Energy Management: IR technology working for this thermoformer

Feb. 25, 2015

Thermoformed lighting and business products manufacturer Santa Fe Custom Skylights, Santa Fe, N.M., needed to upgrade an inefficient heating system to stay within the power constraints of the local electricity grid. It tried a gas oven but had hot and cold spots and no control over the temperature. The oven got hotter and hotter during the day and there was no way to adjust the temperature for heavier gauge acrylic.

When 100 watts of energy went through the existing emitter, it produced only 35 watts of infrared directional energy. Company owner Jeff Apodaca decided to switch to infrared heat technology with Ceramicx Ltd. and Weco International Inc. With the new system installed, 100 watts into the Ceramicx element resulted in 96 watts of directional infrared energy to the target. The rest was convection and light.

Custom Skylights' products typically need more energy absorption in specific areas so the material can move and form without showing defects in finished products. A Ceramicx system's elements can be individually controlled or grouped to create separate heat control zones within the oven, and the Custom Skylights system has 12 control zones based on its products' needs.

Ceramicx and Weco had had a challenge due to a limited power supply: 208V/200 amps. A typical conventional oven would use 600-watt elements and draw more than 400 amps to power its heaters. Ceramicx designers created a new 96 inch x 100 inch system with a 300-watt ceramic infrared emitter mounted in polished aluminized steel reflectors. Total system draw was kept below 200 amps while providing maximum directional energy to the material. And the IR wavelength is matched to the materials used.

Apodaca says they now can dial in the temperatures for different gauges of plastic sheet and know the products will come out right the first time.

"It has cut our production time by two-thirds compared to our old systems, greatly reduced the energy consumption and eliminated the plastic lost to improper heat distribution," he says.

Rob Neilley, senior correspondent

[email protected]