Netherlands-based Panalytical BV has developed a chips collection system to automate the process of sample collection for gas combustion analysis.

According to Panalytical, the system mills and collects chips from within the laboratory automation unit and thereby eliminates manual handling and the risk of contamination which, it claims, is associated with other automated chip sample collection systems.

Fig 1. Above shows typical chips sample for gas combustion analysis.

The company’s automation products focus on provision of customer-specified automated metrology laboratories for the cement and steel industries. Where steelmaking is concerned, it offers automation solutions for X-ray fluorescence (XRF), X-ray diffraction (XRD), optical emission spectrometry (OES), gamma or beta radiation measurements and gas combustion analysis.

The company claims it has succeeded in integrating a neat and simple chip collection system at the heart of an automation unit to address contamination issues associated with sample handling for gas combustion analysis.

Fig 2. Above. Shows the inside of the automation unit showing the robot, milling heads, a sample in the clamp and the collection cup held in the sample holder ready to catch chips.

The metal chips used for gas combustion analysis are often created by drilling a hole in a representative steel sample block. Traditionally the chips test sample is collected manually from the lab sample by drilling a hole in the steel block and then collecting the chips. Automated systems mostly use vacuum methods within CNC milling machines. However, those methods suffer from potential contamination from chips getting stuck in the vacuum pipes.

Fig 3. Close-up of the inside of the automation unit showing the milling heads, a sample in the clamp and the collection cup held in the sample holder ready to catch chips.

Panalytical has developed equipment and a different method to collect chips by exploiting a milling machine that is already integrated within the laboratory automation unit. The primary purpose of the milling machine is to prepare the test sample for XRF and OES analysis by removing the oxide layer from the surface of the test sample. In the new system, the sample enters the automation unit, is picked up by a robot and undergoes the first milling procedure as usual. A dry milling principle is used in order to avoid contamination of the sample with lubricants. Then the robot places a standard cup in a specially designed cup holder. The milling machine executes a second milling cycle, again without addition of any coolant or lubricant. The purpose of this cycle is to create gas combustion chips, which are free of any oxide layer contamination. In this milling cycle the mill launches the chips into the cup. The robot picks up the cup from the milling machine and transports it out of the automated system were the lab operator can put the chips in the gas combustion analyzer. The remaining sample is milled again, so that its freshly milled surface can be used for analysis. The sample is automatically transported to XRF and OES analysis. Meanwhile, the chip collection cup is cleaned ready for re-use. In this way the chips for gas combustion analysis are collected without any contamination.