Methods and applications of particle size analysis and characterization

Particle size analysis is not a topic that many people master, but it does have an undisputable role in the products they consume or use daily. It practically refers to collecting particles with the purpose of characterizing their size distribution. Particle size analysis represents a crucial process for numerous industries, from pharmaceuticals and building materials, food and beverages to cosmetics. Selecting the right method for completing this process is very important for obtaining optimal results. The most common particle size analysis and characterization methods include laser diffraction, dynamic light scattering and automated imaging.

Laser diffraction is the favorite method used by manufacturers because it works for a multitude of products and provides accurate results. They use light intensity to determine particle size. Dynamic light scattering is more adequate for macromolecules offering information about the size, weight and zeta potential or “charge” of the particle. The process consists in observing the motion range of the particle, previously placed in a special liquid. The main difference between laser diffraction and dynamic light scattering is that the latter takes longer to complete. The last method, namely automated imaging involves separating the particles and capturing the process with a digital camera. The goal is determining the exact shape and size of each particle. In comparison to the other two methods mentioned above, automated imaging allows gathering more data about the particles sampled.

In what concerns the applications of particle size analysis and particle size characterization, this article cannot even comprise all the numerous applications. For this reason, it will tackle those industries that rely on this process the most, namely the food and beverage industry, the cement industry, the plastics industry, the cosmetics industry, the pigments and inks industry. When it comes to foods and drinks, particles’ distribution and size has the power to influence the appearance, texture and taste of the final product. For instance, chocolate manufacturers resort to laser diffraction in order to assess the creaminess level of the product, simply because they want to ensure excellent customer experience. Chocolate practically combines two main ingredients, milk and cocoa powder, making it easy for the manufacturers to make changes to the production process. In cement industry, manufacturers also use the laser diffraction, which represents the cheapest and easiest method to use for minimizing the costs and improving performance.

Concerning plastics and polymers, these products need to meet certain strict requirements including compressive strength, chemical composition, density, impact resistance and melting point. Particle size analysis allows the manipulation of the manufacturing process of plastics. It also contributes to improving the transport and packaging operations. The beauty industry relies heavily on creams and powders, apart from particle size analysis of course, which is fundamental for obtaining the right consistency. For moisturizers, manufacturers gather data regarding particle size distribution and zeta potential. For lipsticks, color and pigment are essential factors that truly determine the quality of the final product. For pigments and inks industry, products like pens and computer printers undergo various applications in order to reach maximum quality.

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