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Detectabil­i­ty in the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal and food indus­tries using the exam­ple of silicone

28.09.2022   | Tim Panster

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Sil­i­cone is fre­quent­ly used as a mate­r­i­al, espe­cial­ly in the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal and food indus­tries. How­ev­er, it must not get into the human body, oth­er­wise there is a risk of injuries or symp­toms of poi­son­ing. Accord­ing­ly, it is essen­tial in these indus­tries to be able to reli­ably detect and remove for­eign bod­ies in prod­ucts (for exam­ple, with the aid of a met­al detec­tor). The key word in this con­text is detectability.

Tech­nol­o­gy solu­tions are usu­al­ly used for this pur­pose, because a pure­ly visu­al inspec­tion is not suf­fi­cient to detect all con­t­a­m­i­nants. This requires sen­si­tive sen­sors as well as detectable mate­ri­als that can be detect­ed by machines in food and drugs.

What makes prod­ucts detectable?

Sil­i­cone is not inher­ent­ly detectable. Nei­ther is it mag­net­ic, nor does its den­si­ty dif­fer sig­nif­i­cant­ly from oth­er mate­ri­als, mak­ing detec­tion by X‑ray scan­ner dif­fi­cult. There­fore, it is usu­al­ly nec­es­sary to change the mate­r­i­al com­po­si­tion of the com­pound to make it detectable.


An object is detectable if it can be reli­ably detect­ed in a medi­um sur­round­ing it. In prac­tice, dif­fer­ent types of detectabil­i­ty exist, depend­ing on the sen­sor tech­nol­o­gy used, e.g. X‑ray or met­al detectability. 

There are sev­er­al approach­es to mak­ing a com­po­nent detectable. In the con­text of sil­i­cone, the most com­mon method is to add mag­net­ic met­al par­ti­cles to the mate­r­i­al, to which met­al detec­tors respond.

For larg­er for­eign bod­ies, infrared-based sen­sor detec­tion is also pos­si­ble. This responds to dif­fer­ences in sur­face tex­ture. How­ev­er, the tech­nol­o­gy is more like­ly to be used in prod­uct sort­ing, rather than in the con­text of safe­ty and hygiene in the food indus­try.

Bel­lows made of sil­i­cone with detectable material

Influ­ence on mate­r­i­al properties 

Addi­tives that add detectable char­ac­ter­is­tics to a mate­r­i­al simul­ta­ne­ous­ly affect its mate­r­i­al prop­er­ties. This fact is not rel­e­vant in all areas. How­ev­er, the design depart­ment should keep it in mind.

If sil­i­cone con­tains a detectable pro­por­tion of met­al par­ti­cles, it can no longer be processed in liq­uid form. The filler changes the flow prop­er­ties too much. Pro­duc­tion must instead work with sol­id sil­i­cone, which may require a dif­fer­ent type of mold.

Anoth­er exam­ple con­cerns Shore hard­ness. Depend­ing on the mate­r­i­al, added fillers can increase or decrease the Shore val­ue. Accord­ing­ly, the design depart­ment must coun­ter­act this to main­tain the desired hard­ness of the sil­i­cone, for exam­ple by using a soft­er base mate­r­i­al. Oth­er­wise, the arti­cle may no longer meet the require­ments defined at the beginning.

Sub­se­quent adjust­ments are cost-intensive

Changes to the mate­r­i­al prop­er­ties through the addi­tion of fillers are par­tic­u­lar­ly rel­e­vant if a sil­i­cone com­po­nent is to be sub­se­quent­ly made detectable. The mod­i­fi­ca­tions may require an adap­ta­tion of the man­u­fac­tur­ing process, espe­cial­ly of the mold. This may entail addi­tion­al invest­ment costs. There­fore, design­ers should con­sid­er in advance whether a com­po­nent should be detectable and include this infor­ma­tion in their specifications.


Detectable prod­ucts are only one com­po­nent in a safe­ty con­cept that cov­ers the entire pro­duc­tion process. Com­pa­nies must not only pre­vent for­eign bod­ies from get­ting into their prod­ucts, but also pro­tect them­selves in case this does hap­pen. Detectabil­i­ty is a fall­back in case of an emer­gency, but it should always be com­bined with robust hygiene and pro­duc­tion con­cepts as well as for­ward-look­ing mate­r­i­al selection. 


Sil­i­cone prod­ucts are detectable if addi­tives are added to the mate­r­i­al to change its char­ac­ter­is­tics and make it detectable to a met­al detec­tor, for exam­ple. This can be done with man­age­able effort, even away from food production.

The chal­lenge is to main­tain the desired mate­r­i­al prop­er­ties and qual­i­ty despite the addi­tion of addi­tives. In most cas­es, it is nec­es­sary to adapt the for­mu­la­tion for this pur­pose. There­fore, com­pa­nies should always note machine detectabil­i­ty in their spec­i­fi­ca­tions, if nec­es­sary. In this way, they can avoid expen­sive sub­se­quent adjust­ments to their products.


Secure the Start of Production 

Learn which fac­tors influ­ence your SOP!


Autor: Tim Panster

Tim Panster joined Jäger in 2019 as a sales rep­re­sen­ta­tive for the Essen loca­tion. In 2020, he com­plet­ed his Mas­ter of Sci­ence in Indus­tri­al Engi­neer­ing at the FOM Uni­ver­si­ty of Eco­nom­ics & Management.

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