How 3D Printing Is Disrupting the Packaging Industry

How 3D Printing Is Disrupting the Packaging Industry

By Marija Jovic

In recent years, there has been a lot of interest and research in 3D printing and how it will change the packaging industry. This article covers the many parts of packaging, from prototyping to manufacturing, that have been and will be affected and enhanced by 3D printing technologies.

Rapid Prototyping

3D printing can accelerate early-stage product development through rapid prototyping. It helps companies design several molds so that prototypes can be manufactured quickly and economically. Thus, 3D printing technologies can rapidly expedite the time and cost it takes to bring a product to market.

Using 3D printing to fabricate single parts or a limited number of parts is cheaper than using standard plastic processing techniques like injection molding, thermoforming and blow molding. With 3D printing, one can go from a CAD blueprint to a complete part in a matter of days or, potentially, hours. As part count increases, however, standard technologies become much more economical compared to 3D printing.

Revolutionizing Packaging Machinery

3D printing will also impact packaging machinery manufacturers. For example, 3D printing can be used for printing robotic arms used in production. Additionally, the parts will be lighter than more traditional ones, and at the same time be more powerful with the right choice of material and printing method.

Making spare parts for machinery will be revolutionized as well, by making them on the spot, instead of being supplied all around the globe. Instead of shipping replacement parts, companies will be selling the packaging machine together with a software package for the end user to 3D print out any spare part needed on site at their manufacturing plant.

Custom and Personalized Packaging

With the current and future trend of making everything more custom-made (like personalized medicine for example), it is not surprising that manufacturing technologies such as 3D printing will be of high importance. The technique allows customers to design and make their own highly customized packages on request. Individual packaging designs can be manufactured specifically in accordance with customer wishes and various design prototypes can be produced running efficiently.

The trend of personalized packaging is particularly relevant for the food and beverage industry, where personalized gifts such as cakes and drinks are valued.

Reducing Plastic Waste Pollution

3D printing can also help companies make more environmentally friendly packaging. Plastic waste pollution is a huge problem, but with 3D printing, plastic waste can be cleaned, dried, shredded, extruded into a printable filament that can be recycled into a 3D printer for a new product. As more sustainable bioplastic materials are used, the adoption of 3D printing in packaging manufacturing may truly help save the environment. Generating less waste is not only environmentally friendly but economical as well.

How Will 3D Printing Change the Market?

Trends like these will power the growth of 3D printed market valued at $5 billion in 2015 to $60 billion in 2026. Per data cited by Packaging Digest and Smithers Pira, the market for 3D printing is set to reach $49 billion by 2025.

And according to a PWC’s survey, 70 percent of companies surveyed believe that 3D printing will soon be used for obsolete parts and 57 percent believe it will be used for after-market parts. The study also revealed that 66.7 percent of manufacturers are adopting 3D Printing in some capacity and that within the next three years, 24.7 percent plan to adopt 3D Printing for some kind of use. Only 9 percent reported they had no plans to use 3D Printing in any way. A similar 2015 survey was made by Packaging Digest, trying to understand the extent of incorporation of 3D printing in the packaging industry a year ago. They found that over one-third of respondents were already using 3D printing for product packaging and the others plan to do so in the near future.

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