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Methods for easy determination of Ni, Cu, Zn in metal

(-----) February 3, 2008

I am looking for a simple method of determining the presence of, and, ideally, the concentration of a few base metals (Cu, Ni, Zn) and iron/steel in small metal samples. Accuracy is not paramount, and I would be thrilled if I could identify a simple method that could identify concentrations to ± 1% or even ± 5%. Destructive testing would be fine.

From the question, it is clear that I am not a professional finisher, nor a professional chemist. However, I do have a need to identify metal content of small (1" diameter, .2" thick) samples. The only easy method that I have been able to locate is XRF, but I am loathe to spend $30K+ on a unit. I have looked at many internet groups (scrap metal, coin collecting, casting, etc.), but this group seems to have the most sophisticated readership and discussion. So, I am throwing this out in the hopes that someone can point me in the right direction.

I have looked a number of analytic chemistry textbooks (some new, some old), but the processes described there seem to be rather complicated. Perhaps the only route is to hire a chemist to teach me how to do it. My preference is always to attempt to work things out on my own, thus this post.

Other than XRF, eddy current sensors seem to hold out some hope, but even the device manufacturers indicate that, while possible, it is a bit of a stretch.

Do any of you have suggestions for a test or suggested references for further study?

Thanks very much!

Kenneth East
non-plating industry - Austin, Texas

First of four simultaneous responses -- February 6, 2008

Scrap metal dealers commonly use a hand held spark spectrogram such as the SPECTRO iSORT.
A web search on the name should find suppliers

geoff smith
Geoff Smith
Hampshire, England

Second of four simultaneous responses -- February 6, 2008

You might look under portable metal analysis units.
Some scrap yards use them and some big machine shops use them.
It has been a long time, but I think that they ran in the $5,000 range and had an accuracy of less than =/- 1 %. Easy and quick to use. Primary use is verification of various stainless steels.

James Watts
- Navarre, Florida

Third of four simultaneous responses -- February 7, 2008


If you are not willing to invest in some fairly sophisticated equipment then you are really left with two options:

1. Send the samples out to a test house that can carry out the tests for you. This, I think would be my preferred route. The test house will employ experts in analysis of the sort that you are talking about.

2. The long and probably somewhat torturous route of wet analysis. You will either need to get someone with a chemistry background to give you a hand or you will need some good test books (I would probably start with Vogel's Handbook of Quantitative and Semi-quantitative Analysis).

Got to say though I would opt for the first idea myself.

Brian Terry
Aerospace - Yeovil, Somerset, UK

Fourth of four simultaneous responses -- February 7, 2008

Sorry, but XRF is really the only easy and practical way for a non-chemist to do it. Wet chemistry methods are available, but if you chose to pursue that course, I am almost certain that you will spend even more money when you factor in analysis time, chemist training, lab supplies, chemical hazards, chemical wastes, etc. For XRF, there are almost no ongoing costs to consider once you get properly set up. Depending on your situation, you may be able to outsource the identification to a nearby metals lab.

Jon Barrows
Jon Barrows, MSF, EHSSC
GOAD Company
supporting advertiser
Independence, Missouri

February 11, 2008

Wow, thanks very much for the responses.

My intuition told me that the processes that I'd seen in the analytical chemistry books was too complicated, which was more or less confirmed here. Too complicated for a non-chemist anyway.

I can't say that I'm happy with the answer, but, the truth is the truth.

My (perhaps naive) hope is that the arc spectrometer might cost significantly less than the XRF. A lower cost might help to offset the loss in convenience due to the arc spectrometer being at least twice the size of the handheld xrf units.

Another consideration is that I will, from time to time, travel internationally with the unit. It may be unfounded, but I have a concern that the XRF unit might cause more problems, or at least delays, when going through customs. Tube based units might not be so bad, but I'd have to expect units with radioisotope sources to set off alarms.

It sounds as if either technology produces the results that I need. Please correct me if I am wrong. If I'm right, arc spectrometry is probably the way to go, even if it is equivalent in cost to XRF.

It is still hard to bring myself to part with $30K+ for this for a new unit. I've called around but have yet to find a small used arc spectrometry unit. If anyone has suggestions, I'm all ears.

Thanks again for the help.

Best Regards,

Kenneth East
- Austin, Texas

February 15, 2008

Try to find old Fritz Feigels book on spot testing(30-50 USD!?). Andrew Holmes: Rapid Spot Testing of Metals is very good book too, but more expensive(cca 120 USD). Hope it helps and good luck!

Goran Budija
- Zagreb, Croatia

February 25, 2008


Same analysis can be obtained via:
- Atomic Absorption Spetrofotometry (AAS)
- Titrations (use GE book tests)

Jose Castellanos
- Minneapolis, Minnesota

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