AIM SwedenIndustry News

Taking AIM on single-use plastics: metal 3D printed tooling solution designed to change the world… one paper cup at a time

An innovative Swedish company has used its expertise in applying electron beam melting technology to develop a new tooling concept for production of next generation molded fiber containers


s pulp and paper manufacturers bid to replace single-use plastic packaging to help clean up our planet, the

team at AIM Sweden AB (AIM), the commercial spin-off from the Mid Sweden University, has developed new methods for modelling, as well as 3D printing an entirely new tooling concept that is currently being introduced in the manufacture of molded paper food and drink containers. Already active and experienced in the manufacture of metal and plastic orthopedic and industrial components, over the past five years AIM Sweden has been using its three GE Additive Arcam EBM Q20plus and Q10plus systems to develop cutting-edge 3D printed perforated molds that address the unique challenges of turning wet, fibrous pulp into products such as food containers and packaging material with improved strength, thinner walls and the ability to contain liquids and fats.

Innovation for sustainability This work, to develop new 3D printed tooling concepts as well as methods to model and produce them has piqued the interest of the pulp and packaging industry as it is looking for new ways to help solve wider environmental challenges with new solutions. It also comes as consumer attitudes steer consumption habits in a more sustainable direction and governments increasingly look to regulation to help clean up our environment. The EU’s Directive on Single-Use

plastics1, for example, sets ambitious targets on decreasing the use of

8 Green Packaging International ● Spring 2021

disposable plastic products in Europe. By mid-2021, European Member States will need to have banned single-use plastic products for which there are readily available alternatives. This includes cutlery, plates and expanded polystyrene food containers, beverage containers and cups. By 2026, Member States also have an obligation to show an ambitious and sustained reduction in the consumption of plastic food containers and cups and lids for beverages2. With the support of GE Additive,

whose EBM additive manufacturing machines produce the molds, AIM Sweden’s new technology has the potential to be a game-changer in the consumer goods packaging industry for cost, quality and sustainability reasons.

EBM technology replaces conventional manufacturing methods In today’s manufacturing process of molded fiber products, it’s necessary to

frequently stop the production line for maintenance. Take, for example, the tools needed to produce common egg trays, a simple molded fibre product. A vacuum is applied to a porous shaping tool to drain water and collect fibres on one side of the mold. The fibers are then lifted off and dried as the final product. However, conventional forming tools easily clog, requiring frequent cleaning and/or repair, leading to significant production downtime. In addition, producing the

conventional molds requires a significant amount of manual operations and workmanship as a wire mesh is manually attached to a 3D-shaped metal base by sewing and soldering. This process is time consuming, expensive and offers no opportunity to optimise the draining properties differently in different areas of the tool. AIM Sweden’s new shaping tools,

additively manufactured using GE Additive’s EBM technology, solve

these issues, making them cheaper, more efficient and with a longer life expectancy, explains AIM’s technical director Axel Bergström, “this all started out with a few customers asking us to make forming tools for molded fibre. The early molds were fully functional, but we were also challenged to improve the functionality by increasing resolution and make even smaller perforation holes more evenly distributed.” “To increase the resolution of

perforation across a complex 3D surface was a geometric challenge that pushed the limits of current additive printing technology and know-how. The GE Additive team in Gothenburg provided an advanced training course which was instrumental for the process development work we later carried out. Now, we can utilise our EBM machines more efficiently and build high resolution titanium skins more or less free of support,” Bergström continued. The collaboration has allowed

AIM Sweden to develop a completely

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