3D printing for packaging production

Photo: Messe Düsseldorf, Constanze Tillmann
Photo: Messe Düsseldorf, Constanze Tillmann

Considering that 3D printing techniques can offer pioneering opportunities and solutions, and  taking into account that technological developments have a major impact on packaging, 3D printing must effect packaging production, but how exactly?

It was this question I asked myself that got me researching in what ways the packaging industry utilises 3D printing techniques in their production process. And it is interesting to see the packaging industry is asking the same question. interpack for example – the processes and packaging trade fair that is this year organised on 4–10 May in Düsseldorf, Germany – is closely following the developments of 3D printing in the packaging industry.

From my research regarding the packaging industry I learned that at the moment additive manufacturing techniques are mainly used for designing and prototyping new concepts. This is exactly one of the major strengths of 3D printing: providing users with design freedom and the ability to rapidly produce a 3D model, which means it makes sense packaging production companies are using am for this.

Coveris invest in 3D printing

Coveris for example is a company that invests in 3D printing technology. The UK-based packaging solutions provider is installing a 3D printing system at its Centre for Development & Innovation (CDI) in County Durham. The 3D printing system will be used in the design and development process and can produce single mock-ups of design concepts as well as precise rapid prototypes of rigid packaging design proposals.

3D printed smart caps add value to the packaging product

In addition to designing and prototyping, additive manufacturing opens up novel opportunities for professionals in the packaging industry to add value to existing packaging products. Very interesting for example are 3D printed smart caps that indicate the shelf life of a beverage. By shaking or tilting the pack, the beverage gets in contact with the cap in which wireless sensors measure the number of bacteria in the suit to indicate whether the content is still suitable for consumption. By the way, 3D printing (micro)electronics is a fascinating field that opens up numerous possibilities for several industries.

Challenges and drawbacks of 3D printing for packaging

Whilst the additive manufacturing community is working successfully on increasing the speed of 3D printers and 3D printing techniques, the additive manufacturing technology is still slow compared to other manufacturing techniques. This effectively means that mass production of large-volume packaging products for immediate use is not something you would want to do with 3D printing at this moment.

Using 3D printing in the design and prototyping stage of packaging products however is a logical choice, and can lead to novel solutions that add value to existing packaging products. Investing in a high-quality 3D printer is still quite costly though. And what also needs to be taken into consideration is that time and money have to be invested in the training of people that are going to operate the 3D printers.

Towards 3D printed packaging products?

As for the actual production of packaging using 3D printing – apart from 3D printed packaging for a limited edition of a product – additive manufacturing is still too time consuming and costly for mass production, at least when it comes to large-volume packaging products. However, since one-off pieces can be produced effectively and at low cost, why not use 3D printing to design and produce a truly individualised packaging, which means taking it even one step further than a limited edition. For luxury products as well as for special gifts, my bet is this would really add value to a product.

But these are all my thoughts and I prefer to hear from you, so are you working in the packaging production industry, or are you a 3D printing expert with a clear view on the added value of 3D printing technology for the packaging industry?  Then I would love to hear your thoughts on the use of 3D printing in the packaging industry; feel free to drop me an email.