A vacuum press is a type of press used in lamination applications. With the help of heat generated by thermal fluid and hydraulic power, vacuum presses lend the force and air removal services needed to laminate or veneer a variety of materials, including both two and three dimensional products. Vacuum systems do not just compress the air entrapped between materials; rather, they remove it, and in doing so, they guarantee an airtight seal and make sure that no air will become reanimated during the course of the product’s lifetime.
In addition, they completely remove volatiles and achieve high psi (pounds per square inch) ratings. Commonly found in industrial manufacturing facilities and in workshops, industries that make use of vacuum presses include medical processing, electronics, construction and furniture.
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Types of Vacuum Presses
Vacuum presses come in several forms, from simple sealable bags accompanied by a vacuum generator, to heavy, standalone machinery, to equipment that is part of an inline conveyor system.
- Fliptop Table Vacuum Press
- A common type of standalone vacuum press is the fliptop tables, which is a table that close onto the product being pressed. This type of vacuum press primarily serves flat panels and low profile curved woodwork. To laminate or veneer, operators lower the frame, lock the table latches and turn on the vacuum. Once the vacuum is turned on, atmospheric pressure will automatically seal filter gaskets to the table and apply pressure to the product. Fliptop table vacuum presses may come with both a frame and a table base or only a frame. Those who purchase the latter are expected to build their own table. A vacuum generator can most easily be found in the form of a literal generator, complete with switch controls, gauges and valves, a manual Venturi generator or a rotary vane vacuum pump.
- Portable Vacuum Press
- Small and portable vacuum presses can be found in small workshops. Also, some presses consist of a welded, leak-free vacuum chamber that allows for lamination at lower pressures. This feature improves the quality of some products. Regardless of their configuration, the vacuum level of most vacuum presses is controlled by a vacuum transducer or gauge, which is frequently turn-key operated for greater control.
- Industrial Vacuum Press
- Many large, industrial vacuum presses are fully automated by CNC technology and therefore able to not only direct operations, but collect and store data and archive and generally keep track of information. These types of vacuum presses are also frequently integrated into facility operations as part of a continuous process and may include not only conveyors but also heating and cooling systems and loading and unloading systems.
Process of Vacuum Pressing
Though the description of lamination likely brings the image of common paper lamination to mind, the capabilities of vacuum presses go far beyond that. Remember that, essentially, vacuum presses create a vacuum, where the enormous weight of atmospheric pressure uniformly bears down on whatever is inside the press, and where the air is pulled out the air in the cells of the surface structure.
Vacuum pressing is a fairly efficient procedure; generally, each lamination run takes between five and seven minutes, but multiple products may be formed during these runs. Vacuum presses may be equipped with a variety of accessories to further assist their application. Possible accessories include high temperature silicone membranes, evacuation materials, foam, pumps, connection ports, extra connect tubing, tubing connectors, vacuum clamps, bag manifolds, stem plugs and more. Vacuum forming is a simplified version of thermoforming, and because it deals with such high temperatures, it is important that all procedures surrounding it be treated with care.
Applications for Vacuum Pressing
This powerful tool has many applications. Vacuum presses can be used, for instance, to bond foam insulation and aluminum sheets. By pressing particle board, which is made of compressed wood chips and shavings, onto the surface exterior as a veneer, vacuum presses can also give wood-like finishings to various pieces of furniture. In doing so, items like doors, office furniture and kitchen cabinets can have the look of real wood without bearing the weight or the price tag of real wood. Similarly, they can be used to apply plastic laminate to tabletops and countertops.
Other Applications for vacuum pressing are:
- Musical Instrument Parts
- Solar Panels
- Silicone Heaters
- Electronic Materials
- Decorative Laminates
- Honeycomb Panels Used in Building Construction
- Printed Circuit Boards
Proper Care for Vacuum Presses
Those who utilize the services of vacuum presses must make sure that their vacuum presses are in compliance with the standards put forth by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), as well as the safety and quality regulations of any other organization to which they are beholden.