Particle Shape Characterization for Abrasives Manufacturers

Abrasive grains are any hard, sharp material that can be used to wear away another material when one or the other is moved in pressure contact. Abrasive grains are produced from a variety of different: alumina (Al2O3), silicon carbide (SiC), carbon boron nitride (CBN), Diamond, etc. It is the hardness and sharp particle shape of these materials that makes them abrasive.

Grit Numbers for Abrasives

The Grit number is the designation of abrasive grain size, reflecting the number of the smallest openings per linear inch in the screen through which the grain will pass; these can range from No.4 to No. 2500. The particle size (Dv ) can vary from several millimeters to less than 2 microns.

Applications of Abrasives

These materials are used in a variety of different applications when incorporated into a suitable matrix; for example as sandpaper, in grinding wheels, for lapping, for wire-sawing, as honing sticks, for sandblasting etc.

Different applications may demand different grain shapes and this has a significant influence on the abrasives performance.

Manufacture of Abrasive Grains

The main grain crushing techniques are impact crushing, crushing by pressure, crushing by abrasion or a combination of all three.

Influencing Grain Shape During Manufacture

Manufacturers of abrasive grains can influence the grain shape by employing different crushing methods, but controlling the shape has so far been more difficult.

Depending on customer preferences, and end use, grain shape requirements differ widely.

Traditional Quality Control Parameters

The International Standards for manufacturing of abrasive grains describe methods for measuring bulk density. Bulk density gives an indication of grain shape, but several other product characteristics also influence the bulk density, i.e. Particle Size Distribution, flow ability and surface condition.

Shape Characterization Of Abrasives

A new instrument (Sysmex FPIA- 2100) for the rapid particle size and shape characterization has recently become available. Measurements from this instrument have enabled a more precise way of characterizing different grain shapes and differences in grain shape between otherwise similar products.

Operation of the Sysmex FPIA-2100

The Sysmex FPIA-2100 uses sheath flow and patented high speed image analysis for rapid particle size and shape characterization, typically generating data within 5 minutes. Traditionally, shape characterization was performed using conventional microscopy with image analysis and this can take up to 2-3 hours per sample.


The primary shape index generated by the Sysmex FPIA-2100 is circularity. This is defined as the ratio between the circumference of a circle of equivalent area to the particle and the perimeter of the particle itself. The more spherical the particle, the closer its circularity is to 1. The more elongated the particle, the lower its circularity. This concept is illustrated in Figure 1.

Quantifying particle shape - the calculation of circularity.

Figure 1. Quantifying particle shape - the calculation of circularity.

Measurement Data

To illustrate this concept circularity is shown for two different grain types:

1.      Sharp shaped grains

2.      Compact shaped grains.

Scanning electron microscope pictures of these are shown in Figures 2 and 3.

SEM image of sharp shaped grains.

Figure 2. SEM image of sharp shaped grains.

SEM image of compact shaped grains.

Figure 3. SEM image of compact shaped grains.

Size/Circularity Scattergrams

For simple visual data interpretation this is clearly shown in the size/circularity scattergrams in the FPIA-2100 software (Figures 4 and 5).

Scattergram of sharp shaped grains.

Figure 4. Scattergram of sharp shaped grains.

Scattergram of compact shaped grains.

Figure 5. Scattergram of compact shaped grains.


Rapid particle shape characterization has been shown to provide far more information than current QC tests, enabling the rapid identification of out-of-specification material. A simple additional test has been able to identify previously unknown manufacturing variations. Implementation of meaningful circularity specifications will enhance final product testing protocols leading to the development of more robust manufacturing processes.

This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by Malvern Panalytical.

For more information on this source, please visit Malvern Panalytical.


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  1. Esteban Bermudez Esteban Bermudez Puerto Rico says:

    Which grit number was used in the images posted in this article?

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of

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