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September, 2008

Form Follows Function -
The Science of Design

Staff Report

Cerulean prepares for the biggest science conferences of the tobacco world, and TI gets a peek at their papers.

Fall is the time when the scientific part of the tobacco community gathers for a series of meetings to share new advances and knowledge about the science of smoking, manufacturing, and production. Multinationals and large producers play a part, but also important are the independents and the manufacturers of the equipment that provide the results that tobacco scientists rely upon.

For Cerulean, one of the manufacturers of test and QA equipment, participation in these meetings, such as TSRC and the CORESTA congress, is a commitment based on good commercial sense. It is seen as a gateway to improving the design of their existing products, showcasing new products through practical applications, and a way of gathering and testing ideas to solve established problems (as well as new problems emerging as the legislative landscape changes).

This commitment to TSRC and CORESTA is long-term, with a long histroy of papers and posters describing new techniques (and improvements to old techniques) being submitted by the Cerulean’s development staff going back several years.

One of the recurring themes for Cerulean has been how airflows in smoking machines influence yields in different mechanical smoking regimes. This understanding of the interplay of flow magnitude with flow direction has been translated into improved instrument designs that are truly harmonized across the Cerulean range of products. This harmonization of yields has now been used as a fundamental building block for two papers that the Cerulean team are presenting at these various meetings.

The first is on the optimum smoking conditions for bidis. After creating special bidi holders (which have been made available commercially), the team at Cerulean have designed an experiment to relate the yield of a bidi to easy-to-measure physical characteristics. In this way through screening, representative bdis can be smoked or alternatively bidis can be quickly selected for maximum yield.

A second consequence of this harmonization effort is the subject of a second paper from the team. They have revisited the idea of trapping the smoke stream using an electrostatic precipitator and applied the technique to both linear and rotary smoking machines. Part of the exercise has been to optimise the design characteristics of the electrostatic trap to ensure that all the tar in the smoke stream is captured. Using their six-sigma training, the team came up with an optimum design, trapping nearly 100% of the tar when compared with a Cambridge filter holder. This design can be fitted to all types of smoking machines and should widen the capability of laboratories to make accurate and repeatable determinations of heavy metals such as arsenic and lead in smoke streams. The team has even used the device as part of a side stream capture machine, although this is being held in reserve for another year of scientific research.

On a different track entirely, the scientific meetings give an opportunity to address issues outside the laboratory but still based on better understanding and measurements, and this forms the basis of a third strand of Cerulean research being reported at these meetings. A new technology for measuring plasticiser content and in particular its ability to determine the uniformity of application of triacetin on monoacetate filter rods is the subject of a third Cerulean paper. These are early days, but using TSRC to show a new technique to address industry concerns, such as the prevention of wormholes, is a great way of stimulating debate and exposing the manufacturing community to the potentialities of improved processes, all underpinned by careful measurements and science. Consistency and quality are often achieved trough careful and regular product monitoring - the paper being presented shows how this can be achieved quickly, simply, and at a low cost. A happy coincidence of this work is the potential for prevention of making waste filter rods when trying to determine the content of triacetin present (and consequently saving a barrow-load of money).

The financial commitment to these meetings for any company can seem quite large. There is the cost of travel to the USA or Shanghai as well as the cost of accommodation, subsistence, and the time of the people concerned. However, the real outlay is the time spent on research followed by the organizing and validating of data. But, this is where the benefits lie. Each research project has the potential to become part of an improved product design, paying back the company through sales; paying the user of the equipment through better, faster, or more accurate results; and paying back for the individual engineer through improving their skills, knowledge, and résumé.

So be generous when one of your scientists asks to go to TSRC or CORESTA, it’s not a golfing holiday, it’s an education for all concerned.

Tobacco International - September, 2008

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