The Anonymous Widower

Could New Technology Help Save Steel Jobs?

One of my first jobs was in the instruments laboratory of Enfield Rolling Mills in the early 1960s. As someone with a mind like a sponge, I never missed storing away every piece of useful engineering and scientific information, I might encounter.

The company was involved in the rolling and the production of materials from non-ferrous metals, like copper, bronze, brass and aluminium. For instance, they did a lot of work with the continuous casting of metals like bronze and aluminium.

The company also used scrap metal as a source of raw material for their processing. One of their problems was identifying the scrap before processing and they had experimented with using a radioactive isotope to see, if it could give them an accurate opinion.

It probably wasn’t the best thing to do!

But since then technology has moved on.

I just wonder now, whether mass spectrometry could correctly identify the exact grade of a large piece of brass, bronze or steel!

If it could, I suspect that we could use our scrap metals to avoid refining new.

So I searched using “automatic steel scrap sorting” and found this page entitled Laser Methods For Automatic Scrap Metal Sorting.

And this page on the Oxford Instruments web site entitled Scrap Metal Analysis, Sorting and Recycling.

Who needs blast furnaces?

We just mine the scrap, rather than send it to China!


April 22, 2016 - Posted by | World | ,


  1. This might work for very large clean pieces, but most scrap is in the form of cars, refrigerators and old boilers. Take the last they are likely to contain steel, aluminium, brass, copper, plus assorted plastics in varying proportions and contaminated with calcite, soot and possibly asbestos. Without complete dismantling and accurate identification (some things are plated) it would be very difficult to successfully reuse the base materials. Obviously where items arrive at the scrapyard in pure condition (e.g. copper pipe) then it goes straight into the copper bin and can be remelted without re-refining.

    Comment by Mark Clayton | April 22, 2016 | Reply

  2. From reading the linked and other stories, I think that researchers are on the case. I know my old university at Liverpool, is experimenting with small mass spectromers for all sorts of uses.

    instead of using the money to save blast furnaces, we should give more grants to Universities.

    Working with metal is an art and we need to get the technological and mathematical handle on how to do this.

    Comment by AnonW | April 22, 2016 | Reply

  3. I worked for nearly 5 years in the 1970s for Applied Research Laboratories and we made analytical instruments to do exactly what you are asking. I designed and developed the software to control the instruments and analyse the results. Speed was of the essence, as samples were taken from baths holding molten metal, and some elements are more volatile than others. We not only produced accurate elemental analyses, but also held the analyses of materials, including scrap, that could be added to a bath of molten metal. We held details of the qualities our customers made, and could tell them what the lowest cost addition was to make the quality they wanted, or if the bath was too small, or the volumes of material available insufficient, then we could tell them what other qualities they could make, rather than scrap the whole bath.
    I can travel around the UK and Europe and pass steelworks, aluminium works and foundries that I remember visiting. Sadly, not many of the UK sites still exist. I even went to the DDR at the height of the cold war to sort out an issue with telex transmission from the laboratory to the plant. Apparently the telex codes were a state secret in East Germany, so they wouldn’t tell me, so I had to work them out for myself. I was then the proud owner of a DDR state secret. I was glad to get out.
    I left the company in 1979 to start my own company with my wife who was also a computer programmer.

    Comment by John Wright | April 22, 2016 | Reply

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