Hybrid moulds Pepsico finds innovative alternative to expensive metal tooling
Speed to market has never been more important in the consumer goods sector, as brand owners aim to develop new bottle and package designs to address ever-shifting customer desires. But creating conventional metal tooling for the blow moulding of bottles is an expensive and time-consuming proposition. That is why Pepsico was looking for an alternative.
Beverage company Pepsico’s products are enjoyed by consumers more than one billion times a day in more than 200 countries and territories around the world. The group generated more than 79 billion dollars in net revenue in 2021, driven by a complementary beverage and convenient foods portfolio that includes Lay’s, Doritos, Cheetos, Gatorade, Pepsi-Cola, Mountain Dew, Quaker, and Soda Stream. Pepsico’s product portfolio includes a wide range of enjoyable foods and beverages, including many iconic brands that generate more than one billion dollars each in estimated annual retail sales.
The food and beverage company was looking for a way to accelerate speed to market by optimising the production of blow moulds. With conventional methods this process can be quite lengthy. Once a CAD file of the package design is created, it can take up to four weeks to machine a metal tool, and then an additional two weeks to get a trial unit to do the actual blow moulding. It also could easily cost up to 10,000 dollars to produce a single metal tool set depending on its complexity, according to Max Rodriguez, senior manager of Global Packaging R&D, Advanced Engineering and Design, at Pepsico’s Valhalla research center.
This has led many to try to apply 3D printing to shorten this process, but previous rapid tooling approaches also had their shortcomings. It would take two to three days to 3D print a single blow moulding tool from Digital ABS (an expensive material) on a 250,000 dollar Polyjet 3D printing machine. Even so, the resulting tool lacked durability and could produce only about 100 bottles before the mold 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 today. The company then explored using additive manufacturing to print only the essential internal parts of the mould that yield the final product’s geometry. Working with Dynamism introduced the Pepsico team to industrial solutions in 3D printing that could meet their requirements.
“Time and cost are obviously important, but more important is to have the ability 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 accelerate,” says Rodriguez. These downstream activities include confirming how the bottle performs on Pepsico’s packaging lines, vending machines, and its distribution network.
The group chose Nexa 3D’s xPEEK147 from Henkel Loctite for the 3D printed tool inserts due to the material’s strength and impressive performance factors, including its very high heat-deflection temperature. While this hybrid approach is machine-agnostic, meaning it can use various types of 3D printers, Pepsico has found the ultrafast, high-throughput Nexa 3D NXE 400 3D printer and accompanying material performance to be ideal for producing the mould components it needs.
The team applied a backing of dental stone to the printed inserts to give the mould cavities the compressive strength needed for blow moulding up to 40 bar pressure. It then used a modified, lab-scale Blowscan stretch blow moulding machine from Northern Ireland-based Blow Moulding Technologies (BMT) to produce the actual bottles. BMT has been a strategic service provider and a trusted partner to Pepsico for the past five years, noted Rodriguez.
Pepsico took delivery in Valhalla of the reengineered Blowscan, lab-scale stretch blow moulding machine early this year, he said, and has been producing bottles on a daily basis using its hybrid tooling approach for the past few months.
This approach “also facilitates our capability of validating our virtual tools because we are now able to pair them up with physical results,” he added. This assists the company in its material characterisation work, performance analysis, and physical testing. “Through the use of these capabilities,” Rodriguez says, “we expect our development cycle to improve by 30 percent.”
A complete mould set can be made in twelve hours, with eight hours of 3D printing time and four hours of curing. These hybrid-made moulds can then successfully be used for more than 10,000 bottles before failure — at up to a 96 percent reduction of cost compared to traditional metal tooling.