How elemental analysis has transformed with time to meet market demands -Laura Oelofse
The ever-increasing need for speed that defines our competitive global landscape as enterprises vie to be first to market means supplementary technology needs to change to meet the needs of new processes.
The limitations of static locations, long analysis times with continuous often costly overheads needed to ensure functionality have become stumbling blocks to providing quick accurate answers for many of the questions raised by development engineers about the materials they work with and the products they are racing to put out to the marketplace
Increasing regulation to permeate marketplaces with reliable data and similar methods of comparative conclusions have also driven the need for quicker, high accuracy and reproducibility data to guide product improvement, ultimately inform business decisions and arbitrate buying and selling contracts.
The analytical instrument business has adjusted its product portfolios to meet the growing need of these innovative research, industrial and regulatory organizations and nowhere is this more apparent than the evolution of X-ray Fluorescence (XRF) as an elemental technique over the last 25 years.
From changes in form factors, power ratings, elemental ranges, and sensitivities to inclusion in hybrid technologies XRF and other atomic technologies like Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS), these technologies have escaped their surly bonds of laboratory relegation and have soared into history as untethered, portable, and infinitely useful tools. The changes brought about by the handheld, close-coupling lower powered geometries have transformed the XRF and LIBS usefulness and useability and powered their widespread adoption.
The transcendence of these technologies has been possible due to the concomitant miniaturization of strategic components like energy sources and power supplies, detectors, and computing capabilities. These coupled with communication and geo-positional advances like Wi-Fi, Blue Tooth transmission, GPS locators and the evolution of reliable, secure cloud-based storage have driven the XRF revolution. The advent of satellite communication has also improved the adoption of these technologies in remote locations.
What once filled an entire laboratory room has been reduced to bench tops and field portable equipment. The portability and “gun-like” form factor of handheld devices have been major advances in taking the analysis from the laboratory to the field, exploration site or production line. The transformation has also come with an increased complexity in data characterization and reduction to produce meaningful scientific measurements. The evolution of Fundamental Parameters techniques and the incorporation into these smaller XRF units have revolutionized the speed and accuracy of analysis while relaxing some of the more stringent mathematical requirements to satisfy linear equation models of conventional XRF technology.
What that means for you the process control engineer, exploration geologist, metallurgist, scrap metal dealer and mining superintendent is fast, on the spot analysis with defined precision and comparative accuracy to certified reference materials similar in composition to your materials.
Today’s XRF and LIBS analytical equipment offers
- Increased portability and ruggedized form factors to withstand the rigors of field deployment allowing real time analysis at the site of production
- Low power requirements allowing extended operation on battery packs with hot-swapping capabilities without loss of information.
- Connectivity to transmit results to cloud based database applications via the internet
- Fast analysis speeds based on major component recognition (especially useful for alloy sorting and grade differentiation in metals)
- Ease of Use allowing accurate information to be produced by non-technical operators with a high degree of reliability
- Depot style delivery and returns for serviceability and upgrades to enhance the desirability of ownership
All these features were brought about by industry needs driven by our global shifts in research into new materials, innovations in manufacturing, the increasing demands for raw materials from our mining sectors and the ever-present drive for economies of scale and process improvements.
Looking to the future we see innovation in the analytical instrument business being fueled by emerging technologies and the questions being generated by these pioneers of hybrid materials and engineering processes.
- The Internet-of-Things being incorporated into analytical platforms on a large scale to automate analysis to an on demand application for feedback to process control and to drive process variable adjustments in real time to maintain optimal process conditions and products.
- The emergence of 3D printing as a mainstream engineering methodology – printing of 3 D Wheel-Tire assemblies as being pioneered by Michelin – the opportunity for real time x-ray camera enabled computer tomography for fast renditions of 3 D process reliability
- The re-emergence of Space Exploration by Space-X and all the subsequent supportive technologies to address these new realities and materials
- Power technology and power generation of the future – the materials and the fuels and how X-ray Analytical technologies will be a part of the journey
- The ever evolving material science sector in its quest for materials with enhanced flexibility, versatility and reliability – analytical instruments designed to measure critical variables with increasing precision and increasing confidence in data produced exploring hybrid analytical techniques like thermal analysis, x-ray diffraction and x-ray fluorescence