Novel 3D fibre products have the potential to replace traditional plastics, especially in single-use packaging. This helps combat plastic waste and reduces reliance on fossil-based non-biodegradable packaging. To accelerate this sustainable transition, Valmet and their collaboration partner Metsä Spring enlisted VTT’s expertise to develop and validate a new production line for 3D products. The first phase of collaboration resulted in a unique process for forming various novel 3D fibre products that provide a disruptive, high-quality alternative for traditional moulded fibre packaging. The second phase of the collaboration will focus on commercialising and scaling this pioneering technology for widespread manufacturing use.
Novel 3D fibre products are an economically viable, fully recyclable and sustainable alternative to traditional single-use plastics.
Valmet 3D Fiber and Metsä’s innovation Muoto™ are the result of a collaborative effort to develop a sustainable packaging solution.
VTT’s R&D partnership with Valmet resulted in a pilot line for producing novel 3D wood fibre products using an industry-first process. The partnership will continue with an emphasis on rolling out the unique process.
Thanks to the partnership, Valmet has expanded its knowledge base, accelerated the development and execution of the pilot line through trial-oriented goals, and significantly widened testing parameters.
Valmet is a market leader in developing and supplying process technologies, automation and services for the pulp, paper, energy and marine industries. The company is committed to moving their customers’ performance forward and developing innovative solutions for the future.
Novel 3D fibre products offer a sustainable alternative to plastic packaging
Packaging made from traditional plastics poses a threat to the planet in terms of waste pollution, the spread of microplastics throughout the environment and the centuries it takes for plastic to degrade. Increasingly stringent regulations and growing consumer awareness of this problem further drive the need for a sustainable alternative.
Tackling the problem required Valmet to think outside the box. While the continuous development of current methods is vital, the big steps are often taken with disruptive development of something completely new.
Novel 3D fibre products present a disruptive and sustainable solution that offers a biodegradable alternative for the world’s packaging needs. The cellulose fibres essential to the production of novel 3D fibre shapes are derived from renewable sources. As they come from natural origins, cellulose fibres possess excellent recyclability and are biodegradable.
Phase #1: Develop a demo line to produce novel 3D fibre products
Manufacturing novel 3D fibre products required several new pieces of equipment to be developed – as well as a unique manufacturing process. Valmet needed a comprehensive knowledge base to meet these demands and ensure the demo line could be evolved, validated and completed within the given timeframe. Valmet needed a research partner with extensive capabilities in manufacturing piloting. A partner that could also enable testing parameters to be widened.
Finding a collaborator with these skills led Valmet to enter a deep innovation partnership with VTT.
Expertise-driven R&D collaboration deepens testing capabilities
Partnering with VTT gave Valmet access to testing equipment, lab research and equipment design support. VTT’s expertise in special fibre suspensions – a core feature of the demo production line – also proved extremely useful.
Having these insight-driven advantages meant Valmet was able to expand the range of conditions under which processes and products were tested, ensuring efficient performance under diverse scenarios and helping identify weaknesses. This approach enhanced the project’s agility and adaptability.
Sampo Immonen, Head of Line R&D at Valmet, sums up some of the other key benefits of the collaboration.
“VTT’s in-depth insight into piloting meant it was easy for us to begin trial-oriented co-operation. At the same time, we increased the number of our testing parameters.”
Working alone, we might have been more constricted in what we could test. But because of VTT’s know-how, we were able to widen our testing abilities.
Unique 3D fibre product manufacturing process is a global first
A unique process for manufacturing novel 3D fibre products was integral to the production line’s success. Immonen expands on how VTT’s knowledge was crucial to this innovation: “A notable asset in the partnership is VTT’s expertise in the unique process. This deep understanding helped us avoid pitfalls during testing and development, and it continues to be an essential part of our collaboration.”
Harnessing VTT’s knowledge base enabled Valmet to remain agile during testing and validation. Rapid response to test results was a defining factor in ensuring the demo production line was finished on schedule.
Jaakko Kuusisaari, Solution Sales Lead at VTT, explains: “For companies like Valmet, investing in their equipment across various scales isn't efficient. They may only need it temporarily during certain R&D phases. Our agile approach offers a solution. Valmet is able to express their needs, and we can respond with a modular platform, swiftly setting it up and simplifying the process.”
With the completion of the demo production line, the first phase of this partnership project ended in success.
Phase #2: Continuing partnership to mature the technology and commercialise production
Once Valmet had completed the demo production line, they began to further consider the broader potential of the technology.
The numerous environmental advantages of novel 3D fibre products motivated Valmet to examine further commercialisation and scalability of the production methods they had developed with VTT’s input. As with the first phase of the partnership, Valmet will continue to tap into VTT’s expertise.
The process’s evolution will extend the technology for a wide customer base, ultimately creating fully matured products suitable for diverse markets.
Ongoing partnership explores scaling and insights
The ongoing R&D partnership between Valmet and VTT leverages insights from the pilot production line's development and validation. The focus is on scaling rollout and exploring new solutions made possible by the unique 3D fibre product manufacturing process.
Immonen expands on this: “The initial phase concentrated on the feasibility and technical aspects. Now, we're exploring the process's limitations and process cleanliness issues. These steps are integral to the overall maturation and scaling of the process.”
Excellent teamwork and seamless communication have been central to the success of the first phase and the active expansion of the partnership’s capabilities.
Tomi Siira, Development Engineer at Valmet, collaborates closely with VTT: “Co-operation has been highly effective with smooth communication, including working and meeting online. It has helped us move towards our goals because addressing issues as they arise is easy. This ensures flexible and efficient progress.”
Collaboration will continue to expand Valmet 3D Fiber technology
Valmet 3D Fiber technology has expanded from the original focus on a single demo line. The process’s evolution will extend the technology for a wide customer base, ultimately creating fully matured products suitable for diverse markets.
Kuusisaari highlights the second phase of VTT’s partnership with Valmet: “In the second phase of the co-operation we can widen the trial co-operation further and test new things, such as new fibre mixes and composite materials. This joint effort showcases what's possible and how innovations in 3D fibre products can align with different end-use needs. Hopefully, we will soon see these novel 3D fibre products entering the market, providing a sustainable alternative to single-use plastics.”
Interested in accelerating your business growth through highly tailored packaging innovations? Come meet us at The Greener Manufacturing Show 2023 November 8–9 and hear VTT and Valmet give a speech on “How RDI partnership accelerates launch of novel sustainable products”!