Sensor set to monitor rheology during production of liquids

Technology developed at Sheffield University is expected to enable engineers to monitor, in real time, how the rheology of liquids change during a production process.

‘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.

According to a statement, the viscosity of most liquids changes under different conditions and designers often use mathematical equations to determine what these changes might be.

The team from Sheffield has now developed a way of predicting these changes using a non-invasive sensor system that the liquid flows through. The sensor feeds information back through an electronic device that calculates a range of likely behaviours.

Dr Rees explained: ‘Measuring the individual components of a liquid’s viscosity is called rheometry. We can produce equations to measure a liquid’s total viscosity, but the rheology of most liquids is very complicated.

‘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.’

The university believes companies developing new products will be able to incorporate the device into their development process, meaning there will no longer be a need for samples to be taken away for laboratory testing.

The device can be made to any scale and can be etched onto a microchip, with channels about the width of a human hair. This will reportedly be useful for testing where only small samples of fluid are available, such as in biological samples.

The team has developed a laboratory prototype of the system and is currently working to refine the technology and develop a design prototype.

Will Zimmerman, professor of biochemical dynamical systems in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, said: ‘Because the microrheometer works in real time, materials, time and energy will not be wasted when processing flaws are detected.

‘Conservation is one of the best ways to “green” industrial processing with greater efficiency.’

A paper describing the innovation has been published in the journal Measurement Science and Technology.