Viscosity measurement

A consortium led by the University of Birmingham’s School of Engineering is to develop a new generation of rheometers.

These new micro devices will be developed in partnership with industrial partners Surface Measurement Systems, Rockfield Software and Applied Microengineering, industry leaders in instrumentation, software and microengineering.

The final system will give manufacturing partners ICI and Unilever access to a new generation of instrumentation that will allow the rapid and cost effective development, characterisation and testing of a wide range of liquid based products, ranging from health care to food products.

This new micro rheometer or ‘treacleometer’ based upon micro and nanotechnology will measure the viscosity or ‘feel’ of a liquid based product, such as hair shampoo or sun block.

Looking rather like a micro straw, fluid will be drawn up into the device and the force exerted upon it will be measured by micromachined sensors.

This is an important measurement for a wide range of products that is currently time consuming and expensive. The new device will be small enough so that in future the whole measurement will be able to be made in a small hand held device, possibly looking rather like a smart hypodermic needle. The small size brings several advantages including increased speed, reduced cost and environmental impact since fewer resources are used in manufacture and use.

There are several technical challenges to be overcome in the successful development of the device, these include understanding the behaviour of complex fluids in ‘micro pipes’, obtaining good quality data from the micro sensors and integrating the whole system into a user-friendly system for the customer.