The Art of Homeland Security


Manufacturing commercial Explosive simulants

Taming Explosives
for Training

Detecting Concealed
Explosives with
Gamma Rays

NYC Bomb Squad Training Manual

Nitromethane K-9 Detection Limit (pdf)

The Art in Homeland Security
"From Artist’s Clay & Paints to Explosive Simulants"
Robert Augur, V.P.XM Division, Van Aken International


XM is a division of Van Aken International located in North Charleston, South Carolina. Founded in 1986, Van Aken International manufactures paints and modeling clay used by artists worldwide.

In 1998, on a lead from the FAA Technical Center, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) and Van Aken International collaborated to provide a commercial source for the production of non-hazardous X-ray explosive simulants. There were many technical and process development challenges.

This paper summarizes how the process technology developed for the production of artist’s supplies was used in the production of X-ray explosive simulants.

Determining Simulant Compositions

Over 200 preliminary trial formulations were made at LLNL. The key parameters relating to X-ray transmission were to match density and average atomic number. It was also very important to match the physical state of the target explosives while insuring the non-hazardous, non-toxic nature of these simulants.

Thirteen of these formulations were chosen for production. They are representative of the range of X-ray signatures exhibited by almost all of the many thousands of explosive materials available worldwide.

Manufacturing Commercial Explosive Simulants

SEMTEX, Comp C-4 and Detasheet explosives are moldable high-energy explosives that have had extensive military use. Their physical properties are very similar to artist's modeling clay. XM Division's large sigma mixer (Figure 1) is ideally suited for preparing these materials.

Plastic and plasticizer are first added to the large mixer heated to about 110C. Solids with the appropriate density and atomic number are then added. After mixing is complete, the hot putty-like solid is removed in approximately twenty-pound blobs.(Figure 2) compares product from a 1,200-pound mix of modeling clay to product from a Comp C-4 simulant mix.

Artist's modeling clay and plastique explosives are extruded to final shape. XM Division installed a high capacity vacuum extruder to obtain the high densities required for the plastique X-ray explosive simulants. See Figure 3.


Fig. 1 (click to enlarge)

Fig. 2 (click to enlarge)

Fig. 3 (click to enlarge)