LIBS vs XRF: Comparing handheld scrap analysers

The ability to determine material composition with versatility and accuracy is essential for foundries as well as scrap and recycling yards.

In recent years, laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) has been used increasingly in foundry and metal recycling applications, especially with aluminium and other nonferrous metals. LIBS is an analytical technique that uses a short-pulse, low-energy laser beam to cause laser ablation, providing sample surface analysis without radiation concerns.

X-ray fluorescence (XRF) is a non-destructive technique used to determine the composition of materials. For foundrymen and recyclers who sort metals and alloys in applications where a precise understanding of content and composition is important, X-ray fluorescence (XRF) based handheld analysers have been the main tool employed for material verification purposes for decades.

According to Olympus Scientific Solutions, LIBS is best viewed as a complimentary machine to the more traditional handheld XRF and each type of machine does certain things well.

“The most intriguing thing about LIBS is the ability to measure elements that you cannot measure with XRF. Carbon, beryllium and lithium are all possible, and recent advances are making carbon in L-grades achievable for some LIBS analysers,” said a company spokesperson.

“However, that LIBS analysers struggle with some elements that XRF excels at. Notably these include refractory metals, such as Cr, Zr, Mo, Ta and other common and commercially important alloying elements. LIBS has a much smaller spot size than XRF.”

“This is good in the sense that the burn mark left behind is small. But it makes it much harder to get the same answer when you test twice in a row. This is because the sample varies across the small scale of the LIBS spot.”

Olympus: Vanta (XRF)
The Vanta analyser is Olympus’ most advanced handheld X-ray fluorescence (XRF) device and provides rapid, accurate element analysis and alloy identification to laboratory-quality results in the field. Units are military-standard drop tested, IP64 or IP65 rated, and designed with a large, gesture-capable touch screen, wireless communication, access to the Olympus Scientific Cloud and direct PDF creation. They are also designed to be easy to use with minimal training, and to provide high throughput.

The latest Vanta VMR model analysers come with a graphene detector window making them even more sensitive for magnesium, aluminium and silicon. Units provide very fast grade identification and are combined with Axon technology for high x-ray count. Other key features include SmartSort and Grade Match Messaging, IMX processor, a metal detector shutter, intuitive navigation and configurable software.

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