Insights from industry

Rapid and Portable Aluminium Grade Identification for Use in the Scrap Metal Industry

Mark Valentine, Chief Operating Officer at Tribogenics, speaks to AZoM about how Watson can be used for the rapid and portable identification of aluminium grades in the scrap metal industry.

Could you provide our readers with an introduction to Watson and outline the main features of this handheld XRF analyzer?

Obviously, the Watson is designed to be a portable handheld device. Its basic function is that it identifies metals, using a point and shoot method. It then displays the composition of the metal on the screen.

Watson is a low cost device. It has a replaceable X-ray cartridge that guarantees constant uptime. The unit never has to be sent to the factory to have the source replaced and it self-calibrates to maintain accuracy. It runs on rechargeable batteries and has an on-board camera so you can actually see what you’re shooting.

What inspired you to develop the Watson?

We listened to our customers. They identified three huge pain points; price, software, and usability.

Our new M-1 cartridge is the first of its type. It just pops in and out in a few minutes and you’re ready to go. In contrast, our competitors’ products have to be taken out of commission and sent to the factory for repair and calibration. That could take anything up to six weeks before you get it back and the price tag can range from about six to ten thousand dollars.

Watson removes this pain point for customers and that why we like to refer to this as the next best thing in XRF.

How many elements and different types of metal alloys is Watson able to identify?

As far as elements go, Watson can identify about twenty-three. That’s a mix of steel and aluminium and Watson has the capability to do both. Twenty-three elements, meaning at the moment we can identify four hundred and twenty-seven alloys, and that number is growing.

How quickly is Watson able to sort and identify alloys?

Each identification takes just a few seconds, especially in the aluminium mode.

If you want a more accurate analysis, the user can do a longer test that takes around twenty seconds. A longer test with the Watson gives a more accurate result.

In the marketplace the identification of aluminium alloys has become a bit of a nuisance. It is a very tough thing to do. The complaints we receive from customers and even from our competition is that it’s very time intensive and can take up to sixty seconds. With Watson now being able to ID most of the popular aluminium alloys in less than twenty seconds, that’s a forty second improvement on what most of the competition has done to date.

How does the analysis time for the Watson compare to your competitors’ products for on-site Alloy analysis?

The Watson performs well in comparison to our competitors in terms of time, speed, and money. The response time is less than twenty seconds for most of the alloys and Watson costs just under ten thousand dollars. Compared to competing technologies, it is a 50 percent plus improvement across the board.

You’re getting faster scan times. You’re getting it for half the price and you’re getting an expansive alloy library that’s growing all the time.  This is a big plus for customers.

As Watson is the X-ray industry’s first sub-$10,000 handheld XRF analyzer, is there a compromise in the accuracy and quality of the results which are obtained?

There’s no compromise in the accuracy. At Tribogenics we manufacture our own X-ray sources. Meaning we created the technology that’s going inside the device. Most other companies making these devices don’t manufacture their own tubes, which cost about five to eight thousand dollars to replace. As you can see, we’re reducing the price considerably by putting our own Tribogenics technology inside it.

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The rest of the components on the detection side are very high quality, so there’s no compromise on the quality. In fact, our technology and the way it’s used actually allows us to have higher accuracy in many cases.

How can Watson’s new aluminum grade identification feature benefit the scrap metal industry?

The scrap industry needs a low cost method of sorting aluminium. Watson is currently the only low cost device capable of sorting twenty-nine different grades of aluminium.

Comparing to the LIBS device, which is a laser-based device that can’t analyse anything but aluminium.   In contrast, Watson is a quarter of the price of the LIBS. It’s easy to use and it’s just as accurate, if not more, than the LIBS device. Again, I will repeat it; it’s a quarter of the price of that technology.

Are there any other industries or application areas, which would benefit from the new aluminium grade identification feature of Watson?

I think there are many.

Obviously the main ones are machine shops and metal fabricators, essentially anybody making or manufacturing anything out of metal.

There are two opportunities. The first is inbound, that’s when they receive the material and would use the Watson to check it. The other is outbound where they ship the material and need to verify to the customer that the material is correct.

Previously, the lower cost XRF units on the market have not done a good job, especially on aluminium identification. Watson is a clear winner in that department.

Do Tribogenics have any plans to add additional modes and features to Watson in the future?

Oh absolutely, we’re constantly working and we’ve got a whole team of people working on future modes and features. The device itself is very modular, being android based and so we can add modules and update them wirelessly on the fly with very little fuss.

At the moment, we’re releasing the cloud reporting and so the unit is able to send all the reporting data up to the cloud. The customer can then retrieve it from any workstation, PC or mobile phone.

For the scrap metal industry we’re experimenting with a price matching feature where we can display the price of the metal that’s tested on the screen. The pricing gets updated and with another click you get a map screen with pins. The pins will read out the nearest dealers of the scrap metal, where you could actually go to buy or sell the particular metal you’ve just tested.

These are examples of a couple of main features that we’re working on that are not available on the market right now.

Then of course, we’ve got multiple other features and modes that I’d love to tell you about, but unfortunately, we’re keeping it under our hat at the moment as we don’t want to give our competition a heads up. We are currently working on a number of things, which I think will be very exciting for the scrap industry.

Where can our readers find out more information about the aluminium ID feature and Watson XRF more generally?

Well, I think the fastest way is the products page on our website.  On the top right of our homepage there’s a little button that will take you to the products page. There you can find technical papers and brochures for download. You can also view our video (below), which shows the factory, our CEO talking about the business and the Watson in action at a customer site.


About Mark Valentine

Mark Valentine is Chief Operating Officer (COO) and Senior Vice President of Sales at Tribogenics where he oversees day-to-day operations. He leads the company’s sales strategy, managing its growing global sales teams, distribution, and manufacturers’ representatives around the world.

Mark ValentineBefore joining Tribogenics, he served as President and COO of a leading medical manufacturing organization. There, he transformed that company into a world-class provider of digital X-ray imaging hardware and software products.

He managed rapid growth to more than a hundred employees in multiple offices around the globe and implemented successful sales and distribution agreements with leading organizations.

This included a pivotal OEM agreement with GE Medical, and an agreement to supply the United States Military with portable imaging equipment. He also opened up China and India, exporting large quantities of imaging systems to both markets.

From the R&D lab to volume production environments, Valentine is a seasoned executive with 25 years of success in delivering products to market on time. He is an innovative manager, team builder, and entrepreneur who takes immense pride in building effective global sales and customer support operations that drives top line growth.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily represent the views of Limited (T/A) AZoNetwork, the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and Conditions of use of this website.

Alexander Chilton

Written by

Alexander Chilton

Alexander has a BSc in Physics from the University of Sheffield. After graduating, he spent two years working in Sheffield for a large UK-based law firm, before relocating back to the North West and joining the editorial team at AZoNetwork. Alexander is particularly interested in the history and philosophy of science, as well as science communication. Outside of work, Alexander can often be found at gigs, record shopping or watching Crewe Alexandra trying to avoid relegation to League Two.


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  1. Ken Smith Ken Smith United States says:

    What 20 grades do you analyze?  Do you have any data regarding your limits of detection for Mg, Si, Cr, Mn, Cu, Zn, Zr?  Would you be willing to share your results (element by element precision) for a 20 second test on 1100, 6063, 3005?

    Thank you.

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