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Solar Products Case Study on Thermoforming Machine Retrofit

Solar Products Flat-faced Radiant Panel Heaters
Solar Products, Inc.
228 Wanaque Ave 
Pompton Lakes, NJ 07442


Maier Manufacturing is a medium sized thermoforming operation that specializes in replacement parts for motorcycles and all terrain vehicles. In business since 1972, they have 55 employees in 45,000 total square footage of office, manufacturing, and warehouse space. The products are marketed from a catalog to dealers throughout the USA.

Maier has two double station thermoforming units and two single station units. The platen sizes vary from 32" X 48" up to 48" X 75"

The Problem
Sales were increasing and Maier could not keep up with normal production (This is a problem every manufacturer would like to have.) Due to demand, overtime was turning into a second shift. Maier was forced into reviewing 3 options:

  • Purchase a new machine with a 100,000 price tag
  • Change the operation to run a full 2nd shift
  • Retrofit the existing machinery in order to increase productivity

The new machine would not only cost 100,000 to purchase but would additionally require labor to operate, power to run, floorspace and additional maintenance time. The 2nd shift option would have required additional labor personnel, supervision, increased overhead costs and more headaches.

The Solution
After weighing the options the decision was made to retrofit the equipment. The retrofit would primarily consist of changing the heaters, controls, and power switching devices. Maier knew from past experience with a Heartland thermoforming machine that the productivity could be significantly increased with Solar Products panel heaters over the existing metal sheathed tubular heaters. The heaters were sized at 15 watts/sq in (wsi) for a total of 108 kw. The old heaters were 50 kw total for both the top and bottom heaters. The old heaters were cycling on between 80-100%. The new heaters are cycling on between 30-60%.

The decision was made to increase the power available in the event that more power was required with future products or materials. The control system selected was a Cutler-Hammer programmable logic controller (PLC) model D 100A with 32 outputs for individual zones. The timer/counter access module assists in quick and easy programming of the heater cycle times. The power switching devices were upgraded from mechanical contractors to mercury relays, which are very common for sheet fed equipment.

The complete upgrade cost 15,000. This included top and bottom heaters with mounting frame, PLC with touch screen, electrical enclosure, 32 mercury relays, control cabinet wiring, new high voltage power feed to equipment, 120 hours labor, a larger vacuum tank, and all the running around required for a project such as this.

The Results
The ABS and Polyethylene sheet heating time was reduced by an average 84%. What used to take 5 days can now be done in 2.84 days. Even though the available power more that doubled, the actual power usage was reduced by 10%. Another benefit was a much more even heat over the sheet. As a result, the forming and stretch is more uniform. It also ensures less material stretch marks. The old heaters had a rejection rate due to uneven heating, which has been eliminated with the new heaters. click here to see the details

The Bottom Line
Maier Manufacturing realized a total return on their retrofitting investment in only 9.2 months, and on heater investment in less than 4 months. Machine output capacity increased by 43% and there was no overtime, 2nd shift or new equipment purchase. Result: an amazing 76% increase in productivity.

The increase in productivity is based on the fact that sheets of ABS went from 45 to 80 sheets per day-a 77.7% increase-and polyethylene went from 40 to 70 sheets a day- a 75% increase. On average a 76.26% increase in productivity. A 43% increase in machine output derives from what used to take 5 days can now be done in 2.84 days, resulting in 43% more available machine time. Total ROI is based on a retrofitting cost of 15,000, a 62.21/day reduction in labor cost, and a 13.33/day reduction in electrical cost. Electrical rate is 0.07834 KW/hr. The calculations is as follows: 15,000/(62.21 + 13.33/day)=198.5 days to recoup the initial investment or 9.16 months, assuming a 40 hour work week. Your actual savings may vary depending on the local utility rates, labor costs and retrofit costs.

Even More Benefits!
The ROI was calculated using the reduction in electrical usage and labor. There were many items not used in the ROI calculation that do pertain, such as:

  • Increase in profit on manufactured parts due to lower production costs
  • Availability of more machine time;
  • Reduction in reject parts and related material and time savings.

The end result is that the actual return on investment is much better than has been portrayed.

Additional benefits of panel heaters over metal sheathed elements are:

  • Better zoning for better part quality:
  • No cleaning or changing reflectors:
  • Efficiency does not degradate with panel heaters over time.

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We are a distributor of infrared heaters. Always consult manufacturers installation instructions for proper installation of the products or systems shown on this website. © Copyright 1999-2019 Mor Electric Heating Assoc., Inc.

5880 Alpine Ave. NW - Comstock Park, MI 49321  USA
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