De-formulation projects

At ADKL Labs we’ve recently had a few de-formulation projects and this has presented a great opportunity to describe the process for those unfamiliar. How do you go about identifying the composition of a product? How do you do it without spending a huge amount of time and money?

The chemical composition of products can vary widely and naturally requires a wide array of analytical techniques to decipher. Over the years this has also resulted in a variety of approaches to solving such problems, depending on the capability and the experience of the team undertaking the work. However, a clear picture of the product and accurate interpretation requires complimentary data across multiple analytical techniques. No analysis can be performed without the proper tools. At ADK Labs we are always working to expanding our capability with tools to meet our clients’ needs.

Generally speaking, there are three stages to a de-formulation project. Each project starts with initial receipt of the sample and preliminary examination. This first stage will often involve observing basic physical properties of the product (liquid, solid, melting point etc.), as well as microscopy and then energy-dispersive X-ray analysis for elemental analysis. Successful analysis requires isolation of individual components within a mixture and this is part of the second stage of the project. Separation of components can be achieved through various techniques, usually starting with solvent extraction(s), centrifugation as well as chromatography.


Example of a de-formulation project

Separating out similar components enables us to undertake a detailed analysis of these subcomponents with a more specialised technique as part of the third stage of a de-formulation project. For example, after isolating the solvents and diluents within a product we can investigate further via gas chromatography/mass spectrometry. Results from techniques employed during stage three are the most specific and the most informative. Sometimes a technique may not be possible on the total mixture that makes up the product. Therefore, we work through the de-formulation process to more accurately build a picture of the components within a mixture, one piece at a time.

When working on de-formulation projects it’s best to share as much about the sample as possible. Understanding the background helps to avoid unnecessary techniques and provides more efficient use of project time. For example, if we know the substance is an adhesive residue from the outset, we can narrow down the formulation (synthetic resin vs. rubber vs. naturally derived polymers/resins) and then work through the other components within the formulation (solvents, plasticizers, curing agents). If the origin is unknown, we begin by considering all potential formulations based on the physical characteristics of the sample – a much longer route to a solution.

Please feel free to contact ADKL Labs to find out more about de-formulation and our other services.

Note: The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of ADKL Labs.

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