What’s a Pulp Machine?

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Pulp machines dissolve fibrous waste in water to create a slurry that can be shaped and dried into new products. The two main methods are oven dry manufacturing and thermoforming. Pulp molding machines are used for egg cartons and food containers, but also for dunnage and other three-dimensional shapes. The process is environmentally friendly and energy efficient, with no chemical additives or wastewater. New products include fruit trays, biodegradable pots, and industrial packaging.

A pulp machine is a device that takes waste fibrous material, usually from recycled newsprint or cardboard, and dissolves it in water into a slurry that can then be shaped and dried into new shapes such as egg cartons. Pulp molding machines can also transform cotton and other textile fibers into useful products, although the majority of pulp used for containers and packaging materials comes from wood waste as of 2011. There are generally two types of approaches to pasta machine processing: the oven dry manufacturing method and the thermoformed method.

Traditionally, pulp molding machines have been used to produce mostly recycled egg cartons and food containers for large restaurant chains. An increasingly widespread use of the pasta machine, however, is to generate dunnage, i.e. internal packaging that is modeled on the object to be shipped to cushion it during transport. This is commercially attractive, as the basic materials for making dunnage are inexpensive, environmentally friendly, and the typical pasta machine is versatile enough to create a wide range of three-dimensional shapes of pasta products.

The basic process by which a pulp machine operates is quite simple. The recycled and post-consumer paper fiber is dissolved in water to a consistent slurry and a mold is immersed in the water with a protective film on the surface. A vacuum force pulls the pulp towards the screen, filtering out large fibers and coating the mold with a thin layer of pulp. If the machine is a dry model, the mold is then removed from the slurry and the newly formed pulp form is detached from the mold and held on a drier under controlled conditions until ready to use. The oven dryer method can produce pasta shapes 0.06 inches (1.5 millimeters) thick or thicker and has a faster production cycle than thermoforming, although the final product can often contain distortions.

The pulp thermoforming machine uses a hot pressing method that shapes and dries the pulp at the same time. This type of pasta machine is more automated, so the labor expense is reduced, but it also requires more precise control. The thermoforming method is most often used to create finely molded shapes with smooth surfaces, such as packaging for cell phones and electronics. It can also produce pasta shapes with a thickness range of up to 0.02 to 0.06 inches (0.5 to 1.5 millimeters).

The molding paste industry is unique in that it is naturally environmentally friendly and energy efficient. The raw materials for making the pulp molds would otherwise be landfilled and no chemical additives are needed to use them. Wastewater is also not generated in the process, as all water used for pulp production is either recycled back into the cycle or evaporates. If the molds are poorly shaped or if the product performs otherwise does not meet standards, the material can be liquefied again and used for new paste molds. The kiln dryer method also relies on a heated room to dry the pulp products which is often fed additional waste wood by-products such as sawdust.

Egg cartons have been made from pulp machine molds since the 1920s. Among the new products that a typical pasta machine produces since 2011 are various types of fruit trays and biodegradable pots for planting flowers or vegetables. in a garden, as well as container pots for indoor plants. Many containers used in hospital settings are also made from wood pulp so they can be disposed of after use rather than needing to be cleaned, and industrial packaging is increasingly made from wood pulp, such as containers for stuffing bulbs during shipment.

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