Packaging – Plastic Out, Wood Fibre In!

Three big Finnish groups, Valmet, Metsä Spring, and VTT, have come together to develop novel 3D fibre products that have the potential to replace traditional plastics, especially in single-use packaging.

Valmet is a leading global developer and supplier of process technologies, automation and services for the pulp, paper and energy industries.

Metsä is an international forest industry group and an operating frontrunner in sustainable bioeconomy. Metsä Spring is a well-established subsidiary company that invests in and supports promising startups and potential innovations that explore new uses for sustainably grown Nordic wood.

VTT is one of Europe’s leading research institutions that is owned by the Finnish state. Through scientific and technological means, we turn large global challenges into sustainable growth for businesses and society.

The development of novel 3D fibre products helps combat plastic waste and reduces reliance on fossil-based non-biodegradable packaging.

The first phase of their collaboration has 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.

Key facts

Novel 3D fibre products are an economically viable, fully recyclable and sustainable alternative to traditional single-use plastics. 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.

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.

Valmet 3D Fiber and Metsä Spring’s innovation Muoto™ are the result of a collaborative effort to develop a sustainable packaging solution.

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.

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 who could also enable wider testing parameters.

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.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: Partnership continues to mature technology & 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, in which Metsä Spring is heavily involved in developing with their Muoto 3D fibre packing.

Renewable and sustainably grown Finnish wood is the main raw material of the Muoto 3D fibre packaging.  The packaging is made of wet wood-fibre pulp in Äänekoski, at Metsä Group’s and Valmet’s joint demo plant.

Muoto 3D fibre packages can be shaped in many ways by being pressed into their final form using new 3D technology that enables the production of rounded, complex shapes familiar from the plastics industry.

The end result is pure and safe Muoto 3D fibre packaging solution of various sizes and shapes, tailored to the end use and offering a sustainable alternative to different types of packages.

One of these is for Fiskar’s classic scissors where gift packaging, designed jointly by Metsä Spring, Metsä Board and Fiskars Group. It combines a Muoto 3D fibre inner packaging, mirroring the iconic shape of the classic scissors, and Metsä Board’s paperboard, which offers a high-quality printing surface for the outer packaging.

Photo: Metsä Spring and Fiskars

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