Metals analysis: future trends

From the rise of robots in the manufacturing process, to the fall in quality of raw materials from certain sources, our industry has never been a more challenging place to operate. And yet it’s never been more interesting and exciting either.

Here’s just five areas that keep us talking at Hitachi High-Tech; highs and lows that are influencing the way we develop our technology to ensure a successful future for those working with metals or in the metals industry.

 

1. 3D printing in metal

3D printing is here to stay, and the ability to ‘print’ in metals is moving far beyond prototype components, shifting to finished metal components that could potentially fail. Hailed as the new technique for fabrication, 3D printing is a disruptive technology that will change tradition methods in an exciting way. Having worked with the metals industry for many years, we get excited about advancement in technology and this is definitely up there. 

In the future, we believe that the analysis of finished products will be straightforward. However, it’s the testing of the raw materials that could make analyzers your most valuable tools.

Raw materials can include aluminium, cobalt, chrome, copper, stainless steel, titanium and tungsten. But for any of these to be used, they must first exist as pure elements or alloy powder. This ‘powder’ could be tested with an XRF (X-ray Fluorescence) metals analyzer to ensure it’s of the quality you need before turning it into a vital component. Alternatively, stationary spark optical emission spectrometers (OES), like the OE750 and OE720 from Hitachi, can be used to test powders using a re-melting furnace. This gives the advantage to analyze C, P, S, B and N (if powder is nickel, cobalt or steel based) which XRF machines can’t analyze. WDXRF and combustion analyzers are an alternative, but these can be up to three times more expensive than the OE750 for example.

 

2. Metals analysis and big data

We’ve seen data emerge as a key resource for businesses in the last decade, and the metals industry is no different. While investment has been made into process control and optimization, the industry has for many years lagged behind sectors such as banking and media in its adoption of new digital technologies.

The pace is picking up however with innovations in analytics, mobile solutions and automation delivering significant gains. For us, the speed, simplicity, and convenience of a metals analyzer enabling a member of staff to take thousands of readings in a working day, means we also need to adapt to keep pace.

Data and information is now an essential part of a complete metals analysis ‘toolkit’. Whether it’s through the device being connected to the cloud, through the IoT, or installed within the instrument itself.

 

3. Why accuracy matters

As global competition increases or as is the case currently, there are material shortages, there’s no doubt that the quality of materials from some areas will decrease. In some countries, huge tax advantages are offered to manufacturers adding low-cost elements like boron to materials such as steel. The government of one of the world’s biggest alloyed steel exporters supports it with a tax reduction of between three and nine percent.

So, while someone else might be getting a tax break, you should be doing incoming inspection on the raw material being received to ensure you’re not paying the cost. For this application, either a handheld XRF analyzer like the X-MET8000 or handheld laser analyzer like the Vulcan would be appropriate. However, when higher precision and accuracy is needed, our stationary optical emission analyzers, like the OE720 or OE750 would be the best choice to ensure you are getting the best price-quality ratio for your incoming raw materials verification.

 

4. Rise of the robots

Robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) are at the heart of a new era in manufacturing, the drive to digitize industry. In many industries, robots and AI already take a crucial and prevalent role – improving accuracy and consistency, shortening throughput and enhancing product quality. The rise of the cobots, 24/7 factory floor and laboratory, and cloud robotics are all trends we’re seeing in metal manufacturing and how things are changing.

We’ve also been increasing our research into ways to help you with connectivity and automation to help optimize production. While the robot analyzer that walks and talks is some ways off, contact us about the devices that can be integrated into your production process right now.

 

5. Materials and their impact on the environment

Phrases like ‘green’ and ‘environmentally friendly’ are all too common nowadays, and our industry has never been more alert to these issues.  While recycling scrap metal is a more environmentally friendly practice than extracting, processing and refining raw materials, it’s not without its downfalls.

Even very small amounts of additives or tramp elements can cause serious issues later down the line and dramatically alter the quality and usability of metal. That’s why in order to create high-quality, reliable products in which the materials behave as expected, it’s crucial for to control and measure tramp and trace elements in incoming raw materials - something that is only achievable with the right equipment. Our latest spark OES analyzers, the OE750 and OE720, could be the answer to just that, ensuring future flexibility as well.

As metals analysis experts, our range of LIBS, OES and XRF means our PMI toolbox of metal composition testing analyzers could be just the solution for you.


Join us at Quality Show 2021

We’ll be at the 2021 Quality Show this year, and we invite you to come see how our solutions can help you keep up with these new trends to help future-proof your operations, no matter what that future looks like.

Pre-book your appointment with one of our experts today.

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Date: 5 July 2021

Author: Mikko Järvikivi, Global Head of Product Management

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