Measuring viscosity of ketchup and cosmetics

01 November 2011

A device that is said to be able to measure and predict how liquids flow under different conditions aims to ensure that consumer products are of the right consistency.

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.

The research is a joint project between the University’s Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, and the School of Mathematics and Statistics. Dr Julia Rees from the University’s Department of Applied Mathematics, who co-authored a recent study on the technology, said: “Companies that make liquid products need to know how they will behave in different circumstances because these different behaviours can affect the texture, the taste or even the smell of a product.”

The viscosity of most liquids changes under different conditions and designers often use complicated mathematical equations to determine what these changes might be. The team from Sheffield has developed a way of predicting changes using a non-invasive sensor system that the liquid simply flows through. This then feeds information back through an electronic device which calculates a range of likely behaviours.

Dr Rees explains: “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.”

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 device can be made to any scale and can even be etched onto a microchip, with channels about the width of a human hair. This will be useful for testing where only small samples of fluid are available, for example in biological samples. Dr Rees’ team have developed a laboratory prototype of the system and are currently working to refine the technology and develop a design prototype.

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