Customers are increasingly demanding sustainable and circular solutions to their packaging dilemmas, reports Kiefel GmbH, a manufacturer of plastic film processing machinery, whose product range already includes systems able to process recycled or bio-based materials such as rPET or PLA.
Increasingly, however, customers have also been requesting technology that enabled them to produce high-quality cellulose-based packaging, said Erwin Wabnig, Kiefel’s head of fibre Thermoforming – packaging that is wholly recyclable with no need for material separation.
In response, the company is now launching the Natureformer: a newly developed fibre thermoforming system that is opening up a complementary technology field for the company with a new material. With the introduction of the Natureformer, Kiefel has also become the first plastic thermoforming machine manufacturer to move into highly-automated fibre thermoforming systems. The company is calling the new process Kiefel-Fibre-Thermoforming, or KFT for short.
In developing the fibre thermoformer, Kiefel leveraged its expertise in plastics processing to produce a new machine that is closely modelled on its classic KMD steel rule machine.
The raw paper pulp is processed in batches up to 1% fibre content, with flow simulations ensuring an even fibre distribution. The suction tool dips into the slurry and suctions off, leaving the fibres in the form of a filter cake in the tool. The suction tool is mounted on the handling robot, which transfers the component from station to station. It next moves into a flexible counter tool of the pre-pressing station, before transferring the component to the hot press. Any remaining moisture is eliminated by temperatures of up to 200°C in the upper and lower tools in combination with a clamping force of up to 600 kN.
Tool changes take only 15 minutes thanks to the automated quick-change system, said Alexander Huber, fibre product manager, and machine automation - stacking, sleeving, packing in boxes – is tailored to customer requirements. Additional modules for quality control and inspection are available. A full-scale pilot system is already running, producing Kiefel reference cups with a cycle time of 15 seconds and according to Huber, there are already ‘numerous systems in our order backlog’.
“We will deliver the first to a customer in the middle of this year,” he said.