Precise analysis

Features - Operations Focus

LIBS hand-held analyzers can offer a simplified solution to identifying alloys.

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October 3, 2019

Photos: Hitachi High-Tech

As a busy ferrous and nonferrous scrap metal processing facility, TNT Scrap, based in the heart of Brooklyn, New York, has been processing metals since 2006. The company operates a full-service metal recycling facility that works with individuals, construction sites, businesses, industries and the government.

As one of Brooklyn’s premier recycling centers, TNT Scrap says its goal is to provide the most value for recycled scrap metal while ensuring quality service through responsible handling, processing and shipping by operating in a safe, ecologically responsible manner.

What makes TNT Scrap’s site unique is its bulkhead to allow for marine access. Using a barge to receive metals and ship processed material is considerably more environmentally friendly than the emissions produced by the many trucks that would be needed to bring freight in and out of the facility. It also removes trucks from local roads that already are clogged with traffic.

The company operates 24/7, processing a vast amount of metals, including stainless steel, brass, copper, aluminum and steel. With such large volumes, TNT Scrap’s analysis processes must be optimized to be quick and accurate, increasing efficiency and cost effectiveness.

Tim Fulton, owner of TNT Scrap, says, “We focus on buying and recycling all types of ferrous and nonferrous scrap metal. Part of what makes us successful is our ability to offer competitive scrap metal prices and services by knowing the precise value of the metals we process.”

To assist with properly identifying and sorting incoming metals, the team at TNT Scrap chose the Vulcan Expert hand-held analyzer from Hitachi High-Tech, Westford, Massachusetts. TNT Scrap selected the analyzer in part because of the speed and accuracy it offers.

The benefits of LIBS

The company’s analyzer uses an analytical technique known as laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) that’s been used in laboratories for many years. Yet, thanks to recent technological advances, it’s among the fastest analytical technologies available today to identify and analyze metal alloys using a light hand-held device. It can take as little as 1 second to measure virtually any alloy, including aluminum alloys.

While Hitachi manufactures X-ray fluorescence (XRF) and LIBS analyzers, the TNT Scrap team prefers LIBS over XRF technology because of the radiation safety regulations associated with the latter, which make the total cost of ownership for XRF devices more expensive. Users of XRF analyzers, which benefit from the addition of a silicon drift detector (SDD) when measuring light metals, must adhere to safety and radiation regulations, including radiation safety training. Much less is required from users of LIBS analyzers.

“When you have an XRF analyzer, you must list your company at the Department of Health and the Board of Health at New York City, which involves an annual fee,” Fulton says. “As LIBS analyzers have a laser inside, there’s no need for an X-ray license or expensive training classes, so registration fees can be avoided. This saves both time and money.”

The LIBs device is designed for the rapid identification of a wide range of alloys in the scrap metal processing and recycling markets worldwide. For example, when analyzing aluminum, it not only provides the commercial grade but also its chemical composition.

Rising to the challenge

Scrap yards are one of the toughest and most challenging environments for any hand-held alloy analyzer. Shocks, drops, vibration, rain, dust and sharp objects are all real risks for an analyzer being used in this environment.

Most modern hand-held instruments are designed to be used outdoors in tough environments and withstand heavy treatment—up to a certain point.

Fulton says, “Although our Vulcan gun has been dropped many times, because of its rugged construction, it still works just as well as the first day that we bought it.”

The Vulcan also complies with the MIL-STD-810G military-grade standard for ruggedness, which calls for a device to withstand 26 4-foot drops onto plywood-covered concrete.

Almost anyone who’s been operating hand-held XRF instruments for a significant time is aware of the sensitivity of these instruments’ noses and, more specifically, the vulnerability that can be associated with their X-ray detectors. Detector punctures are costly accidents that should be avoided whenever possible.

LIBS analyzers work with a completely different technique and, therefore, aren’t as sensitive to sharp items, such as turnings. The measurement optics in TNT Scrap’s hand-held LIBS analyzer are protected by sapphire glass. The device’s measurement window also is recessed, meaning the glass itself won’t make contact with the sample. The only thing users need to remember is to keep the measurement window clean to ensure the best possible performance.

Speedy and accurate

LIBS analysis’ speed is its biggest asset compared with traditional XRF analyzers. When sorting scrap, TNT Scrap’s LIBS device is designed to deliver an accurate and consistent grade identification every time.

Users get full chemistry and grade identification, including for traditionally challenging close grades such as 6061/6063, 3003/3004 and 7050/7075—a task that easily can take up to 5 seconds or more with hand-held XRF analysis. This allows TNT Scrap to ensure maximum operational efficiency for metal sorting.

“Part of what makes us successful is our ability to offer competitive scrap metal prices and services by knowing the precise value of the metals we process.” – Tim Fulton, owner, TNT Scrap

TNT Scrap’s Nonferrous Manager James Sutton uses the company’s hand-held LIBS analyzer almost every day because it can read not only stainless steel but also aluminum and even brass.

“The biggest thing for me with the Vulcan is just the accuracy and the speed,” Sutton says. “It helps with purchasing the material, sorting material and how we sell it. It lightens the workload on our workers as a simple shoot will tell you what it is, and it takes care of the job for us.”

Because the device is simple to operate, possible user error has been significantly reduced if not almost eliminated, so the results obtained from analysis will be reliable and consistent.

Data management

The last decade has seen data emerge as a key resource for businesses. Advances in connectivity and storage technology mean organizations now have access and the ability to share a range of operational data.

Hitachi High-Tech’s ExTOPE Connect is a data management and storage solution for the company’s range of analyzers. Being able to share data quickly is not just important within an organization, it also can be a crucial part of the sales process, especially in a scrap yard. The data from the Vulcan can be shared instantly via text, email or even WhatsApp, including photos of metal and the measurement results by using the ExTOPE Connect mobile app. This makes it easy for TNT Scrap to contact its customers to let them know what’s available.

ExTOPE Connect also allows users to create reports directly from the cloud, which can be shared via email or instant messaging to all interested parties. Unlimited free data storage and automatic backups also mean that historical analyzer data will always be accessible by the TNT Scrap team.

Ultimately, the hand-held LIBS analyzer is an easy and affordable option that helps TNT Scrap ensure it is maximizing its profits.

This article was submitted on behalf of Hitachi High-Tech, Westford, Massachusetts. More information is available at https://hha.hitachi-hightech.com/en/pages/analyser-for-metal-recycling. Tim Fulton can be contacted at tim@tntscrap.com.