7 programs for custom molded pulp trays

Table of Contents

The 7 programs for custom molded pulp trays include detailed steps from design to finishing, such as 3D modeling with CAD software, using recycled materials for sustainability, and adding biodegradable sealants for environmental safety.

Design Specification

Custom molded pulp trays are a niche product, and as such, designing them requires a focus on precise specifications matching the product’s intended use. Such specifications cover things like exact dimensions of the product in question and the kind of materials that should be used. This paper will describe necessary steps and decisions connected to designing a custom molded pulp tray that would hold a certain object securely.

The first step in determining a custom pulp tray required for a certain product is to ensure all measurements are accurate. For example, a smartphone packaging container might need to have a length of 160 millimeters, a width of 75 millimeters, and a depth of 10 millimeters. The choice, in this case, to determine the exact measurements ensures that the product will not move within the tray when transported, minimizing any chance of damage.

The next step is connected to the materials used and their environmental impact. The most popular type of paper tray is made from recycled material, but for other types of products it may be necessary to utilize sugar cane bagasse or even bamboo material, providing both the strength required and its environmentally-friendly biodegradable composition. Depending on the product, various useful design elements may be incorporated: for example, in the tray holding cosmetics one might expect to have a slot for a mascara, a small mirror, and a lipstick. Such an element, in addition to holding the objects and preventing them from sliding out and potentially spilling, will also enhance the consumer unboxing experience. Finally, once the design is complete, it is only necessary to determine what forces will be acting upon the tray and how to test if the design is indeed durable enough. In the case of a tray used for packing electronic devices, the tray should not deform at least up to 60 kilograms, ensuring the devices never feel pressure important enough to cause issues. As a final design parameter, the production speed should also be considered.

In the case of a low-volume tray like the one in question, the appropriate choice would be a high-complexity design, with a production speed of around three to four hundred units an hour. However, for something like a beverage tray, the production speed would be very fast, around 5000 units an hour. Finally, the cost also needs to be factored: making the design more complex with three-layer shapes or one with functionally useful elements will not raise the mold cost, but a design with two layers and one function will be significantly cheaper, around twenty percent. At a critical level, the cost needs to be considered to ensure the trays can be created en masse and sold to retailers. Overall, a perfect assertation of all these parameters is impossible, and the best possible solution is different for each individual product.


Material Selection

For custom molded pulp trays, selecting the right materials is essential to achieving the best performance, sustainability, and cost-effectiveness. This will impact the tray’s durability, recyclability, and the extent of protection it offers for the products inside. Various materials are used in molded pulp trays, the most common being recycled paper, sugarcane bagasse, wheat straw, and bamboo, though each possesses distinct properties that make it more suitable for one application than another.

  • Types of Materials Used in Molded Pulp Trays

    Common types of materials used in molded pulp trays are recycled paper. This is the most common material due to its low cost and widespread availability. Moreover, recycled paper provides enough strength for cantilevered components and is easily recyclable. Examples include trays that hold cosmetic products, as these are lightweight items that do not require particular robustness. Their production is, therefore, cheaper and has the lowest environmental impact.

    Sugarcane bagasse and bamboo are the second most common material for such trays, as they provide a higher level of moisture-resistant protection. This makes them suitable for food-packaging solutions as they can resist workings levels of humidity and grease. Takeout packaging should generally be moisture resistant, and in this case, travs used to transport meat-based foods are the best example.

    Bamboo offers higher robustness than other molded pulp trays, as even those made of bagasse can be dented by manually pressing them on the sides, i.e., the same amount of physical force would not yet dent a bamboo tray. The difference is not significant, but it provides a bit more physical impact resistance, which is important when the products are heavier. For example, a tray for an entry-level smartphone should be made of bamboo, as should a camera tray, as these items can be heavier. Suppliers generally state the equivalent tensile strength as a proportion of the weight a 13g bamboo tray can carry 20g with serious deformation, hence the company decided to consider the actual breaking point, making it 30%. Recycled paper trays, by comparison, break at around 20g and are significantly weaker.

  • Material Performance Comparison

    The performance comparison should be made based on several parameters: tensile strength and moisture resistance. The higher moisture resistance of bamboo and bagasse makes up for their higher cost. As the photos show, most trays break between 19g and 22g, with bamboo being the most durable, as it can carry up to 30% more weight than recycled paper trays. With pricing, recycled paper trays are also the cheapest to produce, around 15% cheaper than bamboo or bagasse, mainly because of cheaper raw materials and less processing being needed, as bamboo energy use in processing is higher. This makes only recycled paper entirely ecologically effective. If a company follows a zero waste or carbon neutrality initiative, it must choose the material with the lowest environmental impact.

  • Sustainability and Environmental Impact

    All materials are biodegradable and compostable, so they are not going to produce waste. However, the amount of energy required to develop bamboo and bagasse is higher than that of recycled paper and affects the carbon footprint. Surveys say that 62% of people are going to buy a product in a shop and have it packaged in an environmentally friendly box. This shows that the trend is pushing that way, but recycled paper is still the cheapest example of green packaging.

3D Modeling and Prototyping

The process of 3D modeling and prototyping is critical to the creation of efficient and effective custom molded pulp trays. This process allows the design and engineering teams to create a physical product that translates the abstract idea of a molded tray. The unique needs of each product are taken into consideration, and the resulting trays are suitable for their specific product. The design team typically uses advanced 3D modeling software, such as Autodesk Inventor or SolidWorks to create the models. These tools have advanced capabilities for simulating the physical properties of the trays, such as their strength and flexibility. For a tray that needs to hold a fragile item, such as a wine bottle, the designers might stress the model and see where the walls are weakest. The model might be adjusted to have thicker walls around the base and neck of the bottle.

These adjustments are easily made in the software, which gives the design team rapid feedback on suggested changes. The prototyping process takes significantly less time as a result. Changes that might have taken a full work week to weigh and other designer’s input can be evaluated in a few hours. This means the overall cycle time for creation can be reduced by as much as 50%. Manufacturing samples of trays might include using 3D printers or CNC machining to create physical samples from the models. Early, test runs of the mold are critical, and manufacturers test both the functional and “feel” characteristics of the trays with their intended product.

After the testing phase, the design team evaluates the final product and performs as many adjustments refining the product as they wish, always making sure they hit the necessary criteria for functionality. The feedback loop from these initial testing phases is critical. All such feedback is integrated into further modifications. The trays are subjected to the physical stresses and conditions they may encounter in the course of their life.

For trays for electronic packing, such as a laptop, such testing might include dropping the tray with the laptop from 1 meter above the ground. For cosmetic products, the tray might be rigorously tested to ensure easy opening. Such a failure can be diagnosed and rectified at this stage, when a change in the design model could save a company tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in tool adjustment later on. Early sampling can save as much as 30% in production costs, as engaging in multiple rounds of $30,000 tool manufacturing can be avoided if the tray proves unsatisfactory and the tool must be adjusted. Since products can be tested on a sub-production scale, only a few hundred dollars may be wasted if a longer sample line must be run on a certain tool.


Mold Creation

Mold creation is one of the central processes in the production of custom molded pulp trays that requires precision engineering and careful consideration of material suitable for the product. Some examples include the choice of materials such as aluminum, and the proper mold design to produce a cost-effective product. An integral part of the production process is selecting the correct material for the mold. Aluminum is the most commonly used material for these molds because of its high thermal conductivity. This material is lightweight, which reduces production costs, and its thermal conductivity allows for the rapid liquid drying of the pulp. Aluminum is also a machinable metal, which means that it can produce molds with smaller details. At the same time, since the production trays are often used in humid or wet conditions, molds made from this material are not long-lasting, which cannot be said about more expensive options with such as stainless steel. It is quite durable, resistant to corrosion and long-lasting, which increases its price. The first one is a technological limitation, that is, Stainless steel is much more difficult to machine, requiring more cost and time. On the other hand, the high cost is prohibitive for a one-time-use mold in the case of aluminum can reduce the overall cost by up to 20 without reducing functional demand . Mold design made using computer-aided design is also an part of efficient production. Nowadays, it is possible to model the shape of the mold using precise data of the mechanical parts of this mold, including its smoothness, which allows production of more precise molds with a minimum possible pulp usage. A better design also means more durable molds that do not need frequent reconstruction.

Mold construction is an essential part of mass production. Both the cost and the efficiency of the completion process depend on the choice of material and the quality of the design, which the highest standards require. Modern technology allows not only for more efficient production but also for better durability and lower loss of the product.

Manufacturing Process

The article provided will outline the general process of creating custom molded pulp trays. First and foremost, it is essential to introduce the nature of the trays. They are formed using a mix from natural cellulose fibers with water. The precise composition of the mixing as well as concentration, speed, and temperature of the drying process determine the shape, size, rigidity, and other parameters of the final product. The process seems simple but requires numerous control stages to achieve the desired outcome.

The first of these is to produce the pulp which is used. Materials ranging from recycled paper to sugarcane bagasse and virtually any other fibrous substance can be chosen – mixed with water in roughly a 55-to-45 proportion, these materials then undergo beating to produce the ‘slurry’. The slurry can achieve desired results when it has a decent amount of consistency and concentration – for instance, thicker mixture. Thus, it can provide better cushioning and protective capabilities. The next step is molding; the pulp produced is transferred into the molds in which the drying process will take place. The most common of such methodologies are vacuum forming, where “the suction force is applied to hold the pulp mass to the walls and features of the form and dry the pulp”, or press forming, where the press fits the mold perfectly closing it from all access. The vacuum finish is a method superior for creating the molds that require details such as ergonomic grips, the logo that is raised from the surface, and other. Then follows the drying process which is typically done with the heaters or other means of heating the final product to harden it.

Finally, the post-drying steps – the trays are aligned into the forms by trimming and cut-off to eliminate the most of the edges, and some might receive a coating, organic, biodegradable barrier that extends their lives wetness resistance. All the aforementioned steps are followed by quality control. The testing of each produced batch includes the measurements of such location factors as length, width, and height of the tray, resistance qualities of the tray trying to simulate the weight of the bottles they might be designed to contain in the final product, and aesthetic factors such as presence and quality of logos. The environmental impact of the process is minimized as the water’s used is kept and re-processed in the plant, new materials are made of biodegradable fibers and a barrier is only used if necessary, and the resulting product is green and can be recycled. The speeds in the whole process are very high, allowing for hundreds or thousands of trays made each hour.


Quality Control

Quality control in the manufacture of custom molded pulp trays is a crucial process that is implemented to ensure that each tray is strong, durable, and meets its required standards. The process involves a series of checks and tests that are used to verify the trays’ suitability for their intended uses, especially in the packaging of sensitive and valuable products. This paper will examine these tests and provide details on how they are conducted.

Material Inspection

The initial test involves the inspection and assessment of the raw materials to ensure that they meet the required standards to produce the trays. For example, the fibrous material used in the production, whether recycled paper or sugarcane bagasse, has to be inspected to ensure that it is free from any contaminants that may weaken the quality of the pulp. The moisture in the material is also measured, with the allowed content levels set between 5 and 7%. Such a range is required to moisture the pulp throughout the molding process to ensure that it is strong enough.

Accuracy of Dimensions

Dimensional accuracy of the trays is tested in each batch. For instance, a tray manufactured to package a series of cosmetics with bottles and brushes will be tested with these products to ensure that they fit properly without movements or deviations to avoid damages to other products while on transit. Precisely, the allowed tolerance should be within a few millimeters.

Physical Tests

Several physical tests are also performed to check the trays’ strength. Accordingly, cakes are loaded on the trays to apply 50 kg through compressors or any other appliance without any deformation. The trays are required to have the same integrity as when unbent. Impact resistance is also tested, especially for trays used to package electronics, and they are dropped at different heights to check their strength at different levels. PET bottles can drop while packaged in trays at 1.50 m from the ground. These tests are important to verify the trays’ strength to withstand all conditions during their uses.

Environmental Tests

Trays have to be exposed to varied environmental tests to ensure that they can be used in all companies worldwide. For example, they are loaded in a high-humid environment of 90% to ensure that they do not develop molds. They are also exposed to varied levels of temperatures to ensure that they remain in shape and do not become too brittle at low temperatures or too softs in very high ones. Specifically, they are put in a fridge for 12 hours at -10°C and an oven at 70°C to test their abilities. All production batches should undergo these tests.

Visual test

Visual inspection is also vital and is performed in all trays. Testers will look for any scratches, cracks, or any other aesthetic defects such as tones especially for brands that use trays for packaging purposes. Such tests are vital. They are as important as the load bearing tests and will be used in all trays. No production will go on showers. Only products that have passed the tests will be released into the production for manufacturing purposes.

Sensors and Cameras

Throughout the production process, the process is also monitored continuously, and sensors and cameras will also be used for data for reference. They will be operated full-time. Nests or trays not meeting the tests will be recycled.

Recycle Tests

Finally, all trays are also tested for environmental standards. They are certified at farms cost to be recycled or composted in production. These tests also specify that the feed is safe for the animals about range standards and must be performed by certified and accredited laboratories.

Custom Finishes

Custom finishes represent important techniques used in the production of molded pulp trays, which allow for both visual and practical enhancements of this packaging tool. Although the subject of this paper refers to the aesthetics of molded pulp trays, the selection of the most appropriate finishing technique reflects the desire to provide clients with maximum benefits that go beyond visual appeal. In this regard, the following finishing techniques may be viewed as relevant in the context of molded pulp trays:

  • Coloring techniques. Custom finishes for molded pulp trays include multiple coloring techniques. For example, water-based dyes may be reflected in the first step of the production process. They are usually added to the pulp, thus creating a homogenous mass of any client-specified hue. The coloring stage is vital for the branding process as, for example, a company that produces organic aliments may go for a green hue for the molds. In addition to satisfying brand requirements for molded pulp trays, the coloring choice plays a crucial role in the perception and recognition of a specific product by the buyers.

  • Surface finishing. A proper finish applied to the surface of molded pulp trays slightly changes texture, thus making it more pleasant to touch and more resistant to different kinds of mechanical damage. Matte or glossy varnishes may protect the tray against moisture and grease, which are particularly topical for the protection of molded pulp trays used for food purposes. These finishing goods should be applied after the drying stage of molded pulp trays’ production, and all these coatings are characterized by the qualities of being food safe and environmentally friendly. In the context of cosmetic products, glossy varnishes might be relevant for adding to molded pulp trays.

  • Texturing and embossing. Textures and embossed patterns may be used to mark molded pulp trays with specific pieces of information or enhance the branding process. For example, the use of an embossed company’s logo is beneficial as the customer sees it every time the tray is used. In order to use embossing custom finish, a mold should be created.

  • A functional coating, which corresponds with the functionalities of a specific tray. It protects the tray and enhances the quality of holding specific groups of products. What is more, or less, sensitive to, for instance, products for which a molded pulp tray is used? For example, a barrier coating might be applied to trays to hold electronics, thus making them anti-static.

  • Biodegradable sealants. Such sealed mold trays go for the best qualities of the other types and for the best qualities of the following finishing technique: they show respect to the environment. Biodegradable sealants are capable of meshing with the biomasses in as short a time as possible without leaving any harmful residuals.

Overall, if one considers the manufacturing technology of molded pulp trays, custom finishes simultaneously represent the complementary tools for the creation of the best high-value tool for buyers and a considerable marketing choice for companies.

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