What is Reverse Engineering?
Reverse engineering is an investigative process that involves breaking down a product, material, or compound formulation to individual components and elements. The general purpose of reverse engineering is to understand the compound’s composition on a chemical level, including the identity and quantity of each type of molecule it contains.
Benefits of Reverse Engineering
Reverse engineering has many valuable applications:
- Root cause analysis: If a product or material fails to perform as expected, reverse engineering can determine whether the problem can be traced back to a material composition issue, such as raw material impurity or trace amounts of an undesired element.
- Competitor analysis: Businesses can learn a lot about their competitors by conducting in-depth analysis of their products in a laboratory. Reverse engineering can generate comprehensive data on the compound formulation of competitor materials and insights into competitor product performance, empowering companies to make informed decisions and improve their own products.
- Manufacturing or process changes: Large-scale supply chain disruptions have prompted many companies to make the switch to domestic manufacturing. Reverse engineering reports from their own products, which were made overseas, can give them the data they need to ensure a smooth transition to on-shore production.
- Quality and purity analysis: Reverse engineering is a valuable tool for validating quality on raw materials for the sake of long-term quality assessment or new supplier verification.
In any of these situations, the greatest benefit of reverse engineering is clarity. Reverse engineering removes the ambiguity and guesswork from the investigative process by using highly precise methods to identify and quantify the components of a material, painting a clear picture of the compound’s formulation. This allows manufacturers to take decisive action about how to proceed, rather than simply guessing based on incomplete information.
Reverse Engineering Process & Methods
Because there are so many reasons to undertake a reverse engineering project, the reverse engineering process will look a little different each time. However, there are a few key techniques and methods that are often utilized to collect accurate data and generate a complete picture of material composition.
Thermal analysis techniques are excellent for quantifying the thermal properties of rubber compounds and identifying unknown materials.
Differential scanning calorimetry (DSC) is a popular reverse engineering method. DSC analysis can ascertain many of a given material’s thermal properties, including melt point temperature, glass transition temperature (Tg), purity, cure state, heat capacity, and crystallinity level. Quantifying these thermal properties can contribute to a deeper understanding of the material’s composition.
Another common method is thermogravimetric analysis (TGA). TGA methods uncover the bulk composition of a material by observing changes in weight over time when the sample is exposed to heat in various environments. TGA helps quantify the amount of polymer, oils or volatiles, carbon black, and inorganic material within a rubber compound.
Chromatography is often the first step to capturing an accurate snapshot of a given material and getting a sense of its elemental composition by looking for key peaks. Chromatographic techniques use a variety of carrier mediums to separate the elements within a compound so they can be individually identified and quantified. Further analysis can be conducted to quantify each element and identify molecular weight. Each of these steps offers more precise, in-depth data on the chemical makeup of a material or product.
Key chromatographic techniques include gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS), high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), and gel permeation chromatography (GPC). These instruments may be used for headspace analysis, raw material purity analysis, compliance testing, and other applications.
Other Test Methods
Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) uses infrared radiation to generate a spectrum with peaks that differentiate between chemical structures within the material. FTIR is fantastic for helping analysts identify virtually any component within the compound, from polymer types, to fillers, to additives, or to contaminants.
Reverse Engineering Services From ACE
A truly valuable reverse engineering study relies on expert guidance from someone who understands the nuance of these sophisticated techniques and how they can be used in concert to uncover the most vital details. The experts at ACE have years of experience conducting intricate analysis of compound materials and identifying even the smallest traces of foreign or unidentified matter within a formulation. Whether you want to investigate competitor materials, develop a deeper understanding of your own products, or solve a different mystery, you can count on ACE to design a customized reverse engineering method and testing plan that will get you the answers you need. To learn more about the possibilities of reverse engineering, talk to a member of our team.