A 3D-printing expert discusses the packaging-specific uses and benefits of using the technology in this Packaging Digest exclusive.
Paul Palovich is vice president of Printing 3D Parts, Inc., a three-year-old company based in Youngstown, OH. He is also a retired engineering manager from the automotive industry who has been involved in 3D printing since the mid-1980s. Pavolich shares his expertise and advice about 3D printing particularly for packaging applications in this Q&A.
Describe your company’s involvement in 3D printing.
Palovich: Printing 3D Parts, Inc. got its start more than three years ago when we began investigating the use of 3D printing technology in the packaging industry. As owner of Meridian Arts & Graphics, Ted Webb, co-owner of Printing 3D Parts, Inc., has been in the prepress and plate making business for more than 25 years.
Other industries, especially automotive, have been using 3D technology for rapid prototypes for more than 30 years. We realized the advantages of 3D printing for rapid container prototypes are not being utilized in the packaging industry.
It is paramount, however, that the 3D printed rapid prototype be an accurate representation of the container that will finally be in high volume production. We felt the textured parts printed with the tabletop 3D printers are more like trinkets than accurate prototypes. It took us more than a year to find the 3D printer that would meet our stringent requirements of part quality.
Finally, for complete concept visualization of a production container, Printing 3D Parts, Inc. applies a label with full color graphics and text.
What can you say about the 3D printers and polymers that your company uses?
Palovich: I am able to identify the technologies used, but not the specific names and models of our equipment. We have a robotic arm 3D scanner, a Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) 3D printer and a Multi Jet Printer (MJP) 3D printer, a label printer and a label application device. All equipment was installed more than a year ago.
Printed part quality was the major driver in the selection of the equipment purchased…namely the smoothness of the surface, dimensional accuracy and precision. Once labeled, most customers don’t realize our prototypes aren’t production containers until they hold them.
The 3D printed prototypes are made from an ABS [acrylonitrile butadiene styrene]-like plastic that can be painted, dyed or chrome plated. We chose this material for its rigid, stable and thermal-resistant properties.
A 3D printed and labeled cookie tin.
How has your company leveraged the technology?
Palovich: 3D printing is one of three technologies we have integrated to provide a rapid prototyping service to our customers. Printing 3D Parts, Inc. has the 3D scanning and 3D-printing technologies to create a rapid prototype of a concept container in weeks instead of months, with full color graphics and text…and without any tooling cost. A CAD file of the concept container/package is all that is needed.
However, if a CAD file does not exist, a 3D scan of an existing container can be made and modified to the customer’s specifications.
For complete concept visualization of an actual printed container/package, a full color shrink-wrapped label of our customer’s artwork can be applied to the 3D-printed prototype.
Any necessary design revisions can be made and incorporated in the next 3D-printed prototype.
How would you characterize the interest in 3D printing relative to packaging?
Palovich: The packaging industry hasn’t embraced the full benefits of 3D printing technologies as much as other industries have. We believe more education is needed so decision makers can understand the added value.
Next: Value, misconceptions and advice…