Although handheld XRF analyzers are fast and easy to use, it is important to follow industry best practices to get full value for your investment. Consider maintenance,
settings, training and testing to optimize this valuable tool.
By Peter Faulkner

Handheld XRF has proven to provide a significant ROI for the scrap metal sorting and recycling process by reducing material mix-ups that lead to costly penalties and returned shipments. Although handheld XRF analyzers are fast and easy to use, it is important to follow industry best practices to get full value for your investment. This article will discuss tips to help you get the best use and measurements from your analyzer in the scrap yard.

Routine Maintenance
Handheld XRF analyzers must always be ready for action at the scrap yard or recycling facility, so operators should be properly trained on daily and periodic maintenance checks. Here are two important tips to prep an XRF analyzer for everyday testing.

Easily identify turnings using handheld XRF.
Images courtesy of Olympus.


#1: Install a Clean Window
The window is the protection barrier between the recycling environment and the inner workings of the XRF analyzer that allows the incident X-rays out and the emitted characteristic X-rays back to the detector. As a vital component of the analyzer, the window must be clean for proper performance. At a minimum, make sure to carefully remove any dust or material that may have adhered to the window before testing. Ideally, the window on the device should be replaced with a new clean window. This is a simple process on many handheld XRF analyzers and avoids mismeasurements due to contamination.

#2: Charge the Battery and Keep a Spare Ready
How many times have you gone to use your favorite device or tool only to find it ran out of power? Regularly checking that the battery in the handheld XRF analyzer and a spare are fully charged helps ensure that you can efficiently spot check a load on arrival. Although handheld XRF measurements normally take only a few seconds, your throughput while processing can come to a full stop if the analyzer is down during the workday.


XRF analyzer windows must be clean before testing.


Optimize the Software Settings
For the most efficient alloy identification and sorting, optimize the XRF analyzer for your facility’s specific operation needs. For example, some plants process all alloy types, while others focus on one alloy group such as stainless steel. Below are a few ways to customize your analyzer’s software settings for efficient scrap metal sorting and processing.

Set Up Passwords to Maintain Consistent Settings
To ensure quality sorting, it is important that handheld XRF analyzer settings stay the same from shift to shift and operator to operator. Passwords can provide a layer of security to
prevent accidental changes to settings that could affect measurements. Set up passwords for designated supervisors to control access to all settings while creating separate passwords for operators to access only the essential functions for daily scrap sorting.

Select the Ideal Alloy Library for Your Application
Handheld XRF analyzers come preloaded with various alloy grade libraries to meet a range of metal analysis applications. These libraries are often defined by industry standards or material type to simplify sorting. For instance, an analyzer may include the AMS library for aerospace material specification applications and the Compact library for testing materials when limited grades are required.

Extend Testing Only When Necessary
Many alloys contain light elements (magnesium to sulfur) that require a longer, second beam test to be detected. However, light element detection is unnecessary to identify the alloy grade in many cases. To save time, extend testing only when light element analysis is needed. This process can be automated on handheld XRF analyzers to maximize efficiency. For instance, some analyzers include a feature that automatically lengthens or shortens test times based on the material. Automated functions like this enable you to run faster tests for different nickel alloys, such as Incoloy 825, by eliminating the second beam test. The result is better productivity and throughput.

Apply Tramp Element Limits
The increased demand for 100 percent furnace-ready charges requires processors to either eliminate or limit the levels of unwanted tramp element residuals, such as copper and lead in steels or iron and phosphorus in copper alloys. To speed up and simplify grade matching, apply tramp element limits directly on your analyzer.

Optimize the Trigger Function
When following a standard operating procedure, the handheld XRF analyzer will complete the full measurement as previously set up. However, some analyzers include alternative trigger settings that can immediately stop the measurement upon grade match or enable the operator to release the measurement when comfortable with the alloy grade or analysis. These trigger settings can help to save time and increase throughput.

Test the Measurement
Even if your handheld XRF analyzer performs a self-check on every measurement, a good best practice is to measure a known standard or reference material at the beginning and end of each shift (or day at a minimum). This procedure should be done more frequently as part of any standard operating procedure to bracket all measurements during that period.

Handheld XRF Training
Completing all the training for your handheld XRF analyzer will help ensure that your device is configured optimally for everyday testing. The following are tips for training and support.

Take Advantage of Local Training and Support
Your handheld XRF manual is a great place to start to get up to speed on your analyzer, but in-person guidance from an expert is invaluable. Take advantage of any local training and support onsite or remotely to cover the best operating practices and check that your analyzer is configured optimally.

Watch Online Training Modules
Handheld XRF analyzers should be supported by comprehensive online training modules and application videos. Check out the online video tutorials for your analyzer to set up and use your device properly.

Testing Scrap Metals and Alloys
Your XRF analyzers are set up. Operators are trained to process incoming scrap materials. Your team is ready for testing. Now it is important to consider any potential challenges, such as how to handle hard-to-test metals and alloys. Here are some practical tips.

Properly Prepare End-of-Life Materials for Testing
If you receive demolition and end-of-life materials from industrial operations, their surfaces might be corroded, contaminated, painted or plated. In these cases, use a portable grinder to expose a small area for testing to take an accurate measurement.

Remove Coatings to Avoid Misleading Results
Coatings on materials can give misleading XRF results. Often aluminum-extruded wrought materials are coated or anodized. Turbine blades from aerospace and power generation engines are hard coated with platinum or palladium. Always remove these coatings to get an accurate measurement.

Do Not Measure Materials Covered with Oil or Grease
Measuring materials covered with oil or grease will lead to erroneous readings and could contaminate the analyzer window. Do not test these materials so your window stays clean and ready for other incoming scrap.



Finding the Ideal Handheld XRF Analyzer for Scrap Metal Recycling
If you have not yet selected a handheld XRF analyzer for your scrap metal recycling needs, you might be wondering what features to look for. Aside from the key features mentioned earlier in this article, some other important functions include:
• Fast alloy grade identification and light element analysis for efficient sorting
• Ability to distinguish similar alloy grades (e.g., 303 stainless steel from 304, and aluminum 6061 or 6063 from 1100)
• Clear on-screen grade comparisons and sorting instructions
• IP rated to withstand rain, dirt and dust in scrap yard environments
• Drop tested to protect against falls and maximize uptime
• Cloud-technology enabled for easy fleet management
• Touch screen that is clear, bright, and readable in any light
• Intuitive user interface to quickly navigate settings and software functions
• Customizable to choose which features display on the main screen
• Multiple data export options for convenient data management
• Ergonomic buttons that are easy to press with gloved hands

Also consider the alloy database included with your XRF analyzer. Make sure the database includes the most commonly used alloys in scrap recycling. With the right tool, you can confidently measure and sort the wide variety of alloys, metals, and materials found in the scrap yard, such as:
• Stainless steels
• Nickel alloys
• Non-ferrous alloys
• Low alloy steels
• Aluminum and light alloys
• Copper, brasses and bronzes
• Precious metals
• Car catalytic converters
• Electronics
• Glass

Weighing Your Options
Handheld XRF analyzers come in a range of models and price points to meet different needs and budgets. As a result, it is important to carefully weigh your options to find the solution that helps increase your facility’s efficiency, throughput and profitability. | WA

Peter Faulkner is the Director of Market Development, Analytical Instruments at Olympus. He has held sales and marketingpositions within the analytical instrument field for more than 20 years. He received his BMet in metallurgy from the University of Sheffield, UK and has many years of experience within the metals and mining industries, including steel manufacturing, mining equipment, molten metal control sensors and industrial gases prior to his work within the analytical instrument market. Peter can be reached at peter.faulkner@


Read more on scrap metal recycling >