For packaging applications, form, fit and function are crucial to customer satisfaction. 3D printing, with paper as the material, delivers all three requirements.
Edited By Michael Jermann
Packaging design is a competitive business, and before you can win the job, the client has to like your concept. Realistic prototypes help the customer understand exactly what to expect when the final packaging is done.
A staple in modern packaging design is thin-walled molded pulp – think of it as refined egg-carton material. Some packaging can be made from bamboo pulp and sugar cane residue called bagasse. Just as an egg carton provides a hollow for each egg, these biopulp packaging elements include a hollow for each packaged part. Until recently, it’s been nearly impossible to provide the customer with a prototype whose texture resembles the molded pulp.
Plastic prototypes are fine for form and fit, but the look and feel is nothing like the final design. Each time designers and engineers present the plastic piece to a prospect or customer, they need to explain, “This is the general shape you’ll have but not the material.” That can derail a conversation, trouble a prospect, and scuttle a sale. Even if the sale moves forward, customers are confused again when they see a final product that’s very different from the prototype.
To solve this problem, an Mcor Matrix 3D printer was used to create realistic packaging prototypes from paper, which is closer in nature than plastic to the final product.
A 3D printer creates physical objects from computer-aided design models much as a 2D printer creates business letters from Microsoft Word files. SolidWorks CAD software was used to design product models and molds, and ArtiosCAD to design folding materials and boxes. The 3D printer, a Mcor Matrix, turns these electronic files into high-resolution physical models.
Mcor 3D printers are the only ones to use ordinary business paper as the build material, creating low-cost, durable and eco-friendly parts. Two important factors were the quality of the 3D printed prototypes and the business results achieved with the Matrix.
As a secondary benefit, the cost of a model is lower when made of paper instead of ABS plastic – about 5% of the cost. The parts cost less because the company is also a paper vendor and purchases its supplies at cost. These savings mean the 3D printer is getting heavy use in other areas, including making molds for thermoform packaging. The printer is also being used to create models of the products that need to be packaged so that engineers can design packaging around it. Sometimes the customer can’t provide the real thing and sends a CAD file instead.
The use of paper as the prototyping material is saving considerable time through 3D printing prototypes, molds and product models and is consequently improving customer time to market. Going to a supplier for these items would take weeks or months and cost thousands of dollars in design and production. If the customer requested a revision, it would be another round of time and money.
In yet another benefit, the entire process is green, using recycled paper as a raw material. When the prototype has seen its useful life, it’s completely recyclable. Though made of paper, Mcor models are durable, but with a soft, papery surface texture.