Lab-quality analysis in the palm of your hand

The Metal Magazine: Lab-quality analysis in the palm of your hand

“How do you calibrate the calibration equipment?”

I remember being asked this very question during an ISO 9001 accreditation and thinking, “That’s a good question, I have no idea.”

It stuck with me, and as my career progressed I worked on jobs where tolerances, testing requirements, precise chemical analysis and traceability were fundamental. 

I realised that quality, and its place within the sales process, was often more important than the price BUT getting material tested often resulted in delays to delivery because it took time to complete.

Fast forward to February 2023 and I’m out with ARUN Technology, a company that specialises in measuring and testing equipment, seeing first-hand what state-of-the-art XRF (X-Ray Fluorescence) and LIBS (Laser Induced Breakdown Spectrometers) devices are capable of: lab-quality analysis in seconds.

Having supplied stainless steel to many high-integrity projects, I was familiar with sending materials out to third-party test houses for destructive and non-destructive testing.

Testing increases lead times, and depending on how busy the test houses were, this could add days or sometimes a week or more to potentially urgent orders.

I’d seen these handheld devices before. A couple of clients had a ‘PMI Gun’ (Positive Material Identification) but I’d never actually got my hands on one and it was an eye-opener to see how portable and easy to use they are.

The real standout is the speed. They give an accurate material composition in seconds and, because of their portability, they allow for materials to be tested in situ, adding to their versatility.

The new ARUN Technology CALIBUS is, to my knowledge, the first and only handheld CMOS-based laser-induced breakdown spectrometer (LIBS) analyser in the market to measure carbon in ferrous, making it an ideal analytical solution for QA/QC, metallurgical manufacturing and machining, petrochemical industries, mining, scrap metal and recycling.

Why I think this technology will become more commonplace in the Metals and Engineering sectors

Pricing is often the most prohibitive factor in the early life cycle of new tech. As technology develops prices become more affordable, and businesses can take advantage. 

In the Metal and Engineering sectors, I see many benefits to offering testing services in-house. These include quality assurance, both documented and perceived, the chance to become integrated into the supply chains of major clients, time and monetary savings, as well as adding value to surplus, scrap or secondary material.

Added value

I hear this term in almost every business I visit, and in respect of the XRF and LIBS devices, I think they add value.

As I mentioned at the outset of this article, testing or documentation in some cases was the most important part of a sale. Test Certification, Base Material Certification, Independent 3.2 testing, Non-Destructive Testing as well as Destructive Testing and Documentation Packs are vital parts of the sale of materials.

For materials that are moving along a supply chain, a positive material identification process adds significant value and may give your company the edge when supplying parts.

Traceability

Andrew Milner spoke about Blockchain in his first article for The Metal Magazine. He cited the importance of having complete end-to-end traceability for material through the entire supply chain, and XRF handheld devices would allow customers to trace materials from the original melt, through production, all the way to a final component.

Furthermore, as the move from a linear to a circular materials economy gathers pace, the need to quickly and accurately understand what grade of material you are in receipt of for recycling is crucially important. Speed of segregation and the ability to locate higher-value metals are of huge value to the economy but also the wider environment.

Dr Richard Curry from the SUSTAIN project spoke about how the better utilisation of scrap steel is essential for meeting the world’s steel demands in his exclusive article for The Metal Magazine.

Listen to Cathy Bell from i-SPACE (part of the SUSTAIN project) talk on The Metal Guys Talk Business podcast about their work to accelerate the arrival of a circular economy in steelmaking: Click here to listen

Wider supply chain

With the supply issues of recent years and the elongated lead times from mills in Europe and the USA, customer demand has outstripped supply.

As is the case in every commodity sector, counterfeit, or less qualified materials will have entered the metals supply chain.

Testing of material to guarantee that the grade of material purchased is exactly as expected would make sense at any time when receiving goods, and a quick and accurate testing procedure would route out the risks of incorrect material passing further down the supply chain.

ARUN Technology CALIBUS 5 handheld CMOS-based laser-induced breakdown spectrometer (LIBS) analyser, which measures carbon in ferrous.
The ARUN Technology CALIBUS 5 is the only handheld CMOS-based laser-induced breakdown spectrometer (LIBS) analyser on the market.

Sales opportunities in high-integrity markets

When I set up my Metal Business, Stock Services, in 2007, we didn’t have ISO 9001 approval for several years. Without this accreditation, we couldn’t sell our goods to everyone in the market.

As time moved on it became common for mills, distributors, fabrication companies and OEMs to have a whole host of accreditations and requirements for those same accreditations from their supply chain.

Having higher standards than your competitors is the easiest way to create new business opportunities. Standards open doors, and a more comprehensive traceability process would seem like a logical way to level up into higher-integrity market sectors.

Time and Money

Sounds obvious doesn’t it? But sending materials to be tested adds to the lead time of a job. If there’s high demand, or your job is not the most lucrative for the lab, additional time will need to be factored in.

Testing costs and freight to and from a lab is an additional cost that needs to be factored in, as does the processing of documents for goods out and goods in, and additional orders and subsequent invoices to be paid.

Having testing equipment in-house makes sense, BUT the costs of the kit need to be factored in.

I’d say that the crude costs for an external test are about £80-100 per item, so you need to be doing a number of these to make a case to buy over a period of time. However, if having this type of equipment allows you to take orders that you might lose to the competition, the real ROI could be significantly less, and the case for the value proposition solely on test house costs vs equipment cost is actually irrelevant.

Surplus, Seconds and Recycling

Something that I hadn’t thought about before meeting with ARUN Technology was the ability to increase the value of surplus or seconds material that abounds in the Metal sector.

Tom Conn, their new business development specialist, spoke about the value in being able to positively identify materials that were offered to distribution companies as surplus or seconds, and how this allowed businesses to uplift the price of these lower-value metal products. Although less common, there is still material in the market that has no test certification, and being able to check exactly what material you have makes it more valuable.

Recycling centres are another market sector that would get great value from a handheld device. Materials that enter recycling centres MAY be of significantly more value than they may seem, and being able to quickly check materials and segregate them is better for the environment and the owner’s pocket.

Peter Comerford at ARUN Technology with their new CALIBUS 5 handheld spectrometer.

Key Takeaway

Looking back on our visit to ARUN Technology, my key takeaway was this:

SPEED and KNOWLEDGE

The handheld analysis devices produced by ARUN Technology are fast, accurate and easy to use, and the team are extremely knowledgeable.

Introducing the ARUN Technology analysis devices into your workflow adds so many opportunities to enhance quality, reduce costs, boost supply chain integrity and access new market opportunities.

These portable testing devices are becoming more affordable and useful for businesses in the Metals and Engineering sectors. When their capabilities and value proposition are properly understood, they can transform how materials are tested, traded and traced.

To find out more about ARUN Technology and their range of analysis products and services, visit their website: aruntechnology.co.uk

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