Identifying Counterfeits Using X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF)

Fake products are a challenge to businesses of all sizes, and handheld XRF analyzers are emerging as a significant tool in the fight against counterfeiting. Vivian Wang, applications scientist, explains how.

The Cost of Counterfeits

The counterfeiting of goods is harming large and small companies globally. In China alone, counterfeiting is an industry worth as much as US $400 billion. It not only affects software and soft toy makers, but also impacts businesses, which manufacture everything from luxury goods through to electronics and mechanical parts.

One of the major challenges in the fight against counterfeits is that many fakes are too good to be identified by the human eye. A good example is the UK’s recent withdrawal of the circular pound coin. According to the Royal Mint, around one in 30 coins in circulation was a counterfeit. The real coin was composed of zinc, copper, and nickel in a particular formulation. On the other hand, fakes were usually made from lead sprayed to resemble the real coin and cannot be detected with the naked eye.

A reliable method of spotting counterfeits in metal manufacturing is offered by X-ray fluorescence technology. A handheld XRF analyzer, for example the X-MET8000 by Hitachi High-Tech, can identify more than 1,600 alloys and an extensive collection of elements (from Magnesium to Uranium), and also reveal the composition of almost any metal object.

How XRF Can Help

The source generates primary X-rays and directs it towards the sample surface. When the beam strikes the atoms in the sample, they respond by generating characteristic secondary X-rays that are then collected and processed by a detector. A spectrum is subsequently generated which reveals the X-rays intensity peaks against their energy.

For example, an operator can use an X-MET8000 handheld analyzer to take a measurement for a genuine pound coin, and can then setup the device to perform pass/fail tests on suspected fakes. The test is non-destructive and fast, taking just a few seconds; there is no loss of material, and also no mark is left on the object. Once the device is set up, anyone who is trained to use it can carry out the tests.

Fighting the Fakes

Firms can protect their brands and their consumers against counterfeiting by using XRF in a variety of ways. Identifying the fakes can help the companies take action.

Counterfeit mechanical parts that are marketed as genuine may not have the right composition to take the stresses they are intended to. This can considerably result in health and safety risks. Similarly, the value of jewelry will be undermined, if it is not made of the claimed precious metal. The original brand will be damaged if fake goods sold online don’t keep up their promise; a threat to human health is the worst case scenario.

When it comes to warranties, returned items that end up being fakes are costing firms money. Firstly, the fake goods can be removed from circulation to mitigate risk, costs, and damage. Secondly, more investigation can be performed to stop the counterfeiting wherever possible.

The pass/fail settings in X-MET8000 can be modified to accommodate the composition changes, when new products are launched or when ones are updated or redesigned.

The X-MET8000 handheld analyzer can be used in several ways in businesses across the world; combating counterfeiting is just one among them. For questions regarding how the X-MET8000 can help a company, customers can contact the company’s experts, who can support them in various ways, including calibrating pass/fail testing in the analyzer.

This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by Hitachi High-Tech Analytical Science.

For more information on this source, please visit Hitachi High-Tech Analytical Science.

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