Making Molded Pulp Packages in Low Quantities with a Stratasys 3D Printer

Article by Rod Mackay updated December 30, 2013

3D Printed Mold and Part

A 3D Printed paper pulp mold tool and the resultant molded part

SML Group is a leading supplier of garment trim and various types of packaging. Based in China, the company operates over 30 facilities around the world, including the largest label factory in China. SML supplies major brands such as Adidas, American Eagle, Armani Exchange, Benetton, Brooks Brothers, Burberry, Eddie Bauer, Gap, Liz Claiborne, Macys, Marks & Spencer, Nautica, Next, Puma, Ralph Lauren, Target and Tommy Hilfiger.

Electronic device with molded packaging

Electronic device with molded packaging

In the past, SML was not able to compete in the molded pulp packaging market in the United States because the time and cost involved in making conventional metal tools made it impossible to provide a prototype to customers. Molded pulp packaging tools are normally made by machining a metal tool in the shape of a mirror image of the finished package. Holes are drilled through the tool and then a screen is attached to its surface. The tool is then immersed in a pulp slurry and a vacuum is drawn through the holes, pressing the slurry against the tool to form the package. The screen prevents the pulp from being drawn through the holes. With traditional methods it costs about $30,000 and takes two weeks to make a metal tool for a typical 10 inch by 12 inch (250 mm by 300 mm) package.

“We decided to work with Stratasys to see if it was possible to make a Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) tool,” said Jeremy Wolf, structural packaging designer for SML. The Stratasys RedEye service bureau worked with Wolf to provide a series of FDM tools in order to optimize the sparse pattern that allows a vacuum to be drawn through it. “The entire FDM tool is porous, which spreads the vacuum and produces a cleaner package with a better surface finish,” Wolf added.

We can now produce a 3D Printed tool for only $600 in about a week,” Wolf said. “At this price and lead time, we can easily make prototypes for companies that are interested in a molded pulp package. Prototypes are critical because OEMs often show them to retailers that they want to carry the product. FDM tooling can also be used for production in quantities up to 100,000 or so.”

“We have used FDM tooling to produce mold pulp packages for two customers, an electronics OEM and a retailer,” Wolf said. “FDM tooling has opened up exciting new business opportunities by making it practical to produce molded pulp packaging in low quantities that did not make sense in the past,” Wolf concluded.

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Rod Mackay

Rod has been using 3D CAD software for over 25 years and has trained thousands of designers to use their CAD systems more effectively. Rod is the Javelin Webmaster and is based in Ottawa, ON., Canada.