Thermal testing is one of the most common quality assurance procedures used in manufacturing today. But did you know that the information derived from this form of testing can be used not only to prove the quality of a product, but also to improve the entire process by which that product was made?
Here’s everything you should know about thermal testing, including how you might use it to improve your own manufacturing processes, increasing the efficiency of your business or even the quality of your final product.
What is thermal testing?
Thermal testing is the scientific evaluation of how materials react to changes in temperature over time.
There are many different forms of thermal testing. They vary by the heat source used, the test environment, speed of temperature change, and more. Despite these variations, all forms of thermal testing involve placing a sample in a controlled environment with a heat source and then using that heat source to subject it to controlled temperature increases and decreases. During this process, analysts observe how the sample changes in response to the heat and record their findings.
What is thermal testing used for?
Thermal testing can be used to determine a wide variety of characteristics of materials, which makes it broadly applicable across many industries and for many use cases. It is very commonly used in quality assurance, particularly for products that need to be able to withstand high and/or fluctuating temperatures while performing in predictable ways.
What kinds of thermal testing does Innovatech provide?
Innovatech provides two major types of thermal testing. Each works a little differently, measures different characteristics of the samples they test, and have different applications:
Thermal Gravimetric Analysis (TGA)
Thermal gravimetric analysis measures weight loss as a function of temperature in a controlled environment. This makes it an especially useful thermal testing technique for assessing how temperature affects product integrity.
TGA is frequently used to determine the temperatures for onset and maximum rate of weight loss in polymers used in manufacturing. It’s also very commonly applied to induce and measure the rate of oxidation and combustion for various materials and for determining the amount of fillers used in material.
Differential Scanning Calorimetry (DSC)
Differential scanning calorimetry measures changes in a sample’s heat flow as that sample transforms from one state to another (for example, from solid to liquid or liquid to gas) as a result of temperature change. DSC can measure how these transitions affect the physical and chemical properties of a product and allows analysts to observe physical changes such as glass transitions, crystallization, and oxidation.
DSC is most commonly used as a quality control test in industrial settings, including the manufacturing of plastics and medications. For example, DSC is used to study the effects of temperature and time on medication efficacy, which determines how manufacturers recommend a medication be safely stored and used.
How can these forms of thermal testing be used to improve manufacturing processes?
By using TGA and DSC to study the various thermal events that occur within a product at different temperatures, manufacturers can better understand what is happening to their products at each stage in the manufacturing process. They can then use this information to optimize those processes in a wide variety of ways.
Both TGA and DSC can be used to identify different characteristics of sample products and, therefore, to optimize different aspects of manufacturing processes. Here is how each is commonly applied to make manufacturing production improvements:
TGA can be used to accurately measure the range, rate, and effects of several thermal events that commonly occur within products during regular manufacturing processes: oxidation, combustion, evaporation, and decomposition. By better understanding how and when these thermal events occur, manufacturers can optimize their processes to either trigger or avoid them more efficiently. This could speed up the manufacturing process, make it safer, and even improve the resulting product.
TGA is an especially reliable way of measuring thermal effects like these because a sample of the product can be subjected to heat in several different ways to measure different effects. For example, isothermal or static thermogravimetry subjects a sample to heat at a constant temperature, while dynamic thermogravimetry subjects it to rising temperatures at a linear rate.
TGA is often used to optimize the manufacturing process of polymers, plastics, pharmaceutical products, and more. For example, understanding when the rate of weight loss as charted on a TGA curve can improve a medical product manufacturer’s understanding of how and when to process their material into the desired healthcare product.
Because DSC is used to measure heat flow changes in a product as it undergoes a physical transformation such as a phase transition, it is a highly useful way to induce and measure such transformations in product samples.
By understanding exactly when and how a product undergoes its phase transition, and what that phase transition does to its specific physical and chemical properties, manufacturers can learn to manipulate these phase transitions to ensure more efficient manufacturing processes and, ultimately, better products.
For example, DSC is frequently used in polymer manufacturing to check the composition of polymers, evaluate their melting points and glass transition rates, and measure their degradation rates. DSC can also be used to determine how quickly and completely polymers crystalize as they transition. All of this information can be used to alter manufacturing processes to induce or avoid events that will improve the efficiency of the process or the resulting quality of the product.
DSC is also widely used for improving processes in diverse industries including pharmaceutical, food, and general chemical manufacturing. For example, DSC can be used to evaluate when a drug crystallizes and how crystallization may affect its efficacy. Manufacturers can use this information to ensure they avoid the conditions during which the drug they’re manufacturing crystallizes at all points during the manufacturing process, which helps to ensure the efficacy of the resulting drug itself.
How can I use thermal testing to improve my manufacturing processes?
If you think thermal testing procedures like TGA or DSC could provide you with valuable information you could use to improve your own manufacturing processes, Innovatech is ready to help.
Just provide a sample of the product you manufacture, and we can identify which form of thermal testing will be the most useful for your objectives.
If you’d like to schedule a consultation to discuss how thermal testing could help you improve your manufacturing processes, get in touch right away. Our experts can’t wait to help you make your business even better.