Saturday, 20 July 2024

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3D Printing in The Packaging Industry

3D printing, or additive manufacturing, is the process of making three-dimensional, solid objects from a digital file. The creation of a 3D printed object is achieved using additive processes. In an additive process, an object is created by laying down successive layers of material until the object is created. Each of these layers can be seen as a thinly sliced cross-section of the object. Today, there are many different printing technologies, like Stereolithography, Fused Deposition Modelling, Digital Light Processing, Selective Laser Sintering, Selective Laser Melting, and Laminated Object Manufacturing, that allow the printing of a wide range of objects.

IMAGE 1: 3D Printing (

The first investigations about 3D printing were in Japan and France, but the lack of financing prevented its development. It was in 1983 when the American Charles W. Hull, better known as Chuck Hull, created the first 3D printed piece through the process known as stereolithography. The following year he patented printing using this system, and in 1986 he founded 3D Systems, the first 3D printing company. The first commercial 3D printer, the SLA-1 (stereolithography apparatus), was released into the market in 1987.

IMAGE 2: SLA-1 3D Printer (

Nowadays, countless products are manufactured through various 3D printing technologies. However, they are not only used to manufacture final products (those used directly by the consumer), but also serve as a great support in the intermediate stages of design and production processes.

IMAGE 3: 3D Printing for paper and pulp packaging (

An example of this is its application in the packaging industry, where this technology is used in evaluation stages such as prototyping. In this phase, models of the packaging are manufactured with 3D printing, which is evaluated and corrected, if necessary, before proceeding with the final production. This has made it possible to reduce the time between the design stage and the production stage, since prototypes are obtained in short periods, on a real scale, fully functional, and without the need to manufacture expensive molds. In this way, an exhaustive evaluation of the product can be carried out in different aspects.

IMAGE 4: Prototypes in GrabCAD print (

The product is evaluated in terms of its dimensions, proportions, capacity, filling, occupation, covers, and assemblies between pieces. Even the graphic applied to the product is evaluated to have an idea of how it works together with the form. The characteristics of the relationship between packaging and user, anthropometric and ergonomics (easiness of grip and transfer), are also valued, and most importantly, the consumer's perception of the packaging is evaluated, and whether the expected results are recognized.

This complete analysis of the prototype provides very valuable information to validate the design and visualize the details that need to be improved. Doing this early prevents you from reinvesting later, where costs are higher and there is less chance of making amends.

IMAGE 5: 3D line of cosmetics packaging (

Benefits of 3D-Printed Packaging

A Michigan Technological University study revealed that it takes 41 to 64% less energy to 3D print an item than to manufacture it overseas and ship it to the United States. The reduction of costs and production time to create packaging and the reduction of the amount of plastic in packaging designs without interfering with the quality of the product are some of the main benefits of using 3D printing. Therefore, many companies like L'Oréal, UPS, and FedEx are investing in 3D printing facilities.

Besides the ecological benefits, additive manufacturing helps the companies to be more competitive, and allow them to offer personalized packaging for customers.

IMAGE 6: Eco-friendly containers (

Many companies are innovating their packaging line in near real-time. One such company is tForm, which is creating rapid solutions for the medical, industrial, electronics, and automotive industries with thermoformed packaging using recyclable material, combining CAD, 3D modeling, 3D printing, mold designs, and lean manufacturing techniques. Another company is Knurls, which produces 3D printing packaging using materials like plastic, metal, and ceramic.

IMAGE 7: 3D printed packaging (,cg:true,m)

Plastic waste can be cleaned, shredded, and extruded into a printable filament that can be recycled into a 3D printer for a new product. 3D printed packages can also be made utilizing bioplastics for sustainability. SmartCups, a company in California, even created 3D-printed biodegradable cups with energy drink ingredients encapsulated within the cup itself.

IMAGE 8: Recycling scheme for 3D printing materials (

Cost Challenges

3D packaging has unfolded new scenarios for innovative packaging ideas. However, the cost is one of the most important limitations. While the prices of 3D printers have decreased, mass 3D packaging is still not as inexpensive as traditional packaging. Consumers are demanding more and more personalization in the products they use, and 3D printing companies like Stratasys are innovating to satisfy these demands. Stratasys 3D Printers such as J826™, J835™, and J850™ 3D printers are especially great for vivid realistic packaging.

IMAGE 9: Stratasys J8 Series 3D Printers (


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