In part two of this interview, Dr. Ravi Yellepeddi, Global Director of Marketing and Business Development, Materials and Minerals, part of the Chemical Analysis Division at Thermo Fisher Scientific talks to AZoM about the advantages and market demands for Thermo Scientific XRF Spectrometers.
Read the first part of this interview here.
For the materials analyzed by XRF, how do biodegradable samples affect food preparation analysis?
XRF, relatively speaking, is a non-destructive technique in the sense that most samples remain unaffected from their chemical composition point of view during the analysis. Nevertheless, one has to be cautious when analyzing organic materials, oils, samples containing volatile matter or hydrated water etc.
Generally speaking, use of higher power (>3kW) may potentially create some changes (due to heat generated close to the sample surface and partial radiation damage) which can affect the analytical results, in particular under vacuum. Either some of the elements get precipitated during the analysis or with the loss of unanalyzed elements (water, volatile organic matter etc.), the relative concentrations of other stable elements might be influenced.
Liquids and loose powders are generally analyzed under Helium which minimizes this type of degradation. When such sensitive samples are to be analyzed under vacuum, the analytical sequence (the order in which different elements in the sample are analyzed) needs to be appropriately defined. Food and pharmaceutical products, hygroscopic or deliquescent samples, heterogeneous mixtures or slurries are some of the sample types which need particular precaution during preparation and analysis. Some of these applications can also be handled by bench-top EDXRF or a lower X-ray power driven WDXRF analyzers and, in such cases, the risk of unstable measurements due to sample degradation under X-rays or vacuum conditions can be minimized.
What would you say are the main advantages that make your XRF Spectrometers key in their market sector?
We have a strong product portfolio for XRF (starting from portable or easily transportable instruments to the laboratory instruments). We have been developing XRF and related instruments for the past 40+ years. We have been continuously improving our products in terms of their analytical performance (e.g., lower and lower limits of detection, more and more elements covered, wider dynamic range of concentrations, speed of analysis, reliability and stability over short- and long-term and application packages etc.).
As XRF became a more universal technique of elemental analysis, the need for analyzing samples as-received or the need for tighter specifications (precision and accuracy) and the need for lesser peripheral dependence became more relevant. Our new product development efforts have been taking into account these changing demands from customers.
We have been successfully expanding our XRF portfolio to satisfy current and future customer demands. We have also been integrating some of the regulatory requirements which are constantly evolving (RoHS, WEEE, ISO, DIN, ASTM norms). Since the majority of our XRF instruments (field-based or lab-based or On-Line based analyzers) are in hostile industrial environment (Cement, Metals, Minerals, Materials processing in general), our XRF instruments have been designed to withstand such conditions and yet produce reliable analytical results. Over the past 2 decades, we have also been integrating complementary technologies within the same XRF instrument in order to enhance the analytical capabilities and provide more valuable information to the users.
These innovative additions to a conventional XRF instrument can be hardware-based or analytical software-based. For example, we have been very successful in integrating X-ray diffraction technique for specific phase or compound analysis in addition to the routine chemical analysis within the same XRF instrument. Integration of so called “standard-less” analysis programs are also helping the chemist to handle samples of unknown origin or to analyze a variety of samples for which there are no suitable reference materials etc.
Can you provide a case study example of how these areas have encouraged the design and developments of XRF products?
The main areas of application for our XRF have historically been process and quality control in industrial markets such as cement, ferrous and non-ferrous metals, minerals, coal, petrochemicals, food, glass, ceramics, chemicals, polymers, and semiconductors.
These industrial markets have been the major focus for our XRF products. At the same time, we have been expanding our XRF presence into adjacent markets and applications such as contract labs, environmental analysis, materials characterization in research labs and analysis of materials related to safety and security.
A good example of how versatile and powerful XRF technique can be illustrated by the analysis of various types materials used in automobile industry. Typically, one can think of the metallic body (steel with anti-corrosion coating, paints), wheels and wheel frames, tires, catalysts, windscreen glasses, various types of polymers/plastics used inside, fuels, lubricants and chemicals used in airbags etc. All these materials need to be guaranteed for their chemical composition in addition to their physico-chemical properties.
This example of a car manufacturing cycle represents a comprehensive XRF application in which various materials are quality controlled before assembly and their chemical and other compliances are verified in order to fulfill both regulatory requirements as well as the much needed safety, comfort and economy.
XRF is also being increasingly used to analyze air filters, soil contamination and water pollution. It has also become a routine technique to analyze food products such as milk powders, cereals, pet food and other nutrients or supplements. XRF has been replacing the traditional wet chemical methods and has been helping the laboratories to spend less on the analysis time, on chemicals, on elaborate sample preparation, and provides less variability of the final product. These applications indeed make XRF as a viable alternative technique for producing safer, cleaner and healthier environment.
How do your XRF Spectrometers perform in the market with relation to the competition and also the demand for these products being used?
We are the leading supplier of XRF instruments in the industry today in terms of not only the portfolio that I described earlier (from the field portable to the laboratory instruments to the On-Line process oriented EDXRF analyzers), but also because we have got some unique technologies inside our XRF instruments. Thanks to a very strong research and development team, our XRF instruments are being developed with innovative technologies which help our customers solve their complex problems or demanding analytical requirements.
Our XRF products are well recognized in the market. In many cases, it is not only the product itself that makes the difference but the application expertise/knowledge, the ease of installation and maintenance, their integration into the customer’s specific process control, field support to intervene rapidly when needed and upgradeability. With a strong commercial presence almost all over the world, Thermo Fisher Scientific can provide these additional areas of expertise directly to the customer and ensure that the XRF instruments are best utilized for their applications.
Can you elaborate on why India and China as market places still present themselves as a challenge in terms of the applications of your product?
In recent decades and years, we have also been integrating specific customer needs from emerging economies. Indeed, with a huge demand for infrastructure and industrial products in China, India, Asia Pacific, Latin America, Middle East, and Africa, the demand for XRF instruments has grown significantly from these regions compared to more matured economies. New challenges have come up as a result of this geographic shift in terms of power (mains) stability, water availability, gas supplies, purity of the chemicals and cost of ownership relative to the local economic indicators. So, we have been taking into account these additional requirements while designing our XRF instruments with a view to help the end customer obtain reliable and reproducible performance.
For instance, we developed XRF instruments which are self-sufficient in terms of water cooling circuits. We have also made significant development efforts to provide more ecological use of our XRF instruments (“green mode”) by integrating state of the art technology.
Given the rapid expansion of manufacturing sites, often in remote locations where the infrastructure needs to be developed, it has become clear that our XRF instruments and other analyzers have to cope with new conditions. Same is true for India, Middle-East and Africa.
Over the next decade what will be the major requirements for XRF Spectrometer technology?
We see an increasing “commoditization” of XRF spectrometers (low-to-mid range) used in routine industrial applications such as cement and metals. XRF has long been considered as an expensive instrument which demands analytical or application knowledge, peripheral dependence (water, gas and stable power supply etc.) and calibration expertise.
With increased penetration of XRF at all levels (from portable to high-end laboratory based analyzers), there is clearly a demand to make XRF instruments more affordable, easy to learn and work with, less expensive to run, and maintain in routine areas. At the same time, as the XRF technique competes with other analytical techniques in a central laboratory, more advanced analytical information is expected out of XRF.
While the hardware around XRF instruments evolves gradually to meet some of these demands, a lot more can be done to integrate analytical and diagnostic intelligence inside. Matrix specific calibrations for better accuracy and to meet specific requirements have always been a challenge (need for reference materials, time, and analytical expertise). This is another area in which XRF developers can help new generation of users with advanced algorithms and analytical software modules. In addition, XRF instruments can be integrated with complementary technologies for a more complete material characterization. Significant progress has been achieved in making XRF instruments as reliable and reproducible as possible until now but there is still room for improvement.
We have already been addressing some of these requirements, for instance, by integrating XRF and XRD in one instrument, by mapping or spotting defects or inhomogeneous elemental composition by XRF wherever needed and by applying advanced software tools for easier use and maintenance of the instruments etc.
About Dr. Ravi Yellepeddi
Dr. Ravi Yellepeddi, based in Switzerland, is currently Global Director of Marketing and Business Development, Materials and Minerals, part of Chemical Analysis Division at Thermo Fisher Scientific. He is involved in product development, applications and technical marketing activities for both Laboratory Analyzers and On-Line Process Analyzers in industrial and investigative areas such as cement, metals, minerals, petrochemicals, and material science.
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