Avoiding and Resolving Problems with Handling of Powders and Other Particulate Materials in Industry: ‘QPM’ and related projects including ‘Powder Flowability Tester’
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Greenwich
Unit of AssessmentGeneral Engineering
Summary Impact TypeTechnological
Research Subject Area(s)
Engineering: Chemical Engineering, Resources Engineering and Extractive Metallurgy, Interdisciplinary Engineering
Summary of the impact
Powder handling research at the Centre for Numerical Modelling and
Process Analysis (CNMPA) enables industries to reduce the risk in new
powder processes and to troubleshoot existing ones. The study focuses on
two closely-related projects that have resulted in a series of
instruments, analysis techniques, training and spin-out research that has
found application in a large number of companies all over the world, in a
wide range of industries. The case is typical of the influence that the
CNMPA has had on industry awareness and practice in the UK and globally.
From 1998 to 2002, the Wolfson Centre for Bulk Solids Handling Technology
(a team within CNMPA) at the University of Greenwich was the lead member
of three academic and six industry groups collaborating on a substantial
project, Quality in Particulate-based Manufacturing (QPM) (EPSRC
£913,838 / industry £1,100,000) [3a] to develop techniques to predict the
level of `quality loss' in handling of particulate materials through
conveying, storage and logistics processes. The research was stimulated by
the large financial losses from these causes experienced by many
industries that involve powders, granules and grains as their feedstocks,
intermediates and finished products. Investigators were Patel, Reed,
Bradley, also Cross (Cross departed Greenwich 2006).
The output was a `toolkit' of:
- Techniques [3.1-3.3] including three novel instruments to measure the
propensity of particulate materials to suffer from the three main
problems identified, namely particle breakage (degradation), caking
(lump formation) and segregation (demixing);
- process models enabling the outputs of the instruments to be used in
conjunction with known process conditions to predict the degree of the
problem to be expected in a new process.
This enabled new manufacturing processes and products to be analysed
prior to finalisation of their design or formulation, and existing ones to
be improved through `what if' studies, to eliminate problems. Detailed
study of many plants processing solids led to a deep insight into the
common problems, their causes, and the properties of the particulate
materials that control this behaviour.
From 2004 to 2009 an instrument arising from QPM, the novel (manually
operated) shear tester for measurement of powder strength, originally
conceived to measure the strength of caked powders, was the basis of
further research at the Wolfson Centre by one of the QPM investigators
(Bradley, PI on the new project) and researchers (Berry). The DEFRA [3b]
and international industry-funded project aimed to deliver a fully
robotised, automated instrument intended to widen the use of powder
flow property measurement throughout industry [3.4]. Poor
or erratic powder flow causes great loss of productivity, so there was a
clear need for an instrument that could be used by non-specialists to
assess the handling problems inherent in any given powder, in order to:
- assist with formulation (engineering the powder to avoid the problem)
- design of the equipment around the powder to avoid or eliminate the
- quality control on powder products in production and purchasing.
The research outputs from these two projects underpinned a substantial
number of related bulk solids research projects in Wolfson, involving
Bradley, Berry, Deng or Farnish as PIs. Examples include EPSRC [3c, 3d],
DEFRA [3e, 3f], Oil Industry Technology Fund [3g], British Coal
Utilisation Research Association [3h, 3i, 3j], EU [3k] and many from
industry. These have focused on diverse aspects of bulk solids processing
including plant wear by bulk solids, powder formulation for favourable
handling properties, optical sorting of particles, soil remediation,
on-line measurement of flow properties, handling of wet ores, coal
handling, pneumatic conveying [3.5], fluidised powder transport, biomass
handling, powder electrostatics [3.6], powder metallurgy and others.
References to the research
3.1 Chapelle, P., Christakis, N., Wang, J., Strusevich, N., Patel, M. K.,
Cross, M., Abou-Chakra, H., Baxter, J., & Tuzun, U. (2005).
Application of simulation technologies in the analysis of granular
material behaviour during transport and storage. Proceedings of the
Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Part E: Journal of Process
Mechanical Engineering, 219(1), 43-52.
3.2 Abou-Chakra, H., Tuzun, U., Bridle, I., Leaper, M., Bradley, M. S.
A., & Reed, A. R. (2003). An investigation of particle degradation by
impact within a centrifugal accelerator type degradation tester. Proceedings
of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Part E: Journal of Process
Mechanical Engineering, 217(3), 257-266. http://dx.doi.org/10.1243/095440803322328908
3.3 Christakis, N., Chapelle, P., Strusevitch, N., Bridle, I., Baxter,
J., Patel, M., Cross, M., Tüzün, U., Reed, A. R., Bradley, M. S. A.
(2006). A hybrid numerical model for predicting segregation during core
flow discharge. Advanced Powder Technology, 17(6),
3.4 Berry, R. J., & Bradley, M. S. A. (2007). Investigation
of the effect of test procedure factors on the failure loci and derived
failure functions obtained from annular shear cells. Powder technology,
174(1-2), 60-63. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.powtec.2006.10.023
3.5 **Deng, T., Farnish, R. J., & Bradley, M. (2008).
Evaluation of particle degradation due to high-speed impacts in a
pneumatic handling system. Particulate Science and Technology, 26(5),
3.6 Hussain, T., Kaialy, W., Deng, T., Bradley, M. S. A.,
Nokhodchib, A., Armour-Chélu, D. (2013). A novel sensing technique for
measurement of magnitude and polarity of electrostatic charge distribution
across individual particles, Int. J. Pharmaceutics, 441(1-2),
The Brookfield Powder Flowability Tester: The product itself is
Accolades recognising the quality of the outputs and impact of the
• QPM project: IChemE Awards 2006 (Chemistry Innovation Award for
Innovation in Applied Catalysis and Colloid Science): Highly Commended
• Powder Flowability Tester (PFT): R&D magazine top 100 Award
Winners (USA) 2011
• PFT: IMechE Bulk Materials Handling Award for Innovation 2012
(ref. IMechE secretariat T_Khatun@imeche.org,
• PFT: Runner-up in IChemE Innovation Awards 2010 (certificate
• PFT: Shortlisted in Times Higher Education Awards 2010
3a M. Cross. Quality in Particulate Based Manufacturing. EPSRC
(Ref. GR/M15057/01). Nov 1998-Oct 2002. £913,839.
3b M Bradley. Development of an Economic yet Useful Powder
Flowability Measuring Device. DEFRA (Ref. AFM 206). 2004-2008.
3c MSA Bradley. Development of a Model to Predict the Life of
Pneumatic Conveyor Bends Subject to Erosive Wear. EPSRC (Ref.
GR/M05980/01). Oct 1998-Jan1999. £137,651.
3d MSA Bradley. Engineering the Green State of Powder Products.
EPSRC (Ref. GR/S70937/01). Oct 2003-Jul 2007. £84.839.
3e M Bradley. Handling of Food Leaves for Successful Optical
Inspection. DEFRA (Ref. AFM 167). 2001-2002. £50,000.
3f MSA Bradley. Development of a toolkit for controlling flow
properties of engineered food powders. DEFRA (Ref. AFM 276).
3g MSA Bradley. Microwave Pyrolysis for Treatment of Oil Contaminated
Drill Cuttings. DEFRA. 2004-2008. £300,000 (UoG component £55,000).
3h MSA Bradley. Direct On-Line Measurement of Wall Friction of Coal
as an Indicator of Handleability. BCURA (Ref. B66).
3i MSA Bradley. Handling Characteristics of Biomass/Coal Mixes for
Co-Firing: Measurement Techniques and Establishing Benchmarks. BCURA
(Ref. B69). Oct 2003-Jun 2007. £59,480
3j MSA Bradley. Improving Performance of Discharge Equipment for
Coals with Poor Handling Characteristics. BCURA (Ref. B89). Oct
2007-Sep 2010. £67,785.
3k RJ Farnish. Biopowders (Research training in powder
technology for competitive manufacture of food, pharmaceutical,
nutraceutical and biological powders). EU FP6-MOBILITY (Ref.
512247). Nov 2004-Oct 2008. €2,493,880 (UoG component £38,652).
Details of the impact
Impact delivery mechanisms
The research outputs from the two specific projects have been developed
into a number of "delivery vehicles" which have been adopted and embedded
very widely by industry:
- In-depth insight into the key issues with powder quality and flow on a
large number of industrial plants that have been studied (12 during the
research and around 100 more since), which have been built in to the
dissemination routes described below. These include such issues as where
to look for causes of problems in a plant; how to obtain meaningful
samples from the plant and characterise them in ways that synthesise the
behaviour seen on-plant; how to redesign equipment to avoid problems;
and how to use the techniques to ensure right-first-time designs.
- A series of innovative instruments and facilities used by industry
(the Brookfield Powder Flowability Tester; QPM Segregation and
Degradation Testers, and Caking Test Suite) for measuring behavioural
properties of powders, specifically their flow properties and their
tendencies to segregate, degrade and cake in handling, processing and
- A series of techniques for using the results from the above-mentioned
instruments - mainly analytical and numerical models - to predict the
behaviour of the powders in industrial processes (eg storage, transport,
feeding/dispensing, heating/cooling, conveying) for use in plant design,
powder formulation and process trouble-shooting.
- A much augmented series of educational courses for engineers in
industry, to allow them to use this knowledge practically in their
companies. Example course titles include Powder Quality, Bulk Solids
Handling, Biomass Handling, and Design of Hoppers (www.bulksolids.com).
- A service used extensively by industry (+50 projects PA) for plant
design and troubleshooting, eg reducing or eliminating problems with
caking, degradation or segregation and poor flow of particulates, also
fugitive dust, poor product quality etc which are commonplace and very
Realisation of impact
Realisation has been through several channels: since 2008, 16 companies
around the globe (from SMEs to multinationals) have funded 23 substantial
programmes of consultancy or applied research to embed the direct outputs
from the initial QPM project. They are either embedding the instruments
and techniques directly in their own material characterisation and product
design roadmaps, or funding studies at the Wolfson Centre to research the
behaviour and formulation of their own materials further using the QPM
techniques, and using the outputs of these further projects in their
plants. There have also been three KTP projects.
Example 1: converting Drax power station to biomass: the world's
largest biomass power project, involving conversion of the 3960MW Drax
(UK) coal fired power station to 50% biomass. Wolfson was engaged to
deploy QPM techniques to inform and optimise the design of the new £210M
fuel handling, storage and feeding facility, predicting and minimising the
physical degradation of the wood pellet fuel in the handling process (dust
and fines have a profound effect on safety, performance and efficiency of
fuel delivery to the power station) and ensuring reliable flow. Similar
studies were also made for Tilbury (becoming for two years the world's
largest biomass power station) and Uskmouth power stations.
Example 2: the Brookfield
`Powder Flowability Tester' (PFT), arising from QPM
via the following DEFRA AFM 206 research, is manufactured in the US by
multinational Brookfield Viscometers and on sale globally. Around 200
machines (value ~£2M) have been sold in 24 countries in three years since
launch in 2010. It has become the most widely-used shear tester world-wide
for studying the behaviour of powders, in industries as diverse as food,
pharmaceuticals, energy, chemicals and any others that use powders. A
further 42 companies have embedded through 61 funded projects of
consultancy or applied research at Wolfson, based on use of the instrument
and its underpinning research on powder flow, to research and improve
their feedstocks, processes and products.
The powders research that built on the QPM and DEFRA outputs have had
deep impact in their fields (173 embedment projects funded by 123
companies since 2008). Manufacturing sectors reached include
pharma, food, minerals, powder metallurgy and chemicals overseas and in
the UK, including many blue-chips eg GlaxoSmithKline (11
projects to embed the research in plant design or problem-solving,
protecting multiple £Billions of production annually), Masterfoods
(9), Norgine (7), Unilever (6), Portasilo
(4) and many others. These impacts are significant improvements to the
design of new or existing plants which process many millions of pounds of
product annually, an enduring impact of on-going benefits to process
efficiency and/or product quality in products ranging from cosmetics,
drugs and snack foods to cement, automotive parts and power generation.
Letters from these and other companies are provided by way of
The resulting heavily revised and augmented series of educational courses
for engineers in industry (http://www2.gre.ac.uk/about/schools/engineering/wolfsoncentre/coupro/sc),
has been attended by 677 paying delegates from over 250 companies since
2008, including delivery locally at 12 companies in the UK, EU and
overseas including India and China; demand for places on these courses is
accelerating. Many of these companies have gone on to use the techniques
to improve their manufacturing systems or equipment designs (see SHAPA
This research has set the Wolfson Centre and CNMPA up as the "go to"
centre for expertise in powder and bulk solids handling in the UK and
Europe, and one of the three leading groups globally. This ensures its
ability to attract the top research challenges and collaborators within
its field, and embed the outputs in not only the top "blue chip"
manufacturing companies globally but also a large number of SMEs that
together make up a substantial portion of the supply chain.
Sources to corroborate the impact
- Brookfield Engineering Laboratories (Chief Executive Officer)
corroborates the key underpinning (DEFRA funded) research at Wolfson to
delivery of the Powder Flowability Tester, and the reach and impact of
the Powder Flowability Tester on global industry
- Shepherd Construction (Drax Eco-Store Project Manager) confirms the
example of use of the QPM-generated characterisation and design
techniques to inform fundamental and detail design decisions on the
world's largest biomass power construction project.
- GlaxoSmithKline (company Materials Science Lead) confirms the
influence of the QPM, Powder Flowability Tester and related research
including powder electrostatics, to their plant efficiency, reduction of
losses and protection of quality and production efficiency for multiple
£Billions of annual production.
- Solids Handling and Processing Association (General Secretary) - the
trade association for UK manufacturers of solids handling equipment -
corroborates the embedment and impact of the QPM and DEFRA research and
its spin-outs, on the £1Bn+ UK industry in this field
- Electricite de France (Carbon reduction programme manager) confirming
the embedment of QPM and related research outputs, and its resulting
cost savings (£5M pa and rising) across their nuclear power stations.
Public domain references:
- Report on award of IMechE Prize for Powder Flowability Tester:
- Brookfield Video describing application of Powder Flowability Tester: