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Smooth operators: operator training is essential to successful use of metal analyzing equipment.

There's more to scrap metal than meets the eye. Even the most practiced scrap dealers can't always differentiate between the chemical variations that determine particular grades of metal without a little help.

When it comes to determining the chemical makeup of the scrap metal that comes into their facilities, many recyclers have turned to metal analyzers. Like any piece of technology, metal analyzers can be great tools in helping scrap dealers ply their trade--but only if used correctly.

Businesspeople in all walks of life turn to technology to help them do business better and they employ an increasing number of gadgets, from cell phones to digital cameras to Global Positioning Systems in personal vehicles. But how many people undergo the proper training or take the time to really learn how to use these gadgets to their utmost potential?

Like any piece of technology, metal analyzers can be extremely useful and offer recyclers a return on their investment--if they, in turn, invest in learning to use them.

HEAD OF THE CLASS. To make sure they get the most out of their metal analyzers, recyclers should first take advantage of the initial operator training provided by the manufacturer immediately after a purchase. Most analyzer companies offer some kind of initial training with additional on-site training at an additional cost, according to Stuart Freilich of Universal Metal Corp., an international processor of scrap titanium, high-temperature nickel, nickel/cobalt and refractory metals and alloys located in Worcester, Mass.

Analyzer manufacturer and distributor Thermo Electron Corp., Waltham, Mass., has an initial training program and schedules free training classes for customers on an ongoing basis at locations across the country, says Tom Anderson, director of marketing for the Niton Analyzers Group, a division of Thermo Electron.

Formal classroom training is a common first step following an analyzer purchase, Anderson says. Much of the classroom training focuses on teaching operators how to use the equipment safely. This is especially important for X-ray fluorescence (XRF) analyzers, which use radiation.

Oxford Instruments of Boston also offers formal classroom training in the form of monthly sessions held at four different locations in the United States, business development manager Mark Lessard says.

In addition to its formal classroom courses, Oxford Instruments' includes on-site installation training, which is typically a half-day for the company's XRF units and two days for its trickier OES equipment.

Anderson says that while some operators may catch on faster than others, it is important that scrap processors make sure everyone on their staff who is going to be using the analyzers devotes enough time to training. "People need to understand when they buy an instrument, it's not like buying something you're automatically going to know how to use," Anderson says. "You need to devote some time to learning how to use it."

AVOIDING MISTAKES. While analyzers can be a big help, if operators are not trained to use them properly, mistakes are easily made.

Operators must have a basic understanding of the equipment, how it works and what it can do, says Anderson. For example, optical-emission systems (OES) are considered trickier to use and require a more technically adept user than XRF analyzers. Understanding the difference is critical, because the two types of analyzers respond differently to particular alloys. XRF analyzers are marketed as performing better on high-temperature alloys, while OES analyzers fare better on aluminum alloys and carbon steel.

With the XRF analyzers Thermo manufactures, Anderson says the most common mistake is trying to get the equipment to go above and beyond its call of duty, like calling on it to measure carbon. "We get people trying to measure various grades of carbon steel, which [the XRF analyzer] is not going to do," he says.

Peter Nagusky of red metals ingot manufacturer The Federal Metal Co. in Bedford, Ohio, says improperly trained employees are likely to overestimate the accuracy of an XRF analyzer and misunderstand its limitations. "Many analyzers cannot read silicon or aluminum or other critical elements, and users tend to jump to conclusions about the metal based on the programmed categorization, as opposed to using the information from the spectrometer to infer and draw independent and more reasonable conclusions," he says.

Simply holding the analyzer too far away from the sample is another common mistake novices often make, says Lessard. "They might think they can be a foot away and shoot the sample, but they have to be right up there," Lassard says.

Learning the equipments' limitations and how to prepare a sample properly are two of the most important things operators should know to ensure that they get the right results from metal analyzers.


Many recyclers choose to follow up on manufacturers' initial education with additional internal training--establishing a web of trained employees who can instruct each other.

With a new purchase, it is important that more than one person receive direct training from the equipment maker, says Nagusky. He says the Federal Metal Co. has had equipment companies come in to offer additional training as well as sending personnel off site. The employees with the most knowledge and experience using the analyzers are the ones who are authorized to train new hires, he says.

Freilich says Universal Metal Corp. also uses manufacturer-trained employees to train other employees. "We train our sorters on the job with a trained sorter alongside them for about six months before they are allowed to sort material on their own," he says. "We use the original equipment manufacturer's employees for training only up on the original delivery of the material. Afterwards, our own personnel do the training and testing of new employees." Each new sorter works with a limited number of alloys until well trained, he says.

At Galamet Inc., part of the Galamba Metals Group in Kansas City, Mo., the process is similar, with inexperienced employees mastering simpler alloys first, says John Morgan. "When you get into the more high-temp alloys, it gets a little trickier," he says.

Knowing when an employee is ready to take on the responsibility of training and testing others is not an exact science. "It would have to be somebody who had been using it successfully, had encountered all of the normal problems and was able to work through them," says Anderson.

Recyclers agree that metal analyzers can be extremely beneficial tools, helping to sort accurately and fetching better prices by detecting subtle chemical differences among grades. But companies can only benefit if employees know how to use the equipment well.

The author is assistant editor of Recycling Today and can be reached at
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Comment:Smooth operators: operator training is essential to successful use of metal analyzing equipment.
Author:Gubeno, Jackie
Publication:Recycling Today
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2005
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