Important characteristics of particles or fibers are chemical composition, size, share and habit. For anorganic and metallic materials these properties can be characterized by scanning electron microscopy, including X-ray elemental analysis (SEM-EDX).
Typical element patterns in the spectrum (as determined by EDX) allow interpretations regarding a material identification. Peaks for Fe, Cr and Ni, for example, together with the corresponding SEM image, indicate a particle originating from a component made of high-alloy chromium-nickel steel. All detected particles of this composition are then assigned to a summary of a common, representative particle class "high-alloy Cr-Ni steel".
For organic particles, there are more analyitical methods, depending on their size, like fourier-transform-infrared spectroscopy and time-of-flight-mass spectrometry, by which synthetic material, additives and abherents etc. can be identified exactly.
The habitus provides information about the level and the type of wear of a component. Ductile deformed, flattened particles indicate heavy usage, as is the case for e.g. rolling bearings. A high number of identical particles indicates a rapid and massive destruction.
Depending on the information of the affected system, a particle class may possibly be associated with a particular component, and thus the defective part can be detected and removed early.