UNDERSTANDING THE PROPERTIES OF AQUEOUS POLYMERIC SOLUTIONS TO ENABLE PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT AND FUTURE PRODUCTION UPSCALING
Dr Zigs are a North Walian manufacturer of high-quality, non-toxic, eco‐friendly bubble mix that are sold as children’s toys both online and in retail outlets across the world. Their giant bubble mix constitutes a polymer blend chosen to enhance desirable properties such as elasticity, bubble forming friendliness, self‐healing qualities, and colours.
In recent years they have gained increasing market traction, and as such needed to up-scale production substantially to satisfy demand and enter new markets. ASTUTE 2020+ collaborated with the company along this journey, providing insight and solutions to a wide range of manufacturing process challenges and researching together to improve their product formulas.
At Dr Zigs’ low-volume stage, many of their manufacturing processes were carried out manually including mixing, bottling and quality testing. To increase production capacity using these manual processes would demand increased workforce and space, pushing up production time and costs. While process automation could be an alternative, the complex mixing procedures and new products under development limited this option.
Previous attempts by the company to mechanise their process had resulted in the bubble mix being compromised as it is susceptible to shearing and highly sensitive to contaminants. Therefore, it was essential for the collaborative team to understand the complex viscoelastic properties of the polymeric solution before process automation could be made possible.
Rheology of Materials
The research project began with an extensive literature review of specific polymeric solutions followed by a full characterization of Dr Zigs’ bubble mix and that of their competitors. The company and ASTUTE’s researchers also jointly identified a range of new polymeric solutions to be characterised.
ASTUTE 2020+ conducted advanced trials of the different bubble formulas in liquid rheology labs, and characterized the liquids using a TA Instrument AR-G2 controlled stress rheometer with parallel plate and concentric cylinder geometries. Experiments were also conducted to relate viscosity to product performance as a quality control metric – this aided formula improvement and identified any potential scale-up challenges.
Viscoelastic properties were researched and the results informed the identification of suitable equipment for automated systems that could replace the current manual procedures.
To test the robustness of the above findings and recommendations, Dr Zigs developed their in-house quality control capabilities that better reflected real-world usage and enabled the team to more accurately measure changes in product performance.
ASTUTE worked closely with the team at Dr Zigs to investigate the parameters that impacted their manufacturing process, and identify solutions to boost productivity and enable automation and future upscaling – this included sourcing sustainable ingredients, exploring new equipment options, addressing mixing challenges, and improving product formula.
The collaboration enabled Dr Zigs to rapidly progress the development of several new product formulas and identify weaknesses in, and make improvements to, their current manufacturing and quality control processes.
As a result of working with ASTUTE, the company has gained confidence in their own research and development capabilities and now holds the necessary knowledge and experience to confidently move into a large-scale production phase.