The New York-based International Molded Fiber Association (IMFA) says new 3D printing-related tooling technology from California-based HP could bring new opportunities to the molded fiber (or molded pulp) industry.
Demand for molded fiber packaging has been increasing this century, says IMFA, “and more recently has exploded,” adds the association. Manufacturing technology has followed somewhat, except for the key aspect of tooling, says IMFA.
“Almost all global molded fiber product producers currently use the same tooling of 3D machined metal, with extensive drilling and difficult metal screening,” according to IMFA. It describes the current tooling process as costly and as requiring long delivery times for products. “Tooling (molds) has been a manufacturing pain point for many years in spite of many attempted improvements,” the association states.
The association worked with HP, which IMFA says saw an environmental sustainability-related opportunity to apply is sophisticated technology to the tooling issues in the molded fiber industry. HP engaged in a year-long project to understand the molded fiber process and conduct engineering studies and production testing. The result is HP Molded Fiber Advanced Tooling Solution, which IMFA calls the “first new functional tooling advancement in the molded fiber industry in decades.”
The HP Molded Fiber Advanced Tooling Solution incorporates lightweight tooling components using HP 3D printing and digital manufacturing technology and software capabilities. The new process creates the mold body with integrated fluid transfer ports (thus, no drilling); includes a preformed screen with special performance characteristics; and offers the capability to easily change screens, IMFA says.
“Both manufacturers of molded fiber packaging and their customers will benefit from HP’s new breakthrough technology by way of significant manufacturing efficiencies, product feature opportunities, and packaging product quality,” states IMFA.
IMFA Executive Director Emeritus Joseph Grygny says, “HP Advanced Molded Fiber Tooling Solution [is] an entirely new way to manufacture molds (tooling) using 3D multijet fusion technology. This new tooling technology was revealed for the first time at the IMFA virtual International Molded Fiber Conference on Sept. 23, 2020.”
On its website, IMFA describes molded pulp as a “strong and environmentally friendly protective material [that is] typically made from recycled paperboard and/or newsprint [and] is widely used for packaging solutions.”