Using Particle Shape Analysis to Ensure Quality Control Measures Across Different Industries

Most materials are made up of many different particle types of varying shapes and sizes. When characterizing these particles, the goal is to calculate how much of each type exists in your sample. Laser Diffraction or Light Obscuration can provide a simple particle size distribution which offers you size information only.  This may be adequate when dealing with a uniform mixture. But what happens when you have particles of similar size that are different shapes? 

If this is your scenario, then you need a method that can analyze particle shape, as well as size.  

Many industries will analyze the shape of particles as part of their quality processes because shape will impact the performance of their raw materials and/or the quality of their final product.  Characteristics like texture, flowability, solubility, and reactivity can all be affected by particle shape.  Here are a few examples of how particle shape analysis is utilized to ensure both product quality and process quality.

Verifying uniform particle shape for process efficiency

Column chromatography is used in a variety of industries to separate and purify complex mixtures. Uniform shape and size of column packing material creates tighter column density control, and in turn, better column performance.  Using flow imaging techniques, you can easily analyze column packing material to verify particle uniformity.

The images below were captured from a column packing material batch analysis performed with the FlowCam, a flow imaging microscope.  

Round, acceptable particles are shown on the left, and less round, unacceptable particles on the right.  The analysis concluded that for a total of 9,261 particles imaged, stored, and measured, 8,921 of them (97.26% by volume) were acceptable and 340 of them (2.74% by volume) were unacceptable.  The batch passed because greater than 95% of the particles had acceptable shape… and the analysis took less than a minute.

Verifying Particle Uniformity with Flow Imaging Techniques and Particle Shape Analysis

Image Credit: Yokogawa Fluid Imaging Technologies, Inc.

One advantage of the FlowCam system and paired VisualSpreadsheet® software is that you can quickly and easily sort images by acceptable and unacceptable attributes. You can then extrapolate the statistically significant findings to the larger population of material in short order.

Measuring particle surface roughness for quality control

Superabrasives are used extensively in applications for cutting, grinding, and drilling of hard materials. The most effective particles are the ones with a smooth and uniform surface. In this example below, a batch of micronized diamonds is analyzed with a FlowCam to determine if it meets the manufacturer's specifications.  At least 95% of the diamond particles need to have a uniform and smooth surface.

The images below show the result of the batch analysis of the micronized diamonds using VisualSpreadsheet Software. The images from the set on the left have relatively smooth perimeters with rounded edges, whereas the images from the set on the right are more angular. VisualSpreadsheet lets you create specific filters to help classify your images based on different parameters, such as volume, aspect ratio, equivalent spherical diameter, sphericity etc. This way you can quickly sort your images, analyze the contents of your sample, and determine if it meets or fails the specifications. For the example below, the percentage of angular particles was less than 5%, and therefore this batch of diamonds met the set specification.

Verifying Particle Uniformity with Flow Imaging Techniques and Particle Shape Analysis

Image Credit: Yokogawa Fluid Imaging Technologies, Inc.

A variety of morphological characteristics can be used to determine particle surface roughness. Some of these particle measurements include aspect ratio, circularity, edge gradient, and perimeter.  The FlowCam’s VisualSpreadsheet software even has a roughness measurement that can measure the irregularity of a particle’s surface. 

Identifying different particle types for process evaluation

An electronic device manufacturer uses the FlowCam to analyze wash water. The devices are rinsed and washed to remove traces of fibers, metals and plastics that can occur during the manufacturing process.  It’s important that the wash water contain a minimum number of certain particles types, such as fibers, plastics and metals in particular, which could indicate problems in their production, and lead to potential device failures. 

A diversity of particles was found in their wash water. These included long and skinny fiber particles, semi-transparent metal shavings, and more opaque plastic particles.  VisualSpreadsheet allows you to create libraries based on particle characteristics. Each run was automatically filtered by particle type, and the corresponding volume percent, either particles/ml, or particles per million, all calculated in real time. The images below show the sample sorted by different particle type.  

Verifying Particle Uniformity with Flow Imaging Techniques and Particle Shape Analysis

Image Credit: Yokogawa Fluid Imaging Technologies, Inc.

With the FlowCam, the manufacturer can quickly identify and quantify particles found in the wash water and can determine areas in the manufacturing process that may need attention. 


This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by Yokogawa Fluid Imaging Technologies and originally authored by Joyce Brown.

For more information on this source, please visit Yokogawa Fluid Imaging Technologies, Inc.

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