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Metal Analyzers Play Key Role for Scrap Recyclers

One person's trash is another person's treasure, as the popular saying goes. No one knows this better than the thousands of independent metal recyclers that make their living in the scrap industry today.

But there is a movement underway that is changing the way some scrap metal recyclers are doing business. With pressure to improve quality, and with many products in greater demand, more and more scrap buyers are less willing to accept mixed loads or inaccurately sorted material. As a result, more ferrous and non-ferrous metal recyclers are winning new customers and boosting their earnings by analyzing scrap content.

This competitive edge is made possible by a new breed of electronic metal analyzers - or spectrometers - that quickly and easily identify materials in question. While the latest analyzers are impacting recycling, the idea itself isn't exactly new. According to Randy Moffat, vice president sales & marketing for Angstrom, Inc., a Belleville, Michigan based manufacturer, the use of spectrometers has been around for a long time.

"Among the first buyers of spectrometers were steel mills in the 1940s for determining the composition of steel before pouring," he said. But the equipment at that time was large, cumbersome and not very well suited to anything outside of laboratory use. "It wasn't until some years later that spectrometers began to see light duty for sorting scrap metals in a few of the larger yards across the country," Moffat added.

However, recent advancements in technology have changed metal analyzers in a number of ways.

Tom Anderson, director of marketing for Niton, LLC, the Billerica, Massachusetts producer of hand-held metal analyzers said, "Advancements in digital signal processing and multilayered electronics have reduced the size of the equipment considerably."

New technologies have simplified metals anaylsis to "point and shoot". Recyclers save time, improve quality and boost earnings.
Photo courtesy of Niton Corp.

Being both smaller and lighter has created new applications for analyzers. But that's not where it ends.

Anderson added, "Breakthroughs in x-ray tube and battery technology have given rise to a new generation of hand-held instruments. More and more recyclers are beginning to rely on analyzers to assist in a number of ways."

According to recyclers that use them, the results have had a positive impact on their businesses.

John Hunsaker of SOS Metals, Inc., Gardena, California, has been using the latest generation of hand-held analyzers for more than three months now. According to Hunsaker, "We do a lot of business in superalloys and other metals that demand a lot from an analyzer. Nickel cobalt and cobalt-based alloys are tough because they're so close in chemical composition. We need an instrument that can identify alloys that contain different percentages of the same elements. That's where the latest technology really pays off."

Among the latest innovations in some hand-held analyzers is the ability for users to essentially program their own search criteria. The software in certain models allows the user to set both upper and lower content limits for various elements. Custom settings are then stored in the unit's library of possible matches to compare against readings from new samples.

"The single greatest advantage they afford us now is the ability to program our customers' specifications directly into the unit," said Mr. Hunsaker.

By sorting along customer-supplied guidelines, recyclers can identify exactly what they're looking for much more quickly than before, and with much greater accuracy. "We don't spend much time doing things the hard way anymore," Hunsaker said. "Finally, we have a reliable tool that lets us work smart, and fast," he added.

Tom Anderson of Niton, summarized the primary benefit of the latest hand-held analyzers. "Increased profitability," he said, is best reason metal recyclers should consider an analyzer today. "A hand-held analyzer is not only effective in sorting and segregation of material, but these analyzers are small enough and reliable enough to be taken off-site when bidding on material. Some quick spot checks on the material allow a recycler to be more competitive in his material bid.

Operators improve quality by using anaylzers to compare incoming materials to customer requirements.
Photo courtesy of Niton Corp.

We have heard many times from our customers that material up for bid was in fact, not what it was claimed to be," said Anderson.

In some cases, financial rewards to the recycler have been both immediate and significant. Anderson noted, "One of our users took his just-purchased analyzer to bid on a load of 316 stainless steel and found the material instead to be nickel 200. With this knowledge, he was able to outbid everyone else and sell the material right away for a nice profit - more than paying for the analyzer in a single transaction."

Mr. Stuart Freilich, Universal Metal Corporation, Worcester, Massachusetts, observed, "Our entire existence revolves around identifying metals. We guarantee every heat to our customer's certifications," he said.

How important is accuracy? According to Freilich, "If we blew a heat, claims could surpass six figures. We live and die by our analyzers."

Hand-held metal analyzers are in widespread use outside of the metal recycling industry as well. Tom Anderson of Niton pointed out, "The United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission are depending on portable metal analyzers to help them carry out their current mission in Iraq." UN weapons inspectors are equipped with metal analyzers to assist in the search for evidence of Iraq's involvement in banned weapons programs.