As the “Black Panther” premiere drew near, PepsiCo put the finishing touches on a special promotional kit and sent it out to hundreds of online influencers and others involved with the creation of the movie. Developed by PepsiCo and Marvel Studios, the limited-edition kit consisted of five cans representing each of the movie’s main characters, a Samsung tablet, comic books, behind-the-scenes photos, a light up carton with HiLight smart LEDs, and a 3D-printed Black Panther mask that fit onto the corresponding can.
Andrew Phinney, a, R&D packaging engineer at PepsiCo said the full kit was conceptualized, engineered, and produced in less than six months to align with the movie release and holistic marketing campaign. Protolabs’ quick turnaround times enabled them to meet their ambitious deadlines.
“Much of this kit was inspired by the costumes and characters from the movie,” said Phinney. “This was an exciting opportunity for us to incorporate new technologies to develop unique textures, graphics, dimensional elements, and lighting to bring the kit to life.”
Phinney led the technical development of the 3D-printed mask, which was designed in-house by PepsiCo’s Design and Innovation team. He works cross-functionally at PepsiCo’s Design and Innovation Center in Manhattan, New York to scout and apply new technologies to packaging concepts.
Low volumes of highly complex parts
The primary challenge in developing the replica Black Panther mask was determining how to best manufacture the part. The design team sought a manufacturing approach that could produce complex geometry economically at low volumes, since they would only need to manufacture 250 parts in total. These requirements led them to 3D printing.
“Given the detailed features on the mask and the relatively low volumes of parts, we knew early on that 3D printing was going to be the most suitable manufacturing process for this project,” Phinney explained.
In-house fused deposition modeling (FDM) machines were used for early-stage prototypes to alter the original mask design to align with the artwork on the can and remain secure during shipping. Once these small modifications were made, they began assessing various 3D printing technologies for higher quality prototypes and eventually production.
The design team considered five technologies: selective laser sintering (SLS), stereolithography (SL), PolyJet, continuous liquid interface production (CLIP), and Multi Jet Fusion (MJF). Ultimately, the team decided to build parts with SLS, CLIP, and MJF to better understand each processes’ capabilities and determine what would be best for the project.
Adapting the design of the plastic test fixtures for insert molding required minor tweaks. The changes were made on feedback from Protolabs’ design for manufacturability (DFM) analysis and a conversation with a Protolabs engineer.
Multi Jet Fusion meets the mark
After evaluating the physical prototypes produced by three 3D printing technologies, the team chose to move forward with MJF due to its low cost, surface finish quality, and resolution, which precisely replicated the fine features in the mask design.
“When we received the Multi Jet Fusion part it was clear that this technology was going to meet the cosmetic requirements we outlined at the beginning of the design process,” said Phinney. “Not only did the part look great, but it was also the most affordable process among the final three technologies we considered.”
He went on to explain that durability was another factor that led them to choose MJF. “Since the can was meant to be a collector’s item, we wanted a part that could last 10 to 20 years,” he noted.
With final parts in hand, the promotional kit was assembled and put through the company’s distribution testing to ensure it could withstand the rigors of shipping. After a series of vibration and compression tests as well as drops, they found the mask remained secured on the can and were assured the kit would arrive in its intended configuration.
Proto Labs Inc.
Marvel and Black Panther are registered trade names of Marvel Characters, Inc.