The technology developed at the University of Sheffield enables engineers to monitor, in real time, how the viscous components of liquids change during a production process, making it easier, quicker and cheaper to control the properties of the liquid.
"Companies that make liquid products need to know how the liquids will behave in different circumstances because these different behaviours can affect the texture, the taste or even the smell of a product," said Dr Julia Rees from the University's Department of Applied Mathematics, who co-authored the study.
The viscosity of most liquids changes under different conditions and product formulators and designers often use complicated mathematical equations to determine what these changes might be.
Using a non-invasive sensor system that the liquid simply flows through, the researchers claim they can now predict these changes. The sensor feeds information back through an electronic device that calculates a range of likely behaviours.
"We can produce equations to measure a liquid's total viscosity, but the rheology of most liquids is very complicated,” explained Rees.
“Instead, we look at properties in a liquid that we can measure easily, and then apply maths to calculate the viscosity. The sensor device we have developed will be able to make these calculations for companies using a straightforward testing process."
Cost and efficiency savings
According to the team from Sheffield, companies developing new products will be able to incorporate the device into their development process, meaning there will no longer be a need for 'grab samples' to be taken away for expensive laboratory testing, providing cost and efficiency savings.
The research team explained the device can be made to any scale and can even be etched onto a microchip, with channels about the width of a human hair, making it useful for testing where only small samples of fluid are available, for example in biological samples.
Rees and her team have developed a laboratory prototype of the system and are currently working to refine the technology and develop a design prototype. The device is suitable to test the viscosity of a range of consumer goods.
The research is a joint project between the University's Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, and the School of Mathematics and Statistics and was published in the journal Measurement Science and Technology.