Many experts have pointed out the potential benefits of 3D printing in packaging design and production. SIPA, a division of Zoppas Industries, wanted to test the concept: It produced a 3D printed plastic elephant bottle that illustrates how much is already possible with current technology.

SIPA, an international manufacturer of injection and blow-molding machines as well as complete filling lines, has been following the newest developments in 3D printing for years. The company always saw an opportunity in producing 3 dimensional samples of bottle proposals for their clients. The more the technology advances, the clearer it became that 3D printing could also assist with the design of particular bottles such as the elephant bottle. When the team brainstormed how to showcase their design capabilities both from a technical and stylistic viewpoint, the idea emerged: Why not 3D print an elephant bottle?

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“The most challenging aspect was to find a position of the elephant that could be reproduced on a PET bottle that could be industrialized but the representation of the elephant would be easily seen”, says Dino Zanette, manager of the bottle and preform design group at SIPA.

“Several images of the elephant in various positions were analyzed, until the best position was found, which was that of the elephant on its hind legs and the trunk extended in reaching for tops leaves on a tree”, says Zanette. “At this point in the development, it was necessary to have a 3D representation of the technical drawings”, he adds. This helped the team to decide on the best representative position of the elephant with the best features and eventual performance as a beverage bottle.

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The team used an entry-level 3D printer and polylactic acid (PLA) polymer filament. PLA produces neutral color and slightly transparent bottles, which was desired for this project. While the three prototypes were 3D printed, each taking about six hours, the 200 actual bottles that SIPA used to showcase its design capabilities were made in a normal blow-molding production.

“The biggest potential for 3D printing in packaging, at this moment, is in the prototyping of new bottle designs”, says Zanette. “This helps to analyze the bottle features during the development stage.” In the future, however, he envisions a much wider use in the packaging sector.