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Crash's PhlatFormer Review

Discussion in 'Phlatformer BUILD LOGS' started by Crash, May 16, 2010.

  1. Crash

    Crash Moderator Staff Member

    Trophy Points:
    Waco, Texas, USA
    The PhlatFormer by the PhlatBoyz

    Occasionally, a new product comes along and you say to yourself "Hey! That's kind of cool!". Then it comes time to whip out the old wallet to put rubber to road and for me, that's usually when the close scrutiny begins. I ask myself many questions including: 1. Do I really need this thing?, 2. Is the cost of this new widget really going to add value to my personal workshop?, 3.Will my little wife skin me alive for adding yet another tool to the workshop? Well, I've recently gone through this whole routine again and I'm going to tell you how it all played out...

    Years ago I found myself in need (okay, maybe just a strong desire) of a vacuum-forming machine. The internet, being the vast resource that it is, provided for much information on this process, but at that time it did not offer up any kits for these machines - only concepts. Let's face it, there's not really a lot to vacuum-forming technology, right? After all, it's really just a box with some holes punched in it that you can hook up to your vacuum. Then there's a frame that you clamp your plastic sheet in so that you can put it in your oven to heat it. How hard can this be?

    Well, back then it just proved to be more troublesome than I felt the whole project was worth, so I abandoned the whole idea.

    Now anyone reading this that knows anything about me will immediately know that I am a huge fan of the PhlatBoyZ (http://www.PhlatBoyZ.com, makers of the famous PhlatPrinter and PhlatPrinter MKII CNC Machine kits) products. When they announced earlier this year that they were working on a new machine for their product line of machines that "bring manufacturing to every modeler's workshop", my interest was piqued! I knew how these things worked, but just never wanted to go down that road of R&D to create my own. I thought to myself "now someone will finally be offering up a kit so I don't have to develop my own"!

    Well, long story short (like that can really be the case for anything I write), as an active promoter of the PhlatBoyZ enterprise, I made the trip to the Toledo Weak Signals 2010 RC Expo to help Mark and Trish Carew with the PhlatBoyZ booth. It was at this event that I got to see, first-hand, the awesomeness that is the "PhlatFormer".

    I guess the first thing I should do is explain to you the “Hey! That's kind of cool!” part, since the PhlatFormer is a completely fresh take on the vacuum-forming process. The first thing that sets this little machine apart from all others I've seen is that the top of the vacuum box (aka the forming deck) is not merely just a bunch of holes drilled to allow for negative pressure to pull the molten plastic downward over a plug. Instead, it consists of a “waffle” pattern that accompanies those necessary holes. This recessed grid pattern ensures that no vacuum hole can be blocked off by the plastic, so the vacuum pressure stays at a maximum until the sheet is completely formed around the plug. Furthermore, to help to ensure that maximum vacuum pressure can be achieved, there is a soft rubber seal at the extents of the forming deck to eliminate any loss of pressure when the plastic sheet is brought down into place.

    Perhaps the most brilliant design element of this machine is it's somewhat unorthodox approach to heating the sheet of plastic. Instead of securing the plastic in a frame and then putting that whole thing in your kitchen oven (which can make a mess and get you banned from the kitchen permanently), the PhlatBoyZ take a completely different approach. The rack that holds the plastic securely in place is permanently affixed to the entire unit on a cantilever apparatus. This allows you to secure your sheet in the frame and then position the frame over a heat source (more on that in a bit). When the plastic begins to sag – a condition that lets you know it's at the right temperature for molding – the whole frame can be easily moved from over the element to precisely over the forming table (and your plug) all in one easy motion!

    But wait! There's more! LOL

    Included in your PhlatFormer kit you'll find a foot-operated power switch that you hook up inline to your shop-vac so that you don't have to worry about fiddling with that switch right as your plastic is starting to sag. You simply step on the pedal at the moment you start to make a pull and then release it when you're finished with the pull. Cool, huh!

    Now would be a great time to discuss another of the benefits of this machine – the heating source. During my previous research on these machine, I learned that if you heat the plastic too much in your oven, and it creates a nice “glob”, you're pretty much stuck with it there (hard to clean up), as well as funky-tasting meatloaf from there on out. The smell can hang around the heating oven so much, in fact, that I read where some people were buying second-hand kitchen ovens just to use for their vacuum-formed projects!

    Now with your PhlatFormer kit you do NOT get the heating element. You are left to fend for yourself on that, but you don't have to spend tons of money on one, either! In fact, in Toledo we used a single-element “hot plate” to get the job done for demonstrations, but it has since been determined (thanks, Shaun!) that the Rival 11” Electric Skillet (Model #S11P-015, about $22 at your local Walmart) seems to be the optimal solution. One of the features of this machine is that there is an MDF plate (complete with handle) that you set in the frame and over the plastic sheet that helps to keep the heat from the skillet or hot plate focused on the plastic – not dissipating upwards.

    The only other thing that will NOT be supplied with your kit is the vacuum. Again, you don't have to go out and invest a ton of dough on a super-high-powered, only-to-be-used-for-Vacuum-forming shop-vac. All of the demonstrations of this machine in Toledo were done with a 2.5HP Shop-Vac (about $30 at Lowes). The machine is so well constructed that an inexpensive solution was all that was needed!

    Got your own shop-vac? Perfect! Another cool feature with this kit is that it incorporates a Universal Tool Adapter for the vacuum plumbing which will allow you to hook up a vacuum with virtually ANY sized hose. Heck, I would expect that even a strong household vacuum would do the trick (though I've not tried).

    Okay, now let's talk a little about the build of this kit.

    Just like the rest of the PhlatBoyZ product line, you won't get a bunch of wordy instructions or exploded diagrams to decipher. What you WILL get is a nice little DVD that you can pop right in to your home computer or DVD player. Like the rest of their video builds, the Carews are going to take you step-by-step through the build process so that you are actually building along with them. When finished, you have a working machine, and at the end of the video, you are given instruction on how to use the machine. It just doesn't get any easier than this. In fact, I have become quite spoiled by this instructional process and wish everyone would do things this way! LOL

    Something worth noting about this kit is the high quality of the MDF parts that are supplied. It's no secret that all of the previous PhlatBoyZ kits have been professionally CNC-cut by a commercial CNC house that they have contracted. Well, not this kit! The PhlatBoyZ have made purchase of their own commercial-grade CNC machine and have begun the transition of bringing all production in-house, with this being the first kit to be totally under their control! What did this mean to me? I immediately noticed a BIG improvement in the quality of the parts in this kit over the parts supplied with my previous two machines (Original PhlatPrinter and PhlatPrinter MKII). I'm not saying that the other two machines had poorly cut parts (those machines went together perfectly), I just noticed that the parts were more “crisply” cut (no fuzzing or rounded edges) and there was almost no dust on the parts! Knowing Mark as I do, this begs the question “Just how far off is he from washing his hands every 5 minutes and having to count every book in the bookcase?”. Seriously though, when Mark and Trish have total control over everything they sell, their OCD benefits us all!

    The instructional video supplied is about 2 hours in length. That would indicate that it would take the average builder about that amount of time to pull off his or her own build, right? Well, I watched the video the night before my assembly in it's entirety. The next afternoon, I knocked out the build in 1 hour, 13 minutes flat! The build is straightforward and very easy, even though the build method is unlike anything I've done before. On this kit, there is not a lot of gluing like on the previous “Phlat” products. Most of the assembly is done with these small bolts and little square nuts that fit precisely in these little rectangular-shaped cut-outs. It's very neat, indeed!

    I expect that the “PhlatClub” will come up with a host of modifications to their machines (just like what has been done with the other two products in the line), but I could only come up with two possible improvements:

    1. Before putting the forming deck seal onto the waffle plate, you are instructed to use a paper towel and some alcohol to clean the surface of dust or any other possible contaminate to promote the best bond of the seal material. In addition to this, I mixed up some wood glue (provided) with an equal part of water and painted a thin coat on that "seal channel" surface of the MDF. Once dry, you have a smoother and slightly harder surface for the seal's adhesive to stick to. This is probably not really necessary, but it's a trick I learned ages ago so I figured, what the heck.

    2. Not really a “mod”, but more of a “bling”. LOL I took a paint pen (black) and colored the tops of the “phlatformer” engraving on the front of the machine. Again, this is probably not really necessary , but I figured – no, wait! It WAS necessary 'cause it just looks BETTER now! LOL

    Now to answer all of those questions posed in my first paragraph. When I try to fathom all of the wheel pants, canopies, and various other parts that I've been forced to purchase over the years, I probably could have easily bought a half-dozen of these machines. I've been in this hobby for almost three decades and I do't plan on quitting anytime soon, so I feel that the monies I've spent for this machine are very well spent. As far as justifying the machine's expense to the wife, well, after explaining to her what it does, she's already got dibs on it for making polystyrene molds for the little concrete "things" that she makes and passes off for "arts and crafts". LOL Nuff said!

    So I guess that's it. The PhlatFormer is an inexpensive solution to putting a vacuum-former in your own workshop. It's easy to build, even easier to use, and fits in with the PhlatBoyZ Mission Statement that applies to everything they sell – Affordable Machines That Bring Manufacturing To Every American's Workshop!


    Footprint Open: 16”W x 32”L x 8”H

    Footprint Closed: 16”W x 23”L x 8”H

    Maximum Height: 15” (frame at highest point)

    Weight: approx 10 lbs

    Sheet Size Required: 12” x 12” (yielding 10” x 10” forming area)

    What all is included?

    EVERYTHING except the heat source and the Vacuum. In addition to having everything required to build the kit, you get the Universal Tool Attachment for hooking up any size hose your vacuum comes with, 15 sheets of 0.020” white polystyrene and 5 sheets of 0.020” clear Polyester (all to get you started!), a foot-pedal on/off switch for your vacuum, and even a pair of gloves to keep your hands safe while handling hot plastic!


    PhlatBoyz PhlatFormer - http://www.phlatboyz.com/phlatstore/#ec ... uct=635294

    Shop-Vac Used - http://www.lowes.com/pd_215726-20097-93 ... dentifier=

    Rival 11” Skillet - http://www.walmart.com/ip/Rival-11-Elec ... t/10598475

    TheCrashCast Episode 68 (Podcast Review) - http://thecrashcast.com/index.php?post_id=612990

    My Original Review - http://allthingscrash.com/index.php?opt ... &Itemid=63 Attached files [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] _files/19718=7026-IMGP0480.JPG" class="gc-images" title="IMGP0480.JPG" style="max-width:300px" /> [​IMG] [​IMG]
  2. kram242

    kram242 Administrator Staff Member

    Trophy Points:
    :mrgreen: Mike you are AWESOME! :mrgreen:
    Thank you so much brother!
    Mark and Trish

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