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Thinking outside the box: how 3d printers are revolutionising food packaging

The old idiom dictates that we should not go around judging books by their covers. But whoever came up with the saying did not have modern commerce in mind. Today, what’s on the outside – the packaging – is becoming increasingly important for food manufacturers. In this article we take a look at the opportunities that 3d printing is presenting to food companies… and we demonstrate that it goes much deeper than just good design.

When faced with a choice between two products, many of us will instinctively opt for the one with the more attractive packaging – often at the expense of cost. This has always held true and much has been written on the psychology behind it.

But today there is much more at play than just good looks. Technology has facilitated a faster pace of evolution and companies that are either not willing or not able to adapt to changing consumer needs are running the risk of being left behind. Just think how hard McDonalds has been working to change the perception of its product from its junk food status, for example.

The good news is that new technological advances such as 3d printers are not only helping food companies attract the modern consumer – they are also helping manufacturers cut costs and run more nimble businesses. Let’s take a look at the key areas where 3d printers have been adding value to food manufacturers, and discuss some of the hidden benefits of utilising such technology.

Running a tighter, more agile ship

The use of 3d printers can result in a much more efficient design and production process. The benefits stretch way beyond cost savings as food manufacturers can now turn ideas into the reality of a polished final product much quicker. As owning a 3d printer enables the development of prototypes in-house almost immediately, a food company can test for manufacturability and get product feedback from its clients at just a fraction of the cost of more traditional (additive) manufacturing methods.

With its own in-house 3d printing facility any business could go to its customers with a trial design, get feedback and have a new version mocked up within 24 hours. Contrast this with the lead time required for a product to come back from an outsourced producer: say it took two weeks for every iteration of a design, and that to get it right you produced four prototypes for a particular product or customer – that’s around two months longer just to get a product to market.

A 3d printer enables food manufacturers to be more experimental too, which can lead to sleeker design and a more attractive end product. Plus, avoiding the higher costs incurred through more traditional production techniques means improving margins. In this sense, the increased efficiency offered by the new technology provides food manufacturers with much more agility to meet changing demand – while cutting out the traditional overheads. So whether a business is making a tweak or a big change to its packaging, it no longer needs to feel like steering a huge cruise liner.

Waste not, want not

3d printing is not all about good design. Using traditional methods, materials are taken in their solid form and the different elements are cut from this material, leaving ample wastage even in the most cleverly designed manufacturing process. But seeing as 3d printing technology is known to produce far less waste, they offer both cost benefits and a positive environmental impact.

Eco-friendly processes are certainly not a zeitgeist. They are here to stay, whether businesses like it or not. As the spending power of more eco-conscious generations increases, so too does the need for companies to be switched on to their demands. The national press is awash with shocking stories about the impact of harmful waste and materials – from 50-year old bottles washing up from the sea through to gargantuan plastic islands congregating in the oceans of the world. But environmental regulation tends to lag behind the growing number of eco-conscious consumers, so companies that sit around waiting to be told what to do are likely to lose out.

Future-thinking businesses are no longer seeing eco-friendly packaging as an Achilles heel. In fact, it is win-win for food manufacturers that find ways to improve their environmental footprint, as it offers a big opportunity to win loyal customers over. Those businesses that are taking the environmental initiative will be rewarded by their clients, who will be able to demonstrate that they have a supply chain that takes the planet seriously. To this effect, 3d printing can underscore a rise in sales volume.

But what about the b-word?

While traditional methods of printing might be both clunky and costly the long run, your business might find it difficult to budget in new innovative technology such as 3d printers. Sometimes traditional bank loans are either too much of a risk, or indeed are entirely inaccessible to many businesses.

At Somerset, our experience in the purchase, management, sale and disposal of a wide variety of commercial equipment means that we help businesses and their clients raise the finance and make the right business decisions. Whether a business is looking for short-term, early replacement or flexible financing, we are all about helping companies find a way that fits their growth needs and budget.

About Somerset Capital

For more than 30 years, the Somerset family of companies has redefined equipment finance. We take our clients further by providing services around the financing of equipment for mid-sized and large companies throughout the Americas, Asia and Europe. From equipment needs starting under $100,000 and reaching to $25,000,000 and beyond, our unique asset-driven solutions bring a more intelligent approach to your commercial equipment requirements. Learn more about how Somerset helps clients go beyond finance by going to www.somersetcapital.com/solutions.