AMS Spring 2023

3D Printed Manual Hand Mixer, the Picture of Culinary Chic But Probably Not Food Safe

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No question about it, this bright red, 3D-printed, manual handmixer created by Instructables contributor, “Make it Big,” deserves its place in the pantheon of Culinary Chic, artful yet functional tools for contemporary cooks. You can 3D print one yourself and all you’ll need is, it probably goes without saying, a 3D printer as well as some PLA filament and a bit of epoxy.

“Make it Big,” a 3D printing enthusiast and student from Germany, designed the hand mixer himself and then used his K8200 3D printer and red PLA (set at  a layer height of 0.2mm) to print this arguably, super aesthetically appealing hand mixer. He suggests downloading his .stl files from the Instructables site and using Cura or Slic3r for slicing.

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Follow his easy instructions and you, too, will be the proud owner of your own 3D printed manual hand mixer in the color–or colors–of your choice. It’s the next step that becomes problematic: Using the device. He explained, “Although PLA consists of plants, it is not completely food safe.” Let’s back up a bit now. First, PLA or Polylactic Acid, is a biodegradable thermoplastic aliphatic polyester. It is produced via processing of a variety of plant products such as corn, sugar beets, and potatoes. It is considered to be the eco friendly material (as opposed to ABS, the other, most common 3D printing material) and is actually used in food packaging and containers. Most commercial composting facilities accept PLA.

That said, there seems to be considerable controversy among the 3D printing community about whether PLA actually is food safe, although consensus overwhelmingly warns against using ABS for containers, utensils, or any other objects that come into contact with food–like this hand mixer, for instance. One of the major problems is that with FFF (Fused Filament Fabrication) even with 100% infill, there are tiny voids between layers, little pockets where bacteria can grow.mixer parts

So, while the PLA material itself isn’t technically toxic if ingested, you cannot get it clean enough to kill potentially harmful bacteria it may be harboring. That’s because you can’t sterilize it as the plastic will begin to melt or “flow” when it is heated to 130 to 150F (depending on its formulation). It would melt in the dishwasher or, if you tried to drink a hot beverage in a cup printed in PLA, you’d likely end up with the coffee or tea in your lap as the bottom melted out of the container.

Several sources we found recommended finishing a container or, in this case, the hand mixer, with post-processing solvent or a coat of paint, and one recommended adjusting 3D printer settings for “over-extrusion to fill the air gaps between filament layers.” The bottom line, however, is that even if you’re printing with PLA, there are no guarantees that it’s 100% food safe, either from a contact or an ingestion perspective.

The good news is that the 3D printing industry seems to be working diligently to solve the problem of food-safe printing materials. Ceramic material and Polypropylene (PP) filament, seem to be pretty good bets at this point. Meanwhile, keep designing and sharing your 3D-printed kitchen gadgets and containers and one day very soon, the industry will catch up!

Have you printed this mixer out?  Let’s hear your thoughts on how food-safe it may or may not be.  Discuss in the 3D Printed Mixer forum thread on 3DPB.com.

 

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