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10 Applications for Particle Size Analysis

10 Applications for Particle Size Analysis

Particle size analysis involves using methods such as laser diffraction to measure the size of particles within a sample. By measuring and controlling particle size, manufacturers are able to deliver higher quality products. Here we look at 10 industries or products that have benefited from the application of particle size analysis.

1. Asthma puffers

For asthma sufferers, inhalers can help relieve respiratory discomfort on a day-to-day basis, and may even be the difference between life and death.

Studies have shown that asthma sufferers don’t always use their puffers according to directions, and the effectiveness of an inhaler can vary between users. In fact there are several factors that determine the efficacy of a puffer, including;

  • Construction of the device
  • Particle size of the drug
  • Technique of the user
  • Respiratory flow of the user

It is near impossible to ensure that asthma sufferers always chose the right puffer or consistently use the correct technique. Particle size, however, is one factor that manufacturers can control to ensure that asthma medication is delivered as efficiently as possible. Particle size analysis plays a key role in developing aerosols for effective delivery into the asthma sufferer’s lungs.

2. Inks

From pens, to computer printers, to professional book and screen printing – ink applications are wide ranging. Ink is essentially a fluid used to mark solids and there is low tolerance for error when it comes to the manufacturing quality of ink.

Particle size in pen ink relates largely to pigments which can affect:

  • Viscosity of the ink
  • Colour
  • Stability of the ink

Through careful analysis, manufacturers can gain control over the performance of fundamental ink properties, resulting in a better overall product and manufacturing process.

3. Cement

In cement manufacturing, there are two key areas where laser diffraction particle size analysis can have a material impact:

  • Controlling manufacturing costs
  • Increasing performance

Prior to the wide availability of particle size analysis equipment, common methods included the use of sieve and air permeability tests. While these methods are still in use, laser diffraction through particle size analysis is faster, cheaper and easier to use and automate.

When particle size in cement manufacturing plays such an important role in both price and performance, it’s no wonder particle size analysis is so widely used in this industry.

4. Road safety

The effectiveness of reflective surfaces used in road safety measures is dependent on the particulate size and distribution of reflective material.

Glass beads are typically used as the reflective surface. The reduction of impurities and promotion of desirable particle distribution can aid manufacturers in the production of glass beads that:

  • Reflect over greater distances
  • Reflect more uniformly
  • Last longer

Given the importance of providing clearly visible and reflective markings on long stretches of road and highway, accurate testing using particle size analysis is vital to ensure consistency and improvement.

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5. Ceramics

Ceramics are most commonly produced from powders. The size and distribution of particles within these powders has significant effects on both the function and manufacturing of ceramic products. Depending on the function of the ceramic, particle size analysis can aid in:

  • Densification
  • Transport
  • Mechanical properties

A single gram of ceramic powder can have billions of particles, with a total surface area of several square meters. Particle size analysis allows an understanding of both particle distribution and percentage of impurities within the powder. Using laser diffraction, the appraisal process is much faster and easier to accomplish than with a manual sieve.

6. Semisolid pharmaceuticals

In general terms, semisolids possess properties of both liquids and solids. In pharmaceuticals, semisolids are used for specific applications or in situations where the delivery of the drug is critical for patients who can’t accept traditional delivery types.

Example of semisolid pharmaceuticals include:

  • Ointments
  • Gels
  • Lotions
  • Creams

Because medicine is critical to our health and wellbeing, there is little room for error. With the help of particle size analysis, pharmacists and manufacturers can gain more accuracy in drug design and quality control, benefiting both patients and companies.

7. Cosmetics

The beauty industry is heavily reliant on semisolid products such as powders and creams. Particle size is a key factor in the consistency of these materials and laser diffraction can benefit analysis and development of a variety of cosmetic products.

  • Generally, moisturisers are oil in water emulsions, the formulation of which requires knowledge of both the particle size distribution of the oil dispersal and the zeta potential, which is the charge on the surface of the droplets.
  • Lipstick colour is related to the use and selection of pigments. Particle size affects the colour and effect of the product. Larger particles, for example, create sparkle and other lustre effects, while small particles typically create a ‘silky’ finish.
  • The particle size and distribution of foundations and other facial powders can affect the stability of the product, as well as appearance and capacity to provide sun protection through the use of light scattering components like zinc oxide.

When it comes to the highly competitive cosmetics industry, most manufacturers strive for perfection. Particle size analysis is therefore an indispensable tool in research and development of cosmetic products.

8. Soils and sediments

From farming and agriculture to building, construction, conservation and mining – soil and sediment are critical materials in a range of high value industries.

Soil and sediment can be classified into categories, most commonly:

  • Sand
  • Silt
  • Clay

Each type exhibits different qualities and varying levels of stability, water retention, aeration and drainage. Across all industries that require knowledge of soil properties, laser diffraction particle analysis can offer insight into the distribution of particulate types and the potential risks and benefits of given soil samples.

9. Food and drink

Size and distribution of particles in food and drink products can affect the taste, texture, appearance and stability of the product.

For example, coffee beans need to be ground into fine particulates after roasting and before brewing. Optimal levels of particulate size will depend on the type of bean, desired flavour and method of brewing. For coffee roasters, control over particle size is therefore extremely important for consumer experience.

Chocolate is another product that can benefit from laser diffraction. ‘Mouth feel’, which describes the optimal creaminess of eating chocolate, is a key factor in delivering a superior consumer experience. As chocolate is primarily a combination of milk solids and cocoa powder, particle size analysis can help chocolate producers manipulate their production process to maximise customer satisfaction.

10. Plastics

Plastics and polymers invariably benefit from particle size analysis. Polystyrene, for example, has particle sizes ranging from 20 nanometers to 1000 microns.

In most plastic manufacturing processes, the starting material is a pellet or powder. These feeder materials must meet a number of criteria, including:

  • Melting point
  • Flexural strength
  • Compressive strength
  • Impact resistance
  • Chemical resistance
  • Density
  • Tensile strength
  • Chemical composition

Each of these criteria are greatly affected by the particle size distribution of the pellets or powder. Particle size analysis can also improve transport and packaging processes – pellets and powders are easier to ship than heated slurries.

The benefits of particle size analysis

By using laser diffraction to measure particle size, this technique allows analysis of particle behaviour and consistency in a range of products. Understanding particle size gives manufacturers the information and control needed to ensure delivery of high quality products across a variety of industries.

If you’re in an industry that relies on particle size analysis, you’ll benefit from investing in quality instruments to measure particle size. ATA Scientific offers a range of products perfect for this application, so browse our product range today.