Using 3D printing, It only takes a few hours to create faithful prototypes from a variety of materials. Photograph: Pöppelman Famac
Creating a finished product – layer by layer
Giving shape to an idea
Apart from toolmaking, 3D printing is currently still largely used for the creation of prototypes in the packaging industry. Thanks to modern additive manufacturing, ideas can be turned into real products within a minimum of time now – all under the heading of Rapid Prototyping. Layer by layer, a 3D printer turns CAD files into three-dimensional one-to-one models within a matter of hours – models which are faithful to the original design.
Even complex structures can be recreated in this way, using a variety of materials. The important benefit of this method is that it allows an amazing speed of development. The ability to produce several variations and conduct numerous tactile tests is of enormous benefit to both product developers and customers. Further bonus points are undoubtedly also a highly flexible production process, being able to avoid unnecessary costs and delivering targeted support for project sales.
3D printers in the United States are now producing custom-dosed tablets – Photograph: Aprecia Pharmaceuticals
One Rapid Prototyping user is the family enterprise Pöppelmann Famac, whose packaging specialists have applied this additive production technique to create a carefully modernised packaging solution for the famous brand Bullrich Salz (a salt product for acid indigestion). The new method has greatly increased the functional benefits of the packaging, with rounded edges to improve its tactile qualities, better dosing with the help of a hinged lid and a pre-assembled resealable compartment at the bottom of the package, designed for a small container tube.
“Thanks to this modelling technique under Rapid Prototyping, we’ve managed to create a convincing result which is generally more functional, user-friendly, more modern and better looking – and yet recognisable,” says Rechtien, Sales Manager at Pöppelmann Famac. “In our development work, the solutions which benefit especially well under additive prototyping are any applications that are complex and unusual.”
Fast, flexible and cost-effective: 3D printing adds a fresh impetus to the world of packaging. Photograph: Pöppelman Famac
Stop prototyping – start production
Yet this modern manufacturing method is still used rather rarely for the final packaging itself. If at all, it is mainly used for single items. Manufacturers who benefit from such tailored solutions are largely those who make sensitive and fragile products.
In other industries this additive production method has gained in significance and is already being used for regular manufacturing purposes. “One major benefit, in particular, is that no tools are required, so that lead times are much shorter and it’s possible to explore new design options,” says Wiebke van der Veen, a consultant from the packaging development company pacproject.
“Stop prototyping – start production”: this is the slogan of a US start-up called Carbon. They have taken the whole idea one step further. Using 3D printing, the firm has developed a new type of sole for the sporting goods manufacturer Adidas.
Made by a 3D printer: perfect soles for running shoes – and we can already look forward to 3D production processes with even better bulk manufacturing qualities. Photo: adidas
The process involves 3D printers with a substantially accelerated printing speed, making it possible to produce larger quantities than in the past. Not long ago it took Adidas one and a half hours to receive a sole from a printer, whereas the new generation of 3D printers can now deliver within only 20 minutes. Speed has also had its effect on the price. In 2016 a pair of Adidas shoes created by a 3D printer was still a limited edition, costing EUR 300 and taking 10 hours to produce. Also, many customers found them too rigid and too heavy.
When it comes to personalisation – e.g. soles customised precisely for the shape of a person’s feet, their weight and their running style – we will eventually see advanced 3D printing techniques that allow lucrative mass-produced items, not just unprofitable small series. By the end of 2018 Adidas will have started selling 100,000 pairs of its high-performance Futurecraft 4D footwear. Other industries, too, are putting their hopes in this highly promising printing technology. Airbus, for instance, is now making components for its A350 in a 3D printing process.
Fancy some freshly printed pasta? Photograph: Barilla
Airbus, for instance, is now making components for its A350 in a 3D printing process. The serial production of titanium components started in 2016, with stainless steel added in mid-2016, and since 2017 the company has been printing its own aluminium components and spares. According to Airbus, cost savings can be as high as 90 per cent. Another interesting domain for 3D printing is the pharmaceutical industry. Aprecia Pharmaceuticals, for example, has been printing tablets for epilepsy patients since 2016. Unlike conventional drugs, these are specially customised to suit a person’s needs, while a highly porous preparation process ensures faster solubility.