Why third-party testing houses should consider LIBS analyzers

As I meet with new and existing customers and show our range of products, I’ve noticed one issue being brought up quite regularly; not many are aware of LIBS analyzers.

This has happened often enough for me to realise that there’s a general lack of awareness of LIBS and where it can help. So, here is my introduction to LIBS for those testing houses and my answers to the questions I usually get. 

What is a LIBS analyzer?

LIBS stands for Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy. LIBS analyzers emit a small and powerful laser beam onto the surface of the sample to be checked. The beam creates a tiny, localised plasma from the molecules of the sample.

As this plasma cools, the elements in the sample emit a characteristic wavelength which is detected by the instrument. The analyzer’s software interprets this information and the grade of the material is presented on the screen, i.e. SS 316.

Why haven’t we heard of it before?

LIBS is a relatively new technology and has only really come into widespread commercial use in recent times.

At the heart of the analyzer is the laser diode (which provides the laser beam) and it’s only recently that laser diodes of this size can reliably produce beams powerful enough for the technique to work with a handheld device.

Handheld LIBS is now also an approved and recognised technique, recommended by the API (American Petroleum Institute) for material verification of alloy piping. See API RP 578 for more details.

What can we test with it?

LIBS is great for general metal identification and sorting. It’ll give you an accurate ID of stainless steels, low alloy steels, aluminium alloys, nickel alloys and many more. A robust grade library comes with the device as standard, but this can also be added to and/or easily amended.

How practical is it to take on site?

Here I’m going to write specifically about Hitachi High-Tech’s range of Vulcan LIBS analyzers. The Vulcan is a handheld analyzer that’s about the same size and shape as a cordless drill weighing just 1.5 kg.

It’s battery powered, and the rechargeable battery lasts 8-10 hours so it will cover a working day at a customer site. To make the test, simply place the front of the analyzer against the clean metal surface and pull the trigger. You can even hold the sample in your hand.

The measurement is taken in just 1 second, so you’ll find it easy to get through a lot of testing in a short timeframe.

A report of materials tested can be easily generated from the device itself, with all analyses date and time stamped on a template with your company information.

What are the compliance requirements?

There are no regulations applying to LIBS analyzers in most countries because there are no X-rays. As there’s less paperwork to contend with and no radiation safety training, you’ll also find that there is no costly compliance. The Vulcan does use a Class 3B laser, so we recommend you wear a pair of protective glasses, which are included with every Vulcan we supply. In some countries wearing safety goggles is mandatory.

To get more information about our LIBS analyzers, get in touch with one of our experts or you can get more information on our products here.

Dr Sarah Wright is our Sales Executive in the UK. You can contact her here.

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Date: 19 September 2019

Author: Dr Sarah Wright, UK Sales Executive

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