Exploring Industrial Particle Processing
The International Fine Particle Research Institute helps manufacturers address the complexities of particle science and technology.
What do Corning, Merck, Nestle, DuPont, and Unilever have in common? Yes, they are large companies, international companies, or companies driven by technology—but they are also companies that have recognized that particle science and technology is a critical factor in their businesses that needs to be understood and managed. One way that they address the complexities of particle science is by being members of consortia, such as the International Fine Particle Research Institute (IFPRI).
While none of these companies (nor, I expect, your own company) would define themselves as a particle processing company, the control of particle size, powder flow, or the production or use of particles with specific compositions is central to their products and the bottom line. In 1986, Edward Merrow authored a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)-sponsored report on “A Quantitative Assessment of R&D Requirements for Solids Processing Technology” that was published by RAND Corp.1 This report delineates the difficulty in starting and operating a solids processing production plant as opposed to a liquids processing plant. As Merrow explained, an average liquids processing plant operates at 84% of design capacity, while a solids processing plant operates, on average, at 63% of design capacity. The report attributes much of this differential to the
lack of fundamental understanding of solids handling.
The Merrow report is one of the best, albeit now dated, reports on the importance of understanding particle science fundamentals and how this one area of science and technology can make a 33% difference in plant operation. In 1990, Ennis, Green and Davies published an article entitled “The Legacy of Neglect in the U.S.,” which further discusses the needs of industry regarding particle processing.2 Interestingly, these challenges are still part of the industrial scene 27 years later.
Creation and Current Efforts
Around 1974, a number of professors in the U.S., Europe, and Japan recognized that there was a gap in the fundamental understanding of particle science and the application of that science to industrially relevant problems. Bob Pfeffer, Brian Scarlett, Kurt Leschonski, Koichi Iinoya, and Frank Tiller approached Howard Turner at DuPont with the concept for an organization of industrial companies with an interest in particle technology that would determine industrially significant particle science problems and then fund those areas in appropriate universities around the world. In 1979, 12 companies met for the first Annual General Meeting of the International Fine Particle Research Institute (IFPRI).
During the initial meeting in Wilmington, Del., the soon-to-be members agreed to a program focusing on five areas: particle flow; particle formation; wet particle systems (focused on colloidal dispersions and separation processes); particle characterization; and particle grinding. Since that time, systems engineering (processing involving multiple-unit operations) has been added. The specific funded programs have changed over the years to reflect the state of particle technology and industry member interest.
Since 1979, IFPRI membership has fluctuated from 14-41 companies; the institute is currently in a growth mode, with 37 member companies. The institute meets twice a year, once in the winter for a Business Meeting (Boston, January 2018) and once in the summer at an Annual General Meeting (Edinburgh, June 2018). At the winter meeting, members go over the current business status of the organization, focusing on finances, recruiting, current academic programs, and future opportunities for new academic programs. Updates on current projects are shared; questions asked about current projects include: Are the academics following the road map that was agreed upon? Is there a new direction that may be more beneficial for both industry and the academic contractor?
The summer meeting comprises two short business sessions, while the majority of the meeting is focused on project updates or final reports from the academic contractors, invited speakers on current-interest topics and reviews in particle technology, and a seminar series of three or four presentations on a focused particle technology area. In addition, a poster presentation session of 30-40 posters from academics or particle technology companies is included. One day of the meeting is devoted to small group breakout discussions where members, invited academics and guests work on defining areas of research for future IFPRI programs.
One might ask, “How do disparate companies and those that may be in direct competition work together to first discuss common particle science and technology challenges and then find a way to craft a strategic plan to move forward?” Over the past 38 years, the IFPRI has developed an interesting model for accomplishing this vexing problem. First, the institute is interested in only looking at and participating in pre-competitive research. In other words, the problems that the IFPRI considers are not specific to any one material or industry, and the materials that are studied are chosen to be representative—not specific to any one company or industry.
Second, IFPRI’s Annual General Meeting follows a single track, so all of the attendees are in every meeting during the five-day conference. Originally, this was as a result of the small size of the membership and the ability to fund only a few projects. Over the years, however, the membership has realized that a broad perspective on particle science and technology is beneficial and that exposure to all six areas of the IFPRI program is worthwhile to all of the members. A secondary effect of the single-track meeting is that attendees spend those five days together discussing the technology, building bridges, and learning about challenges, solutions, and applications outside their current area of interest. In essence, this forced togetherness transposes into an intense consensus-building meeting.
Third, the IFPRI provides time for the members to gather in small groups to discuss key issues in each of the six research areas, determine what areas are of general interest and then produce short written briefs on the proposed research area for the entire group to consider for funding. Successful briefs have a clear need identified, a statement of the work needed to reach the desired outcome, and have identified two or three potential academic researchers that will advance the state of the art. During the course of the meeting, perhaps 10-15 briefs are written, discussed and finally voted on by the membership. At the end of the meeting, members get the opportunity to discuss the briefs (privately and publically), modify the briefs and then publically vote on the program that best suits the current membership (see sidebar for details regarding current efforts).
Over the years, the voting procedures have changed and the interests of the members have evolved. In the early years of the institute, a focus on understanding slurry rheology was exemplified by work done by Bill Russel (Princeton) and Jan Mewis (Leuven). Today, the focus may be described as gaining an understanding of powder flow and handling issues. At our last meeting, a specific brief on powder flow in thin layers was written and accepted by the members, reflecting an interest in 3D printing.
As part of the strategic planning process, the IFPRI members also rely on reviews they contract for. The IFPRI has held eight workshops over the past 15 years to spend extra time on in-depth discussions of areas of broad interest (e.g., particle formation, crystallization, powder flow and education). The workshops are intense discussions of the state of the art with IFPRI members, invited academics and invited industrial researchers that are not IFPRI members. Typically, the outcome of the workshops is a new strategic plan for the workshop topic. Finally, as the membership has grown over the past few years, the members have added one-day roundtable discussions as another way of bringing together the members to determine ways of developing consensus on new directions.
Exploring Multiple Avenues
By providing multiple avenues for members to discuss particle science and technology and having the funds to support new projects, the IFPRI has been working for over 38 years to define and refine particle science and technology. IFPRI is an inclusive group of companies that would welcome your company to help us help each other in making our plants run better and faster.
1. Merrow, Edward, “A Quantitative Assessment of R&D Requirements for Solids Processing Technology,” 1986, www.rand.org/pubs/authors/m/merrow_edward_w.html.
2. Ennis, Green and Davies, “The Legacy of Neglect in the U.S.,” Chemical Engineering Progress, 1990 (4), 32-43.
2017-2018 IFPRI Research Program
Die Filling of Aerated Powders: C. Wu, University of Surrey
Development of Grindability Tests: J. Ooi, University of Edinburgh
Molecular Self Assembly: U. Weisner, Cornell University
Crystal Shape Prediction: M. Doherty, UCSB
Creating Tuneable Agglomerates via 3D Printing: K. Hapgood, Monash University
Relating Compaction Performance and Behavior to Process Conditions:
A. Zavaliangos, Drexel University
Spray Drying at High Temperatures: A. Bayly, University of Leeds
Flowability Assessment of Weakly Consolidated Powders: C. Hare, University of Surrey
Prediction of Segregation: J. McCarthy, University of Pittsburgh
Dry Powder Rheology: K. Daniels, North Carolina State University
Scaling Rules for Powder Mixing: I. Govender, University of KwaZulu-Natal
On the Long-Term Stability of Colloidal Gels: W. Poon, University of Edinburgh
Deliquoring of Solvent Wetted Cakes: U. Peuker, University of Freiberg
Model-Based Control of Crystallization: Z. Nagy, Purdue University
Spray Drying Materials Science: Bayly and Shutyzer (Leeds and Wageningen)
Non-Local Rheology of Intermediate Granular Flows: Daniels and Vriend
(NCSU and Cambridge)
Experimental Validation of Segregation: McCarthy and Hill
(Pittsburgh and Minnesota)
Methods (Experimental and Numerical) for Describing Wall Boundary Layers in
High Shear Systems (Extruders): R. Bonnecaze, University of Texas Austin
Use of Grinding Aids in Dry Systems: TBD
Relative Humidity and the Flowability of Hydroscopic Powders and Granules: TBD
Suspension Slurries—Insights from New Physics, June 2018, University of Edinburgh
Round Robin Study
Round Robin Exercise on Calibration of DEM Simulations: TBD
Project Briefs for New Projects*
Effect of Material Properties on the Adherence of Powders to Metal Processing Equipment During Compaction
Characterization of Spray Drying Nozzles at Industrial Relevant Conditions
Flow at Boundaries—Spreading in Thin and Uniform Layers
Investigation of Particle Characteristics on High Solids Rheology
Wetting, Dispersion, Distribution of Powders and Packed Beds: Reconstitution of Organic/Biological Materials
Predicting and Characterizing of Surface Modifications During Milling
*Current briefs being circulated for written proposals; all research associates TBD following member vote at the Annual General Meeting in June.