As technology has advanced, manufacturers have worked to incorporate those advances each step of the way. Spectro Analytical Instruments has steadily upgraded its handheld XRF analyzers, keeping in mind the needs of the people using the units throughout the day.
“For example, xSORT has been designed so operators don’t have to switch methods between samples, or bother with helium flushes or vacuum systems,” said Tom Bloomer, Spectro Analytical North American sales & product manager, handheld spectrometers. “Advanced detector technology, introduced just last year, has dramatically improved light element analysis and the instrument’s ability to quickly and accurately identify many of the new high-value alloys entering the scrap yard.”
Oxford’s Vulcan analyzer uses LIBS technology, which the manufacturer states is faster than other techniques while ensuring the tool is ergonomic, allowing ease of operation. In situations such as quality control and assurance, those factors ensure that large quantities of scrap metal can be sorted quickly and easily. Simple to operate, the Vulcan analyzer, when analyzing aluminum, provides both the commercial grade of aluminum and its chemical composition, while reducing potential for user error for reliable, consistent results.
Considering all options
Because there are so many options available when it comes to analyzers, buyers must know what they’re looking for when seeking out the right choice for their operation.
“Many factors should be considered when purchasing a new device – it can be confusing, as there are many options and analyzers generally look similar,” said Bloomer. “Basic considerations typically include weight, battery life, some performance specs, and always price. However, there are core feature sets that should also be considered as new, high-value alloys are showing up more often in scrap yards.”
Bloomer said advanced detection capability for light elements is one more recent factor that can shape the needs of a scrap operation’s analysis choices.
“If light elements are of interest, evaluate the instrument’s detection limits and how much analysis time the instrument requires. Other considerations might include wireless capability to manage data and video camera installation to see exact analysis spots,” Bloomer stated. Also, ask if there is an integrated internal standard or if you need to carry around standards. Perhaps most critically, be sure to review the supplier’s support structure and your ability to easily access technical help after a purchase is made.”
Keep the set requirements of the operation in mind when considering the options available on the market, Oxford’s Jarvikivi suggested.
“There are always tradeoffs between technologies, and no single technique can provide optimal performance for all analysis needs,” he said. “For example, an instrument that can do accurate trace element analysis might not be suitable for high speed alloy sorting, and vice-versa.”
Handheld analyzers get a lot of use in difficult work sites around scrap yards, so it’s important to be certain they can handle the abuse.
“I believe buyers should focus more on the reliability of HH-XRF and HH-LIBS systems over time, and resist low price temptation,” said Jerry Sooter, marketing manager, handheld, mobile and portable products for Bruker. “With lower-priced units, a significant part of the cost can occur after the purchase, so selecting a vendor who you can establish a long-term relationship with is essential.”
Finding a company familiar with the recycling industry is one good way to ensure a good, lasting relationship, added Lessard, who noted that Thermo Fisher has been working with recyclers for more than two decades and has incorporated that knowledge in its equipment and service.
“Our goal is to equip customers with the most innovative and precise analytical devices available. More importantly, we want to help our customers solve their problems in the best, most cost-effective way,” Lessard said. “From a technology standpoint, buyers should seek analyzers that are small, fast and intuitive, so that the technicians using the devices can easily obtain results and be confident in their accuracy.”
For Thermo Fisher, a small size means reduced operator fatigue. Its Niton XL5 handheld XRF analyzer weighs in at 2.8 pounds (1.3 kg), a size that the company states is the smallest among alloy handheld XRF analyzers on the market.
“Using the Niton XL5, users are able to detect elements on the periodic table at much lower levels than in the past, particularly light elements like aluminum,” Lessard said. “Thermo Fisher has optimized the geometry between the X-ray source and the sample, ultimately improving limits of detection and shortening measurement times.”
Another lightweight offering, the Spectro xSORT Alloy offers grade identification in seconds, while the AlloyPlus can analyze most alloys in two seconds, Bloomer said. Alloys containing difficult light elements like aluminum, magnesium, silicon, phosphorus and sulphur may take up to seven seconds, he noted.
“The xSORT has a shutter that closes the measurement window between analyses; it also functions as the sample material for (Spectro’s) unique automatic ICAL standardization, which eliminates the need to carry around standards,” Bloomer described.
Quick response is important, but rugged reliability is also a big selling point for handheld analyzers. Oxford Instruments’ X-MET8000 handheld XRF and Vulcan are both designed to meet the needs of busy scrap yards.
“Both use industrial-grade material for the housing, shock absorbers, minimal moving parts, and large heat sinks to work reliably and without interruption even in hot environments,” said Jarvikivi. “They are dust- and splashproof (IP54 certified) and can be used outdoors as well as indoors. Vulcan also meets the strict requirements set by the MIL-STD-810G standard, and the X-MET includes a shield that prevents sharp objects from damaging key components, therefore ensuring low maintenance costs.”
Bruker also offers protection for its devices, including the S1 Titan, Sooter noted.
“The Titan comes standard with a patented detector protection device called the Titan Detector Shield. Since introduction, we have had zero detector punches,” Sooter said. “[The shield] is an integral part of the detector. In addition, our design allows analysis of both light and heavy elements without the need for any calibration adjustment or window switch.”