Blog entry written by Dr. Richard Tweedie, Consultant, In-situ Particle Characterization.

Over the years, Malvern has built a reputation for quality and innovation, identifying evolving technologies and embracing the latest thinking in the development and launch of new products. While this leads us to be confident in our own abilities and those of our teams, we do actively seek opportunities to involve others in the development process to ensure we access leading edge technology and produce the best and most relevant products for our market. In doing so we’ve found that open innovation encourages fresh viewpoints and ideas, and can move technologies to new levels. The development of the Aero S powder dispersion accessory is a case in point.

In 2007, the idea of a new dry powder disperser for our laser diffraction systems was born. It was rooted in the knowledge that  no-one on the market was delivering a system that met everyone’s needs. While most of our customers seemed happy with the performance of the Mastersizer 2000 dry powder disperser, some felt that its design led to attrition and that there were superior units on the market. This was tempered by other feedback where users reported insufficient dispersion to break apart agglomerates.

Historically, the original Mastersizer disperser, designed and launched in the early 1980s, was transferred to the Mastersizer 2000 in 1998. This was because there was little new understanding of powder dispersion and the original design worked on most applications. Now, however, it was felt that the subject should be revisited. The question was how?

Powder dispersion is extremely complex due to variations in powder strength, powder condition and the interparticle forces. Hence, a simple redesign might solve some issues but also create new ones. We wanted a solution with the widest application range, and to achieve this we needed in depth understanding of powder dispersion science. This would enable us to identify the best engineering solution with the knowledge to support it and seemed an ideal opportunity to bring in external expertise.

Prof Mojtaba Ghadiri at The University of Leeds is a leading researcher in the area of powder handling. Working with him and leveraging blue sky funding for a PhD student in his department we were able to dig more deeply into specific issues involved in powder dispersion before the product development started in earnest.  While not a big project, this was highly focused and with the potential to have great impact.

A key ingredient in our open innovation was having the right people: a great student at Leeds in Graham Calvert, and two passionate internal champions at Malvern, Paul Kippax the Product Manager and Andrew Buckmaster, who turned the research into a design. And, of course, the development team who turned it into a product.

The Aero S is the tangible result of that open innovation project, but the intangible benefits are the relationships formed and the new science stimulated. Collaboration between Malvern and Leeds University actually goes back many years, but this project formed much deeper connections with the ready transfer of both ideas and skills.  Hence in tackling the science we gained new friends, a knowledge of how to achieve successful powder dispersion and a great product which is setting the new industry standard.