Thermoform Machines for Industry versus Tactile GraphicsGerald Nordstrom
A thermoforming machine used for tactile graphics for the blind is a specialized device used to create raised shapes, diagrams, maps and more that can be felt by touch. These graphics are used to help blind and visually impaired individuals understand and interpret information that would otherwise be presented visually.
The process of creating tactile graphics using a thermoforming machine involves several steps. First, an object such as a key, a coin or any object that is less than 1.5″ in height is placed upon the Thermoform machines bed. The film is then placed in the thermoforming machine and on-top of the object. The top lid is then closed down upon the object and this lid applies heat and pressure to the film, causing it to conform to the shape of the raised areas of the object. The resulting tactile graphic can be felt and interpreted by touch.
Many educational institutions and businesses will create a large scale production by creating a map say of a country on a metal sheet. That sheet is placed into the thermoform tray, a sheet of thermoform paper placed on-top and then processed. The metal sheet acts like a template allowing for quick, accurate and high volume production of the map. Maps of countries, cities and even maps with directions such as at a university information center are excellent uses of a thermoforming machine for the blind or visually impaired.
Thermoforming machines used for this type of tactile graphics differ from traditional thermoforming machines used in manufacturing industries in several ways. One of the main differences is simply the size of the machines. An American Thermoform machine comes in two sizes one with a tray that is 8×11 and another that is 11″x17″ in both cases these machines have a maximum depth of approximately 1.5 inches. A thermoform machine used in manufacturing could potentially be used to create an imprint of a large part such as a door handle, a large gear or similar. These machines are mainly used to create prototypes. Another industrial application is in packaging. Electronics or other fragile parts might be placed in a thermoform machine which packages the unit using a cushioning material.
This brings out the final point.
A thermoform machine used for tactile graphics uses a specialized thin and flexible plastic material called Brailon. An industrial application thermoform machine may use a wide variety of materials including thick plastics and metals.
Additionally, the types of materials used in thermoforming machines for tactile graphics are often different from those used in other industries. Tactile graphics are typically created using a special film that is sensitive to heat and pressure, whereas other industries may use a wider range of materials such as plastics, metals, or composite materials.
Another important difference is the design of the machine itself. Thermoforming machines for tactile graphics are often smaller and more specialized than traditional thermoforming machines, with features such as adjustable heat and pressure settings, and the ability to produce smaller runs of customized graphics. These features are essential for creating high-quality tactile graphics that meet the specific needs of the blind and visually impaired community.