3D Printing Within the Packaging Process – a Hindrance or a Help?

The evolution of 3D printing has made as much of an impact on industries as the smartphone did over a decade ago. 3D printing technology has become an incredibly influential component in many industries. The 3D packaging industry was valued at $12.6 billion in 2020 and is expected to grow by 70% up to 2023. 3D printing for the packaging development process has become a boon for development in every industry catering to the modern markets. But is 3D printing within the packaging process a hindrance or a help?

How 3D Printers Help Industries

The average packaging engineer needs a 3D printer as part of their arsenal. There are a number of benefits to having 3D printers throughout the entire packaging process.

Simplified Design Conceptualization

Visualisation is crucial, especially for customers and clients who struggle to see what the final product would look like. 3D printing enables designers to create prototypes that simulate what the final product will look like. When we are addressing more complex structural designs in the packaging industry, it is important to have a product sample for reference as this helps everybody to see the bigger picture. 

Is a Convenient Method for Prototyping

The conceptualisation process is crucial to the final product, and ensuring the packaging fits appropriately. But in industries, access to the product is not always feasible. Numerous products can go through many different forms before the final, customer-ready product is available. But as structural design for the packaging starts very early in the development phase, 3D printing becomes the saviour to allow printers to create a standard prototype of the final product so it can be used while formulating the packaging design and concept.

It Helps With the Costing Process

During the launch of a new product, the art of development and packaging design comes together, and planning for the product and package designed the production to anticipate a final cost solution because easier. 3D printing allows packaging specialists to anticipate the needs for relevant costing for the desired client.

Shorter Lead Times in the Supply Chain

3D printing has helped reduce the time for companies to sketch out a basic idea through to the final product being shipped out. A 3D printed prototype is similar to the final product, making it a far easier idea to communicate, and has significant benefits over its 2D counterpart. It also becomes beneficial as it allows relevant parties to print a working prototype of the product.

Reduces Wastefulness

3D printing is an amalgamation of the digital into the prototyping and manufacturing process. When the technology is used internally, it can provide a significant saving in time and money, allowing companies to better invest in other areas of their product. 3D printing is a very economical practice, especially when you consider the materials used in the process. It can save energy in comparison to production lines using a significant amount of electricity and energy.

The Downsides of 3D Printing

There are a number of drawbacks to 3D printing technology. It is important to be aware of the specific limitations. 

A Limited Scope of Materials

3D printing can create items in a variety of plastics and metals, but the selection of raw materials is not exhaustive. Not all metals or plastics can have their temperature controlled to allow the process of effective 3D printing. Additionally, a lot of these principal materials are not environmentally friendly.

Potential for Design Inaccuracy

While this is directly related to the type of process on the machine used, some 3D printers have a lower tolerance, resulting in the final parts being different from the original design. While this can be fixed in post-processing, which can involve methods such as sanding, water jetting, heat drying, and others, consider that this may elongate the process resulting in delays and increased costs.

A Restricted Build Size

3D printers comprise small print chambers, which can restrict the size of parts to be printed. If you need to print a larger item, you may need to print it in separate parts and join the composites together after the production, resulting in increased time and costs.

Is 3D printing within the packaging process a hindrance or a help? The important thing to recognise when choosing 3D printing as a process is it has significant potential for numerous design capabilities and quality, not to mention clarity throughout the production process. However, there are significant investments upfront. But make no mistake, 3D printing is fast becoming the frontrunner in the packaging industry.