What inspired John Truman Tan to create his own desktop thermoformer? He explains, “As an industrial designer, making stuff is my trade. I’m always experimenting with new ways to make things. One of the techniques I’ve relied upon is vacuum forming. It allows me to try different shapes and replicate designs very quickly. It’s a ninja skill which I thought every maker should possess. And seeing how 3D printing broke into the scene and kicked off a new age of invention and creativity, I felt the time for a personal vacuum former is right.”
Industrial designer John Truman Tan has been described as a “lifelong maker and tinkerer.” And rightly so.
Well, John is one guy I know who willfully, willingly, uncoerced by parents took up Mathematics in college. When he shifted his focus to product design, that was when the man began taking on projects after projects — the latest of which, and the most impressive so far, is his desktop vacuum forming machine or thermoformer (a world’s first, mind you). The machine goes by the name of Vaquform.
“It uses heat and a vacuum to shape flat sheets of plastic over a mold to make 3D shapes,” describes Tan. “ Think of it as 3D printing but much faster.”
Thermoforming is actually old technology, he adds. Its fruits are all around us, surrounding us in our day-to-day existence: from plastic cups and containers, to hot tubs and fridge interiors.
He says, “The machines are expensive, expensive to run, and enormous — so it’s always been an exclusively industrial process. Our achievement was in making a thermoformer that is as small and as easy to use as a copier.”
John took his amazing Vaquform machine to the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas (the world’s largest tech expo) early this year as well as to Maker Faire in San Mateo, California, which is the “largest celebration of invention, creativity, curiosity and hands-on learning that is inspiring the future.”
“CES was big,” gushes Tan. “What an experience and an honor it was to exhibit alongside industry giants and other wide-eyed startups such us ourselves. It would’ve been nice to see other Filipinos there, though. We were the only one as far as we could tell. Korea had its own section, Taiwan, Japan, and Israel, too. Even Egypt had its own row of startups.”
He surmises that maybe Filipino founders are too focused on the domestic market, forgetting there’s a bigger market to be served out there. Or it could be that startup networks elsewhere have better support.
“As awesome as CES was, Maker Faire was the big success for us,” he says. “It was our crowd. This was ‘The Show’ for makers by makers, smack in the middle of Silicon Valley no less. We didn’t have to explain what vacuum forming was to anyone. The chorus from the attendees upon seeing the Vaquform was ‘Finally!’”
John and his team took home the Editor’s Choice award at Maker Faire, which he claims “is the equivalent of being knighted by the maker community.”
Vaquform the company also participated in this year’s Art Fair Philippines at The Link. John and his team collaborated with one of the artists who mounted an exhibition at AFP 2018.
“We like doing projects that people go ‘You can do that?’” he explains. “So we jumped at the chance to Vaquform art pieces. It was great to see an artist assemble toys and found objects in a composition, change his mind, and try something else. It was like sketching but in 3D. It was certainly a departure from the usual process of carefully designing a mold and then making multiple copies. This was the opposite — trying many variations to end up with one.”
CES, Maker Faire, Art Fair Philippines… check, check, check. John — like every restless inventor and tinkerer who has ever roamed the earth — already has his sights on The Next One.
“Aside from continuously improving the software, we’re also focused on how to evolve the key innovation that made it possible to reduce the overall size of the machine — our patent-pending hybrid vacuum system.”
Tan also hopes to develop new thermoformable “green” materials. Realizing his company could potentially be responsible for putting more plastic into the environment, sustainability is a very big concern for Vaquform as a company. “There will be a shift to environmentally-neutral materials. We want to play an active part in it.”
What other offbeat projects would John Truman Tan like to take on?
“Special effects, animatronics, sculptural soap molds, designer concrete pavers, restaurant lighting — these are just the things I could come up with on the spot. If any of your readers would like to try out their ideas, they’re more than welcome to reach us.”
For information, visit https://www.vaquform.com or follow https://www.facebook.com/vaquform/.