Deformulation is the scientific term for chemically reverse engineering a products formulation breaking it down into its basic components. Many times deformulation work is performed in order to get the data necessary to reformulate or reproduce the original formulation that one is trying to mirror or improve upon.
When performed by a skilled chemist familiar with this type of detailed analysis it leads to the identification, quantification, and characterization of the basic components. This can be used by a skilled formulator to develop a reformulated product that will maintain the same physical properties of the original formulation.
While deformulating a product may not seem very complicated depending on the amount of ingredients, how many minor components are involved, and the complexity of the formulation properly reverse engineering a product can be a difficult task. In order to properly deformulate a product to reveal its true base components one first has to first separate out the components of the formulation before traditional analytical techniques can be used to identify them. Because some products components resist separating from the matrix the quantification of ingredients once identified can also require specialized knowledge to perform.
When reverse engineering paint samples it is often a rather complex process due to the large number of ingredients, tendency of the base components to resist separation, and that many are typically present at very low levels.
When breaking down a paint formulation there are 4 primary components that you will discover: solvent, resin, pigment, and additives.
Additives can especially difficult to identify and quantify within a formulation due to their tendency to resist being separated from the matrix and their primarily used mainly in very small amounts. Typical additives within a typical water based paint formulation may include a thickening agent, antifoam agent, dispersant, surfactant, mildewcide, and antifreeze compound.
Depending on how detailed you would like the data to be, how much time you have to perform the analysis, available techniques and instruments, and funds available for your project there are several types of product reverse engineering that you can reach.
Basic Reverse Engineering- Identifies and quantifies the major ingredients within a coating product. Typically the additives are not identified at this stage.
Full Reverse Engineering- Identifies, characterizes, and quantifies the major and minor ingredients as well the additives down to 0.01% levels within a paints formulation.
Custom Reverse Engineering- Custom Deformulation can be done to isolate, identify and quantify specific ingredients in a paint formulation based on your needs and budget. Custom deformulation is used for a variety of reasons including verifying your blender is including all active ingredients in the product, identifying a contaminant, and quantifying specific ingredients.
(FTIR) Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy- All of the ingredients in the formulation will expel a FTIR spectrum; this can be analyzed against known libraries to identify the ingredients in a formulation. Such as determining the class of polymer to know what analysis is required to further identify the resins composition.
This is primarily only useful for major ingredients though as when ingredients are at very low levels they may not appear within to the FTIR.
(TGA) Thermogravimetric Analyzer- Samples are heated until they decompose. This can help identify the quantity of resin/organic additives and inorganic residue that are present in a sample. Although this burns away all the organic material and additives, inorganic fillers and pigments will remain. These can be isolated and analyzed within other instrumentation.
(Pyro GC/MS) Pyrolysis Gas Chromatography/ Mass Spectroscopy- Using this technique the sample is once again decomposed. After decomposition a GC will separate the monomeric components which are then identified using MS. This method can help identify monomers as well as providing a rough ratio of their presence.
(FID) Flame Ionization Detector- Traditionally solvents are separated, identified, and quantified in comparison to internal standards with GC/MS. Using a FID can help to better quantify these solvents by the making and using of individual standards against a run of the paint sample.
Karl Fisher- Can help to identify how much water is within a sample. Methods for this determination besides Karl Fisher Titration include a GC equipped with a (TCD) thermal conductivity detector.
(SEM/EDXA) Scanning Electron Microscope/Energy Dispersive X-Ray- Pigments can be analyzed through the use of this type of instrumentation in order to determine which elements are present within a sample.
(XRD) X-Ray Diffraction- Useful for the identification of filler compounds and specific pigments in a paint.
(ICP) Inductively Coupled Plasma- Used in the quantification of pigments and fillers.Solvent Extraction- Useful for the separations of additives but cannot always separate multiple types of surfactants or other additives.
(LC/MS) Liquid Chromatography/Mass Spectrometry- Used to identify surfactants as they typically have a higher molecular weight. Once separations are performed using LC their spectra is analyzed using MS.
(HPLC) High Performance Liquid Chromatography- Useful when paired with an LC/MS in order to take the identified ingredients and quantify them.
Paint and coating deformulation can be a rather difficult task to perform, but there are many very beneficial benefits to the data provided by this type of analysis. In order to get a true deformulation that identifies, quantifies, and characterizes the ingredients within a formulation and is detailed enough to perform a valid reformulation it requires the use of multiple instruments and analytical techniques.
When done by a skilled chemist with a background in analytical science and product reverse engineering an original formulation can be broken down, studied, and reproduced maintaining its original physical properties.
Dr. Shri Thanedar, Ph.D, is the CEO and Chief Chemist at Avomeen Analytical Services. He has over 20 years of experience serving as chief scientist or expert witness on over 20 litigation support projects involving chemical analysis, product failure analysis, reverse engineering, and polymer and rubber analysis.
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