Using XRF to Sort, Identify and Analyse Scrap Metals and Alloys in the Recycling Industry with Thermo Scientific Niton XL3 Handheld Alloy Analyzers

Today, fast and accurate metal alloy sorting and analysis are critically important to maximizing the efficiency and profitability of a scrap yard. In the past, many metal recycling companies used little analytical testing equipment. Expert sorters with decades of experience could sort many alloys using a combination of common sense, simple chemical tests, and sparking alloy samples with grinding wheels. Even so, sorting was slow, throughput was limited and sorting mistakes were common. As a result, scrap consumers such as mills and foundries often resorted to re-testing incoming loads – or simply settled for the occasional costly mix-up. As sorting technology has advanced in recent years, the practice of accepting misidentified material is no longer tolerated. Today such errors result in rejection of entire loads, as well as a loss of confidence and damaged business relationships.

Modern Sorting Technology

At a time when many of the older, experienced metal sorters have left the industry, and their replacements are often less knowledgeable, the need for fast, accurate alloy identification and sorting has never been greater in scrap yards. Fortunately, today's advanced portable alloy testing equipment allows scrapyard workers to identify and sort alloy samples faster and more accurately than ever before using a new Thermo Scientific Niton XL3 Series handheld XRF analyzer. Point-and-shoot is truly a reality with these powerful, versatile, and easy-to-use tools. With just a short measurement on an unknown sample, the alloy grade and chemistry are displayed on the built-in tilting touch screen color display. The testing time is often less than one second for routine sorting, and just a few seconds longer to obtain a lab-quality chemistry. Little or no sample preparation is needed for alloy samples with relatively clean surfaces, regardless of shape or size. From a single strand of 1mm wire to turnings, to massive structures such as reaction vessels, all can be easily tested with a simple trigger pull.

The Role of Niton Analyzers

In 1999, Niton led an industry-wide revolution with its introduction of the XL-801S, the first handheld, lab-quality XRF analyzer for metal alloy analysis. Within one year of its introduction, the company had become the dominant supplier of portable XRF analyzers in many industries, including scrap metal recycling. Since then, rapid growth has been fuelled largely by technological advances, and partly by a vigorous recycling industry that has responded favorably to the smaller size, faster speed, ease of use, and powerful capabilities of these constantly improving Niton analyzers. Thermo Fisher Scientific continues to work intensively with recyclers to improve existing capabilities and add new features, enabling our customers to increase productivity, streamline operations and maximize profits.

Lab-quality analysis at your fingertips

Figure 1. Lab-quality analysis at your fingertips

Rock-Solid Calibration

One of the most important features that has made Thermo Scientific Niton analyzers the number one name in alloy analysis instrumentation is the rock solid fundamental parameters (FP) calibration.

This proprietary FP calibration method covers every element of interest, whether major alloying elements or trace contaminants, in all alloy types.

FP is a complex modeling method that is based on the physics of x-ray absorption and emission of elements and their interactions with each other. As a result, the robust FP method utilized in Thermo Scientific Niton analyzers provides accurate analysis for many element concentrations ranging from trace to 100% for all alloying elements in most combinations. No other portable XRF analyser provides the accuracy and reliability of a Thermo Scientific Niton analyzer.

A Library of Knowledge

Providing accurate alloy chemistry is only part of the equation. Using our extensive experience with the metals industry, we have incorporated an alloy grade library that simultaneously provides users with the common trade name of the alloy on the instrument display. Incorporating a hybrid approach, combining the book value alloy grade specifications with knowledge of the “as produced” chemistries of these alloys, the Niton XL3 provides unmatched accuracy in grade identification.

Keys to Success

In addition to the most accurate and stable FP calibration model, Thermo Fisher Scientific pioneered a number of additional features that have been instrumental to the widespread adoption of portable XRF analyzer use for alloy scrap sorting:

  • The first handheld, lab-quality XRF alloy analyzer
  • The first value-based pricing model making the technology affordable to a variety of users
  • The first-and-only maintenance free, patented Infiniton™ excitation source
  • The first handheld XRF analyzer sealed against moisture and dust
  • The first XRF analyzer to incorporate Bluetooth™ wireless communications technology
  • The first portable XRF analyzer able to measure critical light elements in alloy samples including Mg, Si, P, and Al

As a result of this commitment to innovation and continuous improvement, Thermo Scientific Niton analyzers are the world standard for portable XRF technology - instruments that are fast, rugged, easy to use and at the same time, capable of laboratory-grade sample analysis. When compared to instruments manufactured less than 10 years ago, they are far more accurate, up to 100 times faster and much easier to operate.

Thermo Scientific Niton XL3 Series Analyzers - Simply Superior XRF Analysis

Thermo Fisher continues to lead the portable alloy sorting field with technology that responds directly to the needs and requests of the recycling industry.

The NITON XL3 800 Series brings the scrap recycling industry the latest in a series of cutting edge, rugged, dependable tools with improved ergonomics, speed and performance, while still retaining the trademark point-and-shoot simplicity that has been a hallmark of Niton analyzers.

Available in both x-ray tube and radioisotope source configurations, the Niton XL3t is the only portable XRF analyzer that allows the customer to select the x-ray source that best suits the needs of his or her business. The XL3 Series provides a number of important key features common to all configurations:

  • Tilting color touch-screen display for easy viewing
  • Large touch-screen icons and sealed control buttons for easy navigation and use under all conditions
  • Splash-proof and dust-proof – can be used with confidence outdoors in rain or in dirty industrial environments
  • Two rechargeable lithium-ion batteries provide 8 to 12+ hours each of continuous operation
  • In field upgradeability for new software versions and other features
  • Integrated USB and Bluetooth – providing freedom in choosing the ability to transfer results, update the instrument, or control or monitor the instrument operation wirelessly on an external PC or PDA
  • Robust, high-performance software operating system optimized for XRF sample analysis combined with pipelined parallel multiprocessors, the same ones used by many top manufacturers of feature-rich, high performance consumer electronics such as smartphones, digital video recorders, mobile gaming consoles and GPS receivers

Niton XL3t - Lightening Speed and Laboratory Quality in an X-ray Tube-Based System

The Niton XL3t represents the next major leap in the performance of portable XRF analyzers.

The XL3t features the most powerful (up to 50kV) x-ray tube ever placed in a portable instrument.

Combined with multiple primary filters for optimal sample excitation and a helium-purge option to target light elements from magnesium to sulfur, the Niton XL3t provides the greatest analytical range, speed and precision of any portable XRF instrument.

Niton XL3p - A Rugged Isotope-based Workhorse

The Niton XL3p Alloy Analyzer, equipped with Thermo Fisher's Infiniton isotope technology, consistently delivers instantaneous, accurate readings. It features a specially-packaged 241Am isotope source and algorithms coupled with a high performance electrically-cooled Si PIN diode x-ray detections system. The Niton XL3p provides fast, reliable, nondestructive alloy ID with accuracy that compares favourably to lab XRF instrumentation, in a rugged, dependable Infiniton radioisotope configuration that is virtually maintenance-free.

XL3 Series Performance

Thermo Scientific Niton XL3 Series analysers provide alloying chemistry for up to 30 of the most common elements in tens of thousands of alloy grades, with additional elements available on request. Families of alloys that can be accurately analyzed with a standard system include:

  • Stainless Steels
  • Nickel (Ni) alloys
  • Cobalt (Co) alloys
  • Ni/Co alloys
  • Tool steels
  • Chromium-Molybdenum (Cr-Mo) Steels
  • Copper (Cu) alloys
  • Titanium (Ti) alloys
  • Wrought Aluminum (Al) alloys
  • Low alloy steels
  • Zirconium (Zr) alloys
  • Zinc (Zn) alloys
  • Exotic alloys of most types, e.g., alloys of Tantalum (Ta), Hafnium (Hf), Tungsten (W)

Additional grades that can be accurately sorted with the addition of the Helium Purge Light Element Analysis Package include:

  • Aluminum alloys including cast alloys and those sorted based on Si or Mg content
  • Al and Si Bronzes
  • Ti alloys including direct measurement of aluminium content
  • Mg alloys
  • Zinc alloys based on Al content

Incredibly Fast Measurement Time

Typical total testing times are less than 5 seconds for difficult alloy separations, with as little as 1-2 seconds for routine sorting.

Analyze turnings directly in the barrel.

Figure 2. Analyze turnings directly in the barrel.

Service and Support

Thermo Scientific Niton XL3t analyzers are designed to be the most rugged and dependable analyzers in the history of portable XRF. From the durable Lexan EXL plastic instrument body to the high-performance Si PIN diode x-ray detector, each individual component has been carefully designed and engineered to be highly dependable as well as easily serviceable. When routine service is required, it is handled promptly through one of our 30 service centers located on six continents worldwide to provide the world-class support expected from the industry leader.

Configurations and Accessories

Thermo Scientific Niton analyzers offer the widest range of choices in excitation, configurations and accessories to provide the optimum alloy analysis and sorting systems meeting the needs of any scrap recycler’s analytical and budgetary requirements.

With a variety of x-ray tube options, as well as a new and improved Infiniton radioisotope configuration with dramatically improved analytical performance across its entire analysis range, these powerful tools will again change the way recyclers conduct business. All Niton XRF analyzers come with a shielded, waterproof carrying case, shielded belt holster and PC-compatible NITON Data Transfer (NDT®) software for remote operation, file transfer, data management and advanced data analysis. Optional items include test stands, welding masks, hot surface adaptors and extension handles.

Why Choose the Niton XL3 for your Sorting Needs?

The bottom line is that Thermo Scientific Niton analyzers provide the versatility, the greatest number of options and the best sorting performance and throughput – bar none! With users performing more than 1000 readings in an 8-hour shift, confidence in the correct ID is absolutely critical, and the results from NITON analyzers remain far and away the best in the business. The sorting speed of Thermo Scientific Niton analyzers continues to improve with each generation of instruments and remains unrivaled in the industry. Doing business with Thermo Fisher Scientific means that you are dealing with a company that understands alloys, understands the recycling business and understands what the recycler needs to be profitable. It’s no coincidence that many of our users tell us that their Niton XRF analyzers have been a key component of their business success. Never before has there been such a clear choice for the number-one-selling and top-performing alloy analyzer. With these tools, we have set new standards for scrap sorting performance in all key areas: speed, accuracy, ease of use, reliability, ruggedness, minimum down time, and maximum expert support. When the choice comes down to knowing which analyzer will best maximize bottom line profits, Niton XL3 analyzers from Thermo Fisher Scientific will always come out on top.


With an estimated 50,000 alloy grades in use today, the recycler’s job of sorting the wide range of material types, shapes and sizes with both speed and accuracy has never been more challenging.

Fortunately, the technology has kept up with the demands. Hand-in-hand with the industry, Thermo Fisher provides the tools of choice for more than 90% of all recyclers worldwide. Together, we sort the unknown alloys with ease and confidence.

Never has the alloy sorter had the potential to be so effective, accurate and productive. The future of metal recycling is now.

This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by Thermo Fisher Scientific.

For more information on this source, please visit Thermo Scientific Portable Analyzers for Material ID.


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