon, to run in programmed patterns using an Arduino chip, based on how I trigger them. If I can get it figured out in time, I'd even make the LEDs in my helmet resonate with my voice. If possible, I'd like to make the suit somewhat modular so that it's easier to put on and off.

What the project entails
A lot of time will be spent working on the design and making the molds, before I even do any casting. A lot of planning and conceptual design must be done on paper first so that I can piece together functional armor with functional electronics inside, while being cool-looking at the same time. Some parts will undoubtedly require the services of my 3D printer. There will be a bunch of trimming, painting, sculpting, carving, wiring, etc.

Major Obstacles
Asides from school, not much. I'm merely limited by my genius, which is to say I'm not limited at all ;)

So that's it for now! I'll post my progress as it gets done (the machine should be completed this weekend), feel free to share your opinions or ideas.


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Re: Raxx's Vacuum Forming Project
« Reply #1 on: January 14, 2012, 12:41:18 am »

Progress: Picked up all the supplies except for the hardibacker backer board, HIPS, floor flange, and 1/8" plywood.

Bill of Materials
Vacuum Former

All supplies could be picked up at Walmart and Lowe's.

Shop Vac - 3hp+
Electric Grill (maybe two)
two light switches for heater & vac
outlet things for electrical input
Extension cords

MDF - 3/4" thick 4'x8' (21.5" squares will be used)
1/8" scrap plywood for sandwich (2x24", 2x22", 1"wide)
2 dowel rods (1/2" x 6") for handles
aluminum frame material (L shaped, sturdy. four 6' length rods)
24"x24" plywood 1/2" thick or so for bottom
plywood for base 1/4" or so (3 24"x24" worth)
2x4 fir wood (6x24"length, 2x22"length)
3/4" square aluminum tubing (or something with smooth edges that's square and 3/4"), 16'
8 1"x24" aluminum strips to secure base and top

Hardibacker 500 backer board 1/2"x3'x5' needs to cover grills (24"x24"
2 pieces of sheet metal (aluminum) 24"x24" ea

small box of 3" screws w/nuts
box of 1.5" screws w/ nuts
12 1" screws w/ nuts for securing handles and clamps
2 inch screws (bag of 5?)
flat washers (50+)
L brackets that fit aluminum frame material (12)
8 3/4" or slightly smaller L brackets to hold handles and clamps
4 eye bolts to use as cheap but effective hinges
hooks to hook handles to top
2 ~4" eye bolts w/ wing nuts for clamp fictures
2 bolts w/ nuts for clamp fixtures

1" floor flange
1" drill bit
4 clamps
good razor knife

caulk gun w/ caulk
aluminum tape
non-skid surface tape (3M)16'+, 3/4" wide

fire extinguisher

24"x24" >0.125" acrylic sheets, high impact polystyrene sheets

dark gray spray paint, yellow spray paint
« Last Edit: January 14, 2012, 12:43:12 am by Raxx »


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Re: Raxx's Vacuum Forming Project
« Reply #2 on: January 14, 2012, 12:01:33 pm »

Uf another big project for you! I must say I dont know much about what to imagine with a vacuum forming machine, but it sounds dangerous! ;)
Hope you will be able to complete both projects within a reasonable timeframe! Should be awesome!


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Re: Raxx's Vacuum Forming Project
« Reply #3 on: January 17, 2012, 09:29:08 pm »

Thanks for the words of encouragement, $imon!

A little progress report: After a full weekend and a dozen trips to the hardware store, it's about 45% complete now. It's taking a lot more time to build than I expected...I guess I underestimated how that even though it's a simpler machine than the 3D printer, it's more difficult to build in some areas of the project.

What you're seeing is the bottom portion that has the forming surface with holes in it, and the box under it in which a shop-vac will reside. There are two switches on the front to turn the shop-vac and heater on/off. The heating plates that will melt the plastic will be mounted on top.


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Re: Raxx's Vacuum Forming Project
« Reply #4 on: January 18, 2012, 06:04:55 pm »

Man you just working the machines this month aren't you?
So what do you plan on molding with this once it's done?
Me: I would probably take a figurine of mine and make a plastic mold from it to make chocolate statues, or even better, make a mold of this mech unit (about the size of a warhammer peice) and find some plaster and make a huge freakin army with it.