Many fatal industrial accidents can be traced back to faulty or counterfeit metal building components. Accidents within the refining industry, for example, can be caused by corrosion of piping and equipment made from the wrong metal alloy, or a material that does not meet specifications. Similarly, if the metal used in the manufacture of airplane parts is not made with the precise alloy specified for the application, the parts may not be able to support the weight and stresses they are designed to bear.
When the exact composition of metal alloy components, including the existence of contaminants or hazardous elements, is unknown, quality, safety, and regulatory compliance are obviously at risk. However, ensuring these materials are made from the right ingredients in the right percentages isn’t as easy as it sounds. Some of the issues facing modern manufacturers are:
- Material specifications are becoming more stringent;
- The rise in metals recycling means more scrap of questionable or unknown quality and composition may be entering the material mix;
- Some alloy grades may be nearly identical in composition to one another;
- Discarding or even moving materials without proper documentation procedures can result in lost material traceability
- Growth in global sourcing of materials is making it more difficult to trust documentation of alloy composition.
With all types of manufacturing operations facing public scrutiny, increasing industrial safety regulations, and more stringent OSHA oversight and fines, it’s clear that simply relying on spot checking parts and subassemblies is too risky. The process of inspecting and analyzing individual component materials, called positive material identification (PMI) is now a primary concern. Today’s best practices include testing 100% of critical materials as part of a quality assurance/quality control (QA/QC) program.
Portable XRF Analyzers are indispensible tools for performing PMI of incoming raw materials, work in progress, and final quality assurance of finished parts. In fact, advances in handheld XRF technology have expanded to the point that today’s analyzers are capable of distinguishing alloy grades that are nearly identical in composition to one another.
Our next article discusses three specific manufacturing areas where metals analysis using portable x-ray fluorescence (XRF) is making a difference in easing PMI nightmares and improving the quality and safety of manufactured goods.