Jarmo Kouko, Project Manager for the FOLD project at VTT, is also the original inventor of the FOLD concept. He says he received the inspiration for FOLD in a packaging industry seminar which was addressing future visions.
“I wanted to come up with a solution that combines protection, lightness and visual appeal in an environmentally-friendly way.”
At the heart of the concept, there are pulp-based fold structures that contribute much-needed sturdiness to the packaging solution. The folding of the material brings about the unique signature look – as well as the name: FOLD.
“I finally realized that this is something that had never been accomplished on an industrial scale before,” Kouko looks back.
Kouko’s idea was further developed in a two-year cooperation project between VTT and Aalto University (as part of the FinnCeres flagship project funded by the Academy of Finland), after which the Co-Creation phase was launched in early 2021.
Funded by Business Finland, the Co-Creation project aimed to e.g. identify technological bottlenecks and map out the commercial potential of the solution. Kouko says that the topic had been studied – at least to some extent – previously as well, but the singular chance for an international breakthrough was still there:
“From our point of view, there were no other players in the field and our project had fresh scientific and technological innovation value.”
Veera Virtanen, an experienced VTT Co-Creation manager, spurred the project to a new level, drawing up a roadmap for success.
“Veera’s networks, knowledge, model materials and enthusiasm were invaluable to the first-time project manager,” Kouko credits his colleague.
FOLD received partnership funding from Business Finland’s ExpandFibre Ecosystem, and eight companies jumped aboard the “train”. Tuomas Lehtinen, Ecosystem Lead at Business Finland, talks about the value network that serves as the engine of FOLD.
The corporate partners were very excited to participate and networking got under way great.
“In addition to market potential and novelty value, the key here was that the companies were ready to commit to FOLD’s value network with their own R&D projects,” says Lehtinen, adding that FOLD links seamlessly with the Sustainable Packaging theme of Business Finland’s Bio and Circular Economy program.
“The corporate partners were very excited to participate and networking got under way great. Therefore a very convincing, comprehensive value chain was established,” says Jarmo Kouko.
In the project, major forest industry players Stora Enso and Metsä Group represent the suppliers of renewable, fiber-based materials; similarly, Lumene represents large brand owners who were also immediately interested in the new concept. Soften, an expert in acoustic materials, and Mirka, a manufacturer of sandpaper, offer broadening application opportunities for FOLD.
The equipment manufacturing side is represented in the project by the design agency Elomatic, the packaging line manufacturer Orfer and the forest industry equipment manufacturer Anpap.
“We were able to approach the topic in a very diverse way. The technology will be developed together, even if there are competitors involved,” says Kouko.
Veera Virtanen considers the Co-Creation project to be a “model example” of a well-balanced research consortium:
“All participants – both large and small – had the same common will and appreciation for the other players.” In addition, Aalto University played an important role, drawing on the expertise of as many as three different faculties.
All the hard work also paid off: when the Co-Creation project came to its end in November 2021, a follow-up project, the two-year FOLD Co-Innovation, was launched. The same project team will continue to power up FOLD as the focus will shift, even more, to tech development, commercialization and export potential.
The FOLD Co-Innovation project, which officially started on 1 January 2022, has a budget of approximately EUR 5.6 million, of which Business Finland’s support is EUR 2.9 million.
Bringing an alternative to plastic packaging is also important here.
“Business Finland wants to support FOLD since the concept offers a significant opportunity to build sustainable export products. Bringing an alternative to plastic packaging is also important here,” says Tuomas Lehtinen.
In terms of exports, both the FOLD material itself as well as the machine technology and design could be exported, Jarmo Kouko says.
“There are already a lot of applications – and more are being invented all the time,” he says.
Check out the Bio and Circular Finland Program