PepsiCo Saves 96% By Switching to 3D Printed Bottle Moulds

Thursday, June 23rd, 2022 | 677 Views

PepsiCo Saves 96% By Switching to 3D Printed Bottle Moulds. Its bottle design development process started from paper to digital, to 3D printed prototype, and then to 3D printed bottle moulds, from which functional prototypes are produced. (Source: PepsiCo).
Brands are looking to develop new packaging designs to address shifting customer desires and to set themselves apart from the competition. But it is expensive to do so, especially in the bottled beverage industry. Creating conventional metal tooling for the blow moulding of bottles at PepsiCo’s R&D campus in Valhalla, N.Y., used to mean weeks of waiting and thousands in costs. PepsiCo could spend up to $10,000 to produce a single metal mould tool set depending on its complexity, according to Max Rodriguez, senior manager of global packaging R&D, advanced engineering and design, at PepsiCo’s research centre.
Once a digital design of the bottle is created, it would take up to four weeks to machine a metal mould using conventional manufacturing, and then an additional two weeks to get a trial unit to do the actual blow moulding of the prototypes.


Accelerated Prototyping to Accelerated Production

To get new products to market faster by lowering the time and cost of prototypes, Rodriguez started working with 3D printers several years ago.


Although 3D printers were excellent at producing design prototypes, early attempts to 3D print mould tooling lacked durability. When the 3D printed moulds were used in blow moulding machines, they could produce only about 100 bottles before the mould began to fail. This prompted Rodriguez and his team to explore using a hybrid approach, combining parts of a conventional metal mould with 3D printed inserts.


This hybrid model – which PepsiCo patented in late 2020 – involves using a universal metal outer mould shell that fits into most commercial blow moulding machines. PepsiCo then explored using additive manufacturing to print only the essential internal parts of the mould that yield the final product’s geometry.


Exploring the 3D Printed Solution

Working with Chicago-based additive manufacturing technology distributor Dynamism, the PepsiCo team explored industrial 3D printing solutions that could meet their requirements for both size and materials.


“Our relationship with PepsiCo began years ago with desktop 3D printers for their design prototyping,” says Dynamism CEO Douglas Krone. “When their needs turned to industrial applications, we introduced them to 3D printers designed for production industrial parts.”


Between 2020 and 2022, Rodriguez conducted proof-of-concept trials with a pilot-plant-scale blow moulder at a third party, running bottles at a rate of 600 to 800 bottles per hour, with a single hybrid mould. The modular mould set concept was a success, but the durability of the materials was still a challenge.


“When tackling a solution for mould tool generation using additive manufacturing, we were focused on identifying a material that would withstand the blow moulding conditions typically found in our production environment,” says Rodriguez. “In blow mould heat set applications, it is common in the industry to heat the moulds to a temperature of about 140ºC. It was also important the material be able to withstand a blow pressure of 40 bars.”


The only viable material solution at the time Rodriguez started his research about three years ago was cyanate esther, he says. “Since then, the major material suppliers, such as Henkel Loctite and BASF, accelerated their material development for additive manufacturing applications.”


Henkel introduced its XPEEK147 material about a year ago, which provided several advantages cyanate esther, according to Rodriguez. The team applied a backing of dental stone to the printed inserts to give the mould cavities the compressive strength needed for blow moulding pressure. It then used a modified, lab-scale Blowscan stretch blow moulding machine from Northern Ireland-based Blow Moulding Technologies to produce the actual test bottles.


PepsiCo has been producing bottles on a daily basis using its hybrid tooling approach for the past few months, says Rodriguez. “Time and cost are obviously important, but more important is to have the flexibility to run through a number of different design iterations at a record pace so that we can evaluate performance in all of the downstream activities. That really is what helps us to accelerate.”


These downstream activities include confirming how the bottle will perform on PepsiCo’s packaging lines, in vending machines, and throughout its distribution network.


The blow moulding trials at PepsiCo’s R&D centre provided the data that showed the samples from the 3D printed mould were comparable to samples from a metal mould.


Rodriguez has 3D printed moulds on the Carbon M2 printer, the Stratasys J55, and the Markforged X5, to validate that the mould-tool concept is printer agnostic, but ultimately chose the Nexa3D NXE 400 and its xPEEK147 material from Henkel Loctite for the 3D printed tool inserts.


The NXE 400 is large enough to print several mould parts at the same time, plus it’s fast, which speeds up the iteration and production process.


4 weeks to 48 hours, $10,000 to $350

A complete mould set can be made in 12 hours, with 8 hours of 3D printing time and 4 hours of post-processing or curing. The cost is about $350 per mould set. These hybrid-made moulds can be used for more than 10,000 bottles before failure. The result is a nearly 96% reduction of cost compared to traditional metal tooling.


“Through the use of these capabilities,” Rodriguez says, “we expect a 30% faster development cycle.”  However, this is not only related to the ability to 3D print a mould set. “The 3D printing capability is coupled and interlaced with our virtual analysis capability. AM complements virtual analysis, and vice-versa, so the faster development cycle is accomplished by leveraging these advanced tools collectively.”


The 3D printed mould insert and the lab-scale blow moulding machines are used to generate low-volume production functional samples. “The intent is not to replace metal moulds for high-volume production,” notes Rodriguez. “The 3D printed mould sets can be mounted on a typical stretch blow mould production platform, as its exterior shell dimensions are universal and compatible with our typical production platforms. However, for regular production, it is best to invest in metal tooling, as we are expecting the moulds to produce millions of bottles per year.”


Is the next step for PepsiCo, metal 3D printing? “Metal 3D printing blow moulds are a work in progress,” PepsiCo says.

PepsiCo Saves 96% by 3D Printing Bottle Moulds

This article was adapted from the original that was first published in Packaging Connections.


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