What is the future of moulded pulp packaging

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The future of moulded pulp packaging lies in sustainable innovations, with a focus on biodegradable materials and advanced molding techniques for improved efficiency and versatility.

Moulded Pulp Technological Innovations Shaping the Future

Moulded pulp technology has changed significantly in the last few years, to introduce a more sustainable and effective alternative to packaging materials. The revolutionary new approach to the technology is the 3D moulded pulp. In the revolutionary approach, the technology has started to enable the creation of intricate shapes and designs that were previously not possible with moulded pulp. For example, the use of 3D printing and CAD software has now allowed the creation of a perfect-fit packaging that fits the product and reduces the need for a necessary protective wrap of any kind. As a result, costs for wrapping have gone down by 20%.

Another important advancement of the moulded pulp technology is the enormous improvement in drying. The introduction of microwave drying for the production process has decreased the time required to dry a mould from the standard several hours to mere 3 minutes. Not only does the acceleration of the drying process lead to the increase in production, but it also lower energy consumption by about 30%. The use of renewable resources as the source of energy for the microwave drying like thermal produced by solar or wind farms make the drying process of moulded pulp even more environmentally sustainable.

Use of biodegradable and compostable materials is the other important change to the moulded pulp technology. By using materials such as bamboo, sugarcane bagasse, or wheat straw, the manufacturer of the product can make sure that the packaging will decompose by itself in as little as 90 days compared to the hundreds of years that the traditional packaging made of plastic requires. This has made the packaging even more environmentally friendly and in line with the demands of frequent eco-friendly consumers.

Last, but not least, moulded pulp technology has been significantly improved in terms of product quality. An example of such an innovation is the use of waterproof coating. The coating allows for the use of moulded pulp in a more varied range of uses, for example, in the food industry for any perishable products. Coating helps to extend the shelf life of these products even up to 50% using coating methods like dipping or spraying.


Moulded Pulp Advancements in Molding Precision

Moulded pulp technology has benefited a lot from improvements in molding precision by advancing capabilities. The use of high-precision molds with tolerances as low as 0.1 millimeters has contributed to making better and shaped molded pulp products. Applications of molds at this precision level typically lead to consistently uniform shapes and sizes of a given molded pulp product. Another notable advancement is the use of CAD and CAM systems to design the molds and molded pulp products. This enables the use of highly complex and intricate mold designs that would not be possible or would be too costly to construct. Designers make their designs in a computer-aided design application and then configure these designs using CAM to communicate to the machine that will begin molding the product. Based on the mold design, molded pulp products are now being made more varied, customized, and intricate.

Robots have been used to automate the molding process and increase precision. Some robots are equipped with sensors and cameras to enable them to recognize the products and place the molds accurately. Camera and robotic systems have been beneficial in fast and uniform mold application, removal of molded products, and placement of new ones. Thus, the molds are made in a precise and uniform manner as well as the molded pulp products molded into them. Automation has also enabled faster rates of production of thousands of molds as products every hour. Solution inspection systems such as machine vision systems have also been used to monitor and enhance the precision of the molding process. Cameras are placed along the conveyor system at the molding stations, which read the data of each product to ensure they are within the desired shape and size. Systems have also been designed to provide pressure to the pulp so that molded products come out of uniform thickness.


Moulded Pulp Development of Sustainable Coatings

The development of sustainable coatings for moulded pulp products has made a significant contribution to the industry’s efforts to improve its environmental friendliness. One of the major advances has been the development of biodegradable coatings made from natural materials, such as starch, cellulose, or chitosan. These coatings provide moisture resistance which is crucial for food packaging applications. For example, a coating made of starch can decrease the water vapor permeability by 50%, effectively doubling the food shelf life . Another innovative type of coating is based on plant-based oils and waxes, as they help to create a barrier against grease and oil, which makes them suitable for implementation in fast foods packaging. For example, coatings made of soybean oil or carnauba wax can resist grease at a level of 12 on the Kit Test scale, which is the maximum possible oil and grease resistance for paper materials . The incorporation of nanoparticles into coatings is a prospect allowing to improve their functionality, such as adding antimicrobial properties to coatings used in food packaging as food comes into direct contact with the packaging . Nanoparticles used in coatings can be, for example, zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. Antimicrobial effects of a cellulose-based coating have been demonstrated to decrease bacterial growth by 99% through the addition of 0.5 wt% zinc oxide nanoparticles .

Sustainable coatings also contribute to the sustainability of moulded pulp products as they ensure their recyclability because coatings based on materials such as polyvinyl alcohol are easily removable during paper recycling so that they do not interfere with the recycling process, allowing the pulp to be reused without any contamination. Compostability certification is another important way in which coatings contribute to the sustainability of moulded pulp products as coatings meeting the ASTM D6400 standard break down to carbon dioxide, water, and biomass in 180 days under commercial composting conditions.


Moulded Pulp Emerging Dry Molding Techniques

Novel dry molding techniques bring a revolution to moulded pulp, turning this manufacturing sector around and making it more efficient and environmentally friendly. The primary molding technique that does not require soaking of fibers is hot-press molding. Hot-pressing involves placing dry pulp fibers into a mold and utilizing heat and pressure to shape the material. Compared to the traditional molding approach, when the fibers are wetted and the material is dried afterward, hot-press gives much shorter drying times. For instance, this molding method reduces the drying process from a couple of hours to a few minutes, conserving about 40% of energy . Another notable technique that allows dry anomaly molding is the vacuum sealing technique. A piece of dry pulp material covers the model, and through vacuum aspiration, the pulp sticks to the pattern, assuming its shape. Compared to other molding types, the vacuum forming technique supplies a much sharper image of the model and presses against the mold without any water consumption, narrowing the environment footprint even deeper.

One of the most innovative dry molding technologies involves 3D printing of pulp fibers. With the help of a binding component that keeps fibers together, 3D printers can print complex shapes, finishing details that were impossible to reach with other molding techniques. Though this approach is quite new and, therefore, underresearched, it has enormous potential in creating unique packaging and products with great detail work. Moreover, there are multiple other dry molding techniques under research. For example, the use of bio-based adhesives and natural fibers as lignin reinforcement may enhance the strength and durability characteristics of molded pulp products without losing their biodegradable potential.

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