Food packaging ink that can be used on medical devices is being used on respirator face masks

Fast-drying, high-contrast, and suitable for PPE, a new ink – called TIJ-BK119 – from Domino Printing Sciences, is the  latest component in its range of C-19 solutions.

This newly launched ink for Domino’s Gx-Series range of thermal inkjet (TIJ) printers was originally developed for food industry applications meaning it is food-packaging safe and adheres to EuPIA’s Good Manufacturing Practice protocols. The food packaging ink is now being used by manufacturers of particle-filtering respirator face masks produced to protect frontline workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Both respirator face masks and surgical masks have played a key role in the global fight against COVID-19,” says James Gibbins, product manager – fluids at Domino. “In the last year, we have seen a significant rise in demand for these products, with many manufacturers producing them for the very first time.

“Respirator face masks are classified as personal protective equipment, while surgical masks fall under the category of medical devices – both are subject to compulsory coding requirements within the countries in which they are sold,” he continues. “The capability and expertise to apply the necessary safety and quality codes are crucial, both for legislative compliance and consumer safety.”

With the global surgical mask market forecast to reach $87.67 billion by 2027, driven by the profound change in public health awareness, demand for coding and marking in the medical device sector is expected to remain high. Unlike surgical masks, which are designed to restrict the spread of saliva droplets, and so protect others and the external environment from possible contamination, respirator face masks are designed to protect the wearer, and others, by filtering harmful substances and viruses from air flow in both directions.

Typically, TIJ is the coding application of choice for both respirator and surgical masks, as legibility and contrast are of key concern when adhering to regulatory standards, such as the European Union Regulation 2016/425 on PPE, and Regulation 2017/745 on Medical Devices. Respirator face masks are subject to ISO and EN standards, which specify that each mask must carry a ‘CE logo’ and include reference to the filter type (for example FFP1, FFP2 and FFP3 in Europe) – which differs based on the region of sale. Among TIJ inks, BK119 is exceptionally high contrast for maximum legibility, making it suitable for all regulatory coding types, including Data Matrix and 2D codes.

“BK119 was developed to ensure maximum code quality, and legibility,” says Gibbins. “In addition to meeting compliance requirements of manufacturers of medical devices and PPE, it is also fast drying with excellent adhesion properties, making it an ideal coding solution for non-porous respirator face masks.”

Respirator masks are typically produced on high-speed manufacturing lines, with coding applied before masks are die-cut into their final form. This process can mean that masks interact with a lot of machinery after the code has been applied, both during die-cutting, and subsequent packaging. Such processes require a robust, fast-drying ink, to reduce the risk of a code becoming smudged or unreadable.

The face masks are made up of four, non-porous, layers, including a polypropylene filter and acrylic backing plate, and, depending on the filtration level, may also include moisture barriers for additional protection against airborne contagions. Respirator face masks cannot readily absorb water-based ink, and so Domino says ethanol-based BK119 is a suitable solution. For other, porous mask types, including surgical masks, Domino’s proprietary, water-based, food packaging inks (BK652 and BK651) provide an appropriate alternative.

To date, Domino has supplied over 1,000 TIJ printheads globally for face mask applications, with over 400 printheads going into a single factory in China.

“The last 12 months have brought about profound change on a global level, with manufacturers from across industries coming together to address public health needs,” says Jill Woods, Product Compliance Officer, Domino. “As a member of EuPIA, Domino’s manufactured inks – compliant to GMP – have enabled manufacturers to comply with the legal coding requirements for particle-filtering respirator face masks, as well as surgical masks, and additional PPE.”

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