Trend report: Material analysis—The world of plastics is amazingly diverse

There is no doubt that, in the entire spectrum of materials, plastics occupy a leading position. Due to their properties and functionalities, plastics have opened up unforeseen possible uses and innovation potential. In the industry, materials research and plastics development in particular are considered important interdisciplinary technologies and guarantees of economic success.

Trend topic material analysis at analytica zoom Trend topic material analysis at analytica

Plastics are invincible. Whether fiber reinforced, particle filled or foamed, they are highly resistant to mechanical loads. Equipped with additives and functionalities, not only are they stable and resistant to outside influences, they actually display improved material properties and special optical, electrical and thermal capabilities and can have energy-saving, sensor, actuator or even self-healing functions.

Today, the construction industry appreciates the fact that plastics are so multifunctional because of the wide range of applications, but especially when it comes to sustainable energy and resource efficiency. New types of fiber composites and lightweight building materials are also they key to reducing energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions in automotive engineering. In the automobile industry in particular, plastics are used for a variety of applications, from vehicle equipment to specific identity technologies.

Plastic electronics

Developing plastics with special optical and electronic characteristics is in the midst of a boom. The use of chromogenic, phototropic polymers that can be controlled by stimuli such as light is opening up new markets, as demonstrated by processing luminescent polymers into OLEDs, for example. When it comes to energy consumption and cutting costs, techniques used to manufacture solar cells and solar modules as well as intelligent sun-blocking glazing continue to increase in importance.


Nanomaterials are already being used in a variety of sectors, such as in electric switching modules, as luminescent materials and to functionalize and enhance material surfaces. In the medical and pharmaceutical sector, they are being used as a new type of active-substance carrier and making entirely new treatment methods possible. They are also used as functional additives in the food industry.

So-called quantum dots are a new type of nanoparticle with unique properties that can be influenced by adjusting the size of the particle and passivating the particle surface using various ligands. The special properties are used in a wide range of applications such as display technology, photovoltaics and banknote security as well as for medical treatment. At present, researchers are also developing environmentally compatible display techniques and ways to further improve efficiency.

Manufacturing nanoparticles for industrial use and their stabilization are associated with opportunities and risks. On the one hand, micro- and nanoparticles are opening up new prospects in various application technologies. But on the other, they pose major challenges to the analysis and health-protection sectors.


Biopolymers are natural macromolecular synthesis products that are made of renewable raw materials. Biopolymers that are used in industry such as cellulose, starch, lignin, chitosan and vegetable and animal proteins are made from agricultural and forestry products using special processes. The objective is to replace the basic material of petroleum with renewable raw materials. To that end, researchers are trying new approaches to secure raw materials and reduce dangerous emissions.

Biopolymers are impressively diverse, so they can be used for a wide variety of product developments and have unlimited potential for optimizing various applications.

When developing bio-based products, aspects such as functionality, efficiency and safety are paramount. The use of biopolymers is now established in various branches of industry including food manufacturing, pharmaceutical products, medical technology, chemicals, plastics processing and vehicle manufacturing.

Research activities focus on the development of functional biopolymers and analyzing process conditions. In some cases, recent studies have indicated an improvement in product properties by combining them with bio-based and conventional synthetic plastics. The development of encapsulating biopolymers and their nanoparticles or functional additives could give rise to revolutionary application possibilities.

High-end and ultratrace analysis

New types of materials are the key to a sustainable future. Sensitive analysis techniques are a prerequisite for developing high-performance materials of this kind. The uses and potential applications of modern substances and functional materials are practical unlimited. Besides industrial applications, plastics are used in nearly all aspects of daily life—from consumable materials to packaging. The need for research and development is high, and as the range of new functional materials and substances increases, so do the demands being placed on analysis.

Innovative synthesis and analysis processes such as those on display at analytica are what determine the pace of research and testing of new materials.

Plastics analysis from the industry's perspective

According to Dr. Jürgen Blumm, Managing Director of Netzsch Gerätebau, the trend toward faster, more reliable and highly automated measuring techniques is an important one in plastics analysis. "It is also important for the entire analysis process, from sample taking and sample preparation to conducting and evaluating the experiments," explains Blumm. "We live in an age in which people work with smartphones and tablets on a daily basis. These tools are designed to be used without much training. Measuring technology should follow this trend in the future."

For the first time ever, Netzsch is introducing its Eplexor-DMA series at analytica 2016. These dynamic mechanical analysis systems can be used to test force levels that cannot be tested using conventional laboratory equipment. New systems that couple thermal analysis and gas analysis will also be on display. "We are particularly proud of having directly coupled FT-IR and thermogravimetry in a system that was patented by Netzsch," explains Blumm, emphasizing, "Naturally, the new user interface in the software, which features a smart mode, is an absolute trend."

Today's requirements for simple operation, even in classic devices for thermal analysis, were also implemented by Netzsch. "Researchers also want to perform complex measuring cycles. Our new smart-mode software does both, i.e. routine tests with a few mouse clicks combined with complete flexibility for more ambitious researchers," explains Blumm. The new DMAs also make completely new measuring capabilities possible. For example, Eplexor DMAs can perform measurements on sample sizes and cross sections that are used in real products. That reduces sample-preparation work, and the results are more realistic, particularly in the case of inhomogenous composites.

When it comes to plastics analysis, software plays an increasingly important role in modern systems for thermal analysis because it is the key to user-oriented operation and to finding new applications in production and research," says Dr. Maria Zweig from Mettler Toledo. "STARe software is the result of constant development at Mettler Toledo, and it can be used to control all thermal analysis devices with a single software platform. Thanks to it functionality and intuitive operation, performing and evaluating measuring tasks of all kinds is easier than ever. Quality assurance options or incorporating it into a higher-level LIMS effortlessly integrates the software into existing systems and working procedures. This gives the user a holistic concept that allows him to concentration entirely on his projects."

With regard to new applications in the bioplastics sector, Zweig adds "Mettler Toledo and its revolutionary development, FlashDSC (fast scanning calorimetry) and its rapid heating and cooling rates have made a considerable contribution to our understanding of the structural characteristics and processing of alternative materials."

Analysis outlook

Implementing new technologies in classical metrology and using them to increase measuring accuracy and expand application fields is an important objective. "Reducing the number of work steps in the entire analysis process also plays an important role for us," adds Blumm. "Which is why automation and 24/7 operation are a topic that we are focusing on more closely. In the case of the Eplexor DMA, we have already taken the next step. This DMA can be equipped with an automatic sample changer that can take measurements completely autonomously, even in the case of different measuring modes and sample geometries. Right now that is unique the world over!"

Material analysis at analytica 2016

The latest equipment configuration and coupling combinations as well as future-oriented trends in material research and material analysis will be presented at analytica 2016. They allow users to find the right solution for each material and to each problem. The industry's leading trade fair gives visitors a comprehensive overview of innovative techniques such as DSC, DMA, TGA, separation techniques that use interactive chromatography, GPC, high-temperature chromatography, field flow fractionation, spectrometry, microscopy and imaging techniques as well as corresponding software and automation solutions. Many methods can be used quickly, efficiently and cost effectively in routine laboratory applications and for quality assurance. Find out more about high-performance methods and future trends in material analysis at analytica, the largest gathering for this industry.

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