A variety of methods can be used to analyze solid materials. What they all have in common is the necessity to use a representative, homogeneous analysis sample which needs to have a particular fineness, depending on the analytical method used. The size reduction and homogenization of solids is usually carried out with laboratory crushers and grinders.
We often come across fibrous materials in everyday life. The fibers may be subdivided into natural ones like cellulose, hemp or asbestos and artificial ones like polyester or viscose  (figure 1). The artificial mineral fibers comprise crystalline fibers such as carbon fibers and silicon carbide but also amorphous fibers like glass wool or rock wool. Glass-like fibers are commonly used as insulating wool or as an additive in construction materials to enhance stability, toughness and durability.
Use of laboratory grinders for size reduction of human bones and bioceramics
Bone implants and substances for bone regeneration are used in surgery to replace degenerated bone material by implants or to “re-build” it with specific substances. The material used in implants varies from autogeneic (supplied by the patient) through allogeneic (supplied by a donor) bones to replacement materials such as hydroxylapatite (HA) and tricalcium phosphate (TCP). Bovine bones and corals are used in conjunction with synthetically produced foamed materials to form a basis for the regeneration of bone substance. Various RETSCH mills are suitable for the preliminary and fine grinding of human bones as well as bioceramic materials.
Mechanochemistry is a very effective method to carry out syntheses without solvents and by-products. The technical literature describes a great number of reactions where a conversion of 100% is achieved. A precondition for the establishment of mechanochemistry in the industrial sector is the availability of suitable laboratory mills. A decisive factor is that – similar to conventional preparative chemistry – ambient parameters such as pressure and temperature can be documented and monitored. The Planetary Ball Mills and Mixer Mills from Retsch fulfill these requirements.
Alloys such as amalgam in dental medicine or stainless steel are universally known and used. The traditional way to produce alloys is to fuse the components at very high temperatures. If only small quantities are required or if the alloys cannot be fused by melting mechanical alloying is an alternative. For this application ball mills are ideally suited. They provide a high energy input due to the impact and friction effects which occur during grinding.
The use of pesticides in agriculture makes it possible to plant extensive mono cultures and often leads to substantial yield increases of food and feed crops. Demand and application have grown steadily over the years, leading to increased contamination of the soil due to the toxic nature of pesticides. Soils save the toxins and their decomposition products so that wildlife is also affected by them. Among the undesired side effects are damages to useful plants and insects like bees. The wind carries pesticides to uncontaminated areas such as fields used for organic farming. Rain also transports the chemicals away from their original area of application to waters and groundwater. Although in most cases the limit values for particular pesticides and their decomposition products are not exceeded, the cumulative effect on humans and animals has not been thoroughly investigated so far. The possible accumulation of pesticides in the food chain could be a source of health hazards; therefore strict quality control of soils is indispensable.
The preparation of a mixture of organic and inorganic samples holds some difficulties: whereas sand, clay and stones can usually be ground to homogeneous samples with suitable laboratory mills, the high energy input can cause samples with organic components such as fat or starch to cake. Carsten Bunn, a laboratory technician at the waste water treatment laboratory BRW, has to deal with this problem every day. He treats samples which are taken from the sand traps of the wastewater treatment plants and consist of exactly that mixture. The sediments of household and industry waste water not only contain sand, clay or leaves but anything that people nowadays dispose of through the sewer system: cellulose, hair and especially food residues.
The prevention of environmental pollution is a prime issue of today’s industrialized societies. Important instruments in this context are regular checks using the latest analytical methods. Beside air and water analysis the focus is also on environmental remediation and declaration analyses as well as examination of soils, construction waste, sediments, secondary fuels and many more. Prevention and ecological recycling and disposal are the key words of a modern environmental policy. If the production of waste cannot be prevented, the primary objective is its material or energetic recycling. Residuals which cannot be recycled have to be disposed of in an ecologically friendly way.
In the analysis of solid material, the popular adage that “bigger is better” certainly does not apply. The goal is to produce particles that are sufficiently small to satisfy the requirements of the analysis while ensuring that the final sample accurately represents the original material. The “particles” of interest to the analyst generally range from 10 µm to 2mm. Additionally there are many application, where even finer sizes are needed. One example are active ingredients, where it is necessary to grind in the submicron range. Finally for DNA or RNA extraction mechanical cell lysis is well-established.
Materials differ widely in their composition and physical properties. Hence, there are many different grinding principles that can be applied, and this, together with other variables such as initial feed or “lump” size, fineness needed and amount of sample available, results in a wide range of models available to the researcher.
Reliable and accurate analysis results can only be guaranteed by reproducible sample preparation. This consists of transforming a laboratory sample into a representative part sample with homogeneous analytical fineness. Retsch offers a comprehensive range of the most modern mills and crushers for coarse, fine and ultra-fine size reduction of almost any material. The product range also comprises a wide choice of grinding tools and accessories which helps to ensure contamination-free preparation of a great variety of sample materials. The selection of the correct grinding tool depends on the sample material and the subsequent method of analysis. Different grinding tools have different characteristics, such as required energy input, hardness or wear-resistance.
A faultless and comparable analysis is closely linked to an accurate sample handling. Only a sample representative of the initial material can provide meaningful analysis results. Rotating dividers and rotary tube dividers are an important means to ensure the representativeness of a sample and thus the reproducibility of the analysis. Correct sample handling consequently minimizes the probability of a production stop due to incorrect analysis results. Thus correct sample handling is the key to effective quality control.
How are nano particles produced? The “Bottom-Up” method synthesizes particles from atoms or molecules. The “Top-Down” method involves reducing the size of larger particles to nanoscale, for example with laboratory mills. Due to their significantly enlarged surface in relation to the volume, small particles are drawn to each other by their electrostatic charges. Nano particles are produced by colloidal grinding which involves dispersion of the particles in liquid to neutralize the surface charges. Both water and alcohol can be used as dispersion medium, depending on the sample material. Factors such as energy input and size reduction principle make ball mills the best choice for the production of nanoparticles.
Why Size Reduction? A reliable and accurate analysis can only be guaranteed by reproducible sample preparation. The "Art of Milling" describes the process of turning a laboratory sample into a representative part sample with homogeneous analytical fineness.