Over the years, there have been a number of firms pitching food-safe 3D printing materials to the market. However, what may not always be immediately clear is that the materials alone are sufficient 3D printing truly food-safe objects. The printers themselves must also be certified for producing items that will be in contact with food.
Forward AM, the 3D printing brand of chemical giant BASF, has made taken an important step in increasing the adoption of additive manufacturing (AM) in food related industries. The company has achieved the first TÜV certification for a 3D printing process for producing end parts for food contact.
Despite their ubiquity—from being embedded in our clothing to being embedded in the bodies of sea creatures—plastics aren’t necessarily safe for human ingestion. Even if a food safe material is chosen, such as polyethylene terephthalate (PET), the rest of the manufacturing process and even packaging must be certified for food contact as well. When it comes to extrusion 3D printing, for instance, the extruders through which the plastic passes must be examined to ensure that microbes or other hazards aren’t passed onto the end product.
A TUV certified BCN3D 3D printer. Image courtesy of Forward AM.
In an effort to enable food-safe 3D printing, BASF spinout Replique and its customer, German appliance manufacturer Miele, worked with Forward AM. To meet EU regulations, including Good Manufacturing Practices, Forward AM applied processes and measurements dedicated to avoiding risk of cross contamination. Using BCN3D 3D printers, the company 3D printed Ultrafuse PET parts, which were tested based on LFGB and Regulation (EC) No. 1935/2004. With certification from TÜV Rheinland, Forward AM can now say that its process is suitable for food contact.
“With TÜV Rheinland certification we are closing a critical gap in the Additive Manufacturing of parts intended for food contact. This holistic solution means we are now able to offer our customers the production of officially safe food-contact parts”, said Christian Reinhardt, Business Development Manager, BASF 3D Printing Solutions. “The TÜV certification proves that 3D printing has matured as a manufacturing technology and is now able to produce highest-standard end parts in a fully controlled and audited process. What’s more, this certification confirms Forward AM’s aspiration to become the food industry’s leading consultancy and supplier for the manufacture of 3D printed food-contact parts.”
A tool for sprinkling coffee toppings in predetermined shapes. Image courtesy of Miele.
Replique already works with Miele to 3D print accessories through its 3D4U project, which allows customers to purchase the parts through Miele’s online shop. This includes food contact components, such as a coffee clip. This opens the duo up to 3D printing many more food contact accessories that might be paired with Miele gadgets, which then acts as a demonstrator partnership that could lead Replique to perform AM for other brands, while also expanding the types of food safe parts that might be 3D printed.
At the same time, the brands involved are forging an entry point into any number of food-related verticals, such as restaurants and the hospitality industry, where custom goods may be printed for special events. The lack of food safe 3D printing processes has so far hindered development in this area, but, given BASF’s sway as the largest chemical company in the world, it may be able to crack this area open, causing an influx of 3D printing firms to follow suit. Fortunately for BASF, this means more petrochemical production as the world attempts to shift away from fossil fuels.