Metal and X-ray detectable 3D printed nylon components


Foreign body contamination in food products is a major area of concern for food processors and manufacturers. Until recently, it has meant the benefits offered by 3D-printed machinery components were out of reach. Thanks to the development of detectable polymer additives, this is no longer the case, as Radical Materials explains.

Examples of foreign body inclusions are fragments of metal, bone and glass, as well as plastics and rubbers, which find their way into the food production chain from products, equipment or machinery used as part of the processing line. Should such foreign bodies pass through into the consumer chain, then there is a significant risk to consumer health as well as huge financial and reputational implications to the manufacturers.

Standard plastics and rubbers are used extensively in machinery and products within food production lines and, as foreign body particles, are often totally undetectable by conventional metal and X-ray detection systems.

The manufacturing technique is also a consideration when it comes to plastic components utilised on food production lines. Components can, for example, be injection moulded or machined from solid, but it is often desirable to have such components manufactured by 3D printing. This can offer a range of benefits, including:

  • A rapid development process and easy transition from prototype to production.
  • A high design freedom and the opportunity to continuously change and optimise the design.
  • The ability to produce complex geometries, which would not typically be possible using traditional manufacturing methods.
  • No requirement for expensive tooling and the elimination of the waste associated with machining from a solid form.

Radical Materials was approached by the Danish Technological Institute (DTI) to facilitate a specific customer’s requirement for metal-detectable 3D-printed nylon parts for the food processing industry. For this to be taken to a successful outcome, Radical Materials was required to supply a detectable additive to DTI, which would need to meet the following requirements:

  • It had to be highly metal detectable, such that the final printed components achieved high levels of detectability whilst utilising the lowest addition rate possible into DTI’s base nylon powder.
  • It had to be compatible with DTI’s 3D printing process used to manufacture the nylon components.
  • It had to be capable of meeting the food contact regulations required of the final components.

Working together on this global issue, DTI successfully mixed and processed detectable powder from Radical Materials with its base polymer. The organisation subsequently developed the parameters in its process, ultimately offering the production of metal-detectable 3D-printed nylon parts to the customer.

The resulting material was tested and reported on by Radical Materials for both metal and X-ray detectability.

As a further enhancement to the offering, and responding to demands from the wider industry, there was a requirement for DTI to be able to offer nylon-printed components, which were not only strongly detectable by metal detection systems but also by X-ray detectors.

Radical Materials subsequently developed and supplied a special additive blend, which DTI mixed with its base nylon powder and used to successfully print nylon parts with both metal and X-ray detection performance. An additional benefit of this additive blend is that, due to the specific materials utilised, colouring of the final components is easily achieved, and DTI was able to offer products in a bright and bold blue.

Mads Østergaard, Team Manager at the Danish Technological Institute, commented: “We first became aware of metal detectable powder through experiences from the injection moulding industry, and we believe that it has great potential in 3D printing as well. With the detectable additives and blends from Radical Materials, we can explore new business opportunities, develop new types of products, and enter new markets where we can demonstrate the potential of 3D printing.

Chris Vince, Technical Director at Radical Materials, added: “As a company, we already offered leading solutions for imparting metal and X-ray detectability to polymer products manufactured by techniques such as moulding and extrusion. We were aware of the advantages of 3D printing and the benefits of utilising this technique to produce components for the food processing industry. We are therefore happy to have been able to support DTI in its successful venture to offer the best of both worlds.”



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