Unlike the ever-nascent category of consumer-priced 3D printers, vacuum forming has a long and established history, with casting and moulding machines holding patents since the 1960s. The heat to plastic process doesn’t require knowledge of 3D modeling software, the materials required are cheap, and replicating three-dimensional objects into molds using sheets of thermoplastic is satisfyingly near instantaneous. But until now, vacuum forming machines were hulking, prohibitively priced, and definitely not intended for small-scale use. The Makyu FormBox has set out to change that.
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Founded by Goldsmiths University of London graduates, Ben Redford and Alex Smilansky, the Mayku FormBox began as a successful Kickstarter campaign back in 2016. Advertised as an entry-level machine engineered to combine heat with the aid of an attached household vacuum cleaner, the FormBox was conceived as the most affordable and smallest prototyping and mold making vacuum forming machine.
Its primary target was designers, individual artists, professional chefs, and home business crafters – anyone who could conceivably benefit from the machine’s quick capability to convert objects into molds for easy reproduction. The machine has graduated from its crowdfunded roots to a $599 machine now available for order.
The FormBox operates by heating sheets of thermoplastics with a 200w ceramic heater with a range of 160c to 340c (compatible with ABS, Polystyrene, Polycarbonate, Polypropylene, and food safe PETg and Polyvinyl Chloride PVC), converting the material into a malleable state, which is in turn stretched to envelope another object with the assistance of a vacuum cleaner.
The result is an exact plastic mold copy of the original object’s exterior, perfectly suited for duplicating objects like hand soaps, small ceramics, candies, or chocolates. With the FormBox, every small object becomes the potential template for an easily and quickly reproducible assembly line of near copies. Hello, next level Jell-O shots, and strangely shaped chocolates to gift to friends and family.
One day we might all have objects instantaneously printed on a whim from the comforts of our own personal printing appliances, but for now the achingly tedious speed of additive printing seems an oxymoron if rapid printing and prototyping is the impetus for such investment. If one imagines 3D printing at its most basic as making something out of nothing, then vacuum forming could be considered making something out of another thing…a now simpler and more accessible concept offering a gateway entry for those curious about incorporating maker technology into their process.