Muoto™ – a new initiative in the packaging market

Metsä Spring and Valmet have taken moulded pulp technology to a new level in their joint project. The end product is light and strong, and its production process is resource-efficient and waste-free. Muoto™ products were highly acclaimed during their first market tests.
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  • 2024, Markets and trends, Pulp

In recent years the requirements of sustainability have become an inseparable part of the global packaging market. Today, companies around the world are looking for sustainable product packaging alternatives that reduce waste and have production processes and logistics with good energy and material efficiency.

As a frontrunner in the sustainable bioeconomy, Metsä Group is meeting this need with the Muoto™ 3D fibre product which it has been developing at Äänekoski demo plant since the spring of 2022.

New technology, more complex shapes

“The Muoto product looks and feels like paperboard but it is not – it is actually a completely new type of packaging produced with moulded pulp technology,” says Jarkko Tuominen, VP, Projects of Metsä Spring. Metsä Spring, a part of the Metsä Group, is a sister company of Metsä Fibre and Metsä Group’s innovation company.

Tuominen has a lot of expertise in the packaging industry. Before he started at Metsä Spring, he worked in the industry in various positions for over 20 years, the last seven of which were at Metsä Board. The Muoto 3D fibre product was originally Tuominen’s idea.

Muoto products are produced using moulded pulp technology from materials such as the first-class softwood and hardwood pulp produced by Äänekoski bioproduct mill. In the process, the wet pulp mass is moulded directly into shape, forming what is called the “product matrix”. This matrix is then dried into its final shape in a hot press. The product’s properties, such as water and grease resistance, can be improved with a barrier coating in the finishing phase, just as with paperboard packaging.

The end product consists of three layers with properties tailored in the production phase to meet use requirements. Thanks to its layered structure, the product is both light and strong. Modern moulded pulp technology also allows the production of rounded and otherwise complex shapes.

The Muoto product looks and feels like paperboard but it is not – it is actually a completely new type of packaging produced with moulded pulp technology.

Demo plant equipment designed by Valmet

In the Muoto project, Metsä Spring is working closely with Valmet, a leading global developer and supplier of process technology, automation and services for the pulp, paper and energy industries. The demo plant located next to the Äänekoski bioproduct mill is a joint investment by the two companies, and Valmet designed and produced the main equipment for the plant.

According to Metsä Spring CEO, Niklas von Weymarn, Valmet was a natural choice as partner for the project because of the company’s strong technological expertise.

“Valmet is one of Metsä Group’s main equipment suppliers, and we have worked with them for decades. The roles in our partnership have varied a little depending on how mature the technologies in question have been. In the Muoto project the technology is completely new, so we have been working together much more closely,” says von Weymarn.

First steps towards industrial production

Moulded pulp has been used for more than a hundred years, and you may be familiar with its application in egg cartons.
But at Äänekoski demo plant the technology has been taken to a new level. The plant uses modern automation, its production capacity is high, and its resource and energy efficiency are excellent.

“There is no material waste at all as we can return all the trimmed waste to the process. We also recycle our process water,” says Tuominen.

The demo plant operates solely with renewable energy produced at Äänekoski bioproduct mill. Muoto products are light and can be packaged inside each other, which also increases the energy efficiency of logistics.

Positive feedback from market tests

Tuominen points out that Muoto products are suitable for many kinds of end uses including food packaging. The fresh fibre-based product is clean and safe, fully recyclable and biodegradable.

“Muoto products can be recycled just like paperboard. This is a big advantage because the global recycling system already exists and consumers already know how the product should be recycled.”

If the product cannot be recycled for some reason, it can also be used for energy production or composting. In the demo phase, the potential of Muoto products is currently being tested in the market.

“We have market-tested the product with our customers and the feedback has been very positive,” says Tuominen.

In June 2023, Metsä Group released a gift packaging product designed for Fiskars. The product’s inner packaging mirrors the shape of the scissors, and it was produced with the new 3D fibre product technology. The box is made of Metsä Board paperboard.

According to von Weymarn, the joint project with Fiskars is a concrete example of the ways Muoto could be used to supplement Metsä Group’s product portfolio in the future.
“Muoto is neither replacing paperboard packaging nor competing with it. Instead, it offers a strategically smart way of producing value-added products from Finnish wood.”

Towards the goal of commercial business

The goal of Metsä Spring, established in 2018, is to support Metsä Group’s business ecosystem in the long term. Metsä Spring’s development so far has taken place over three phases, von Weymarn says.

“In the first phase, we only invested in external start-up companies. In the second phase, thanks to the reception of the Muoto product, the Board of Directors of Metsäliitto Cooperative gave us the green light to conduct internal research and development. In the third phase, we have started to help Metsä Group’s existing business operations in their research and development work.”

Metsä Spring’s next goal with the Äänekoski demo plant is to prove the competitiveness of Muoto products and develop their production for the packaging market.

“Metsä Spring is not a commercial operator in itself; our goal is to develop Muoto into something that Metsä Group can use commercially. In a favourable tailwind, the baton exchange within Metsä Group could take place as early as next year,” says von Weymarn.

This article was originally published in Fibre Magazine issue 2024