Inside Tech: XRF Material Analyzer

Here at SuperATV, we use some pretty high-tech testing equipment. We're working every day to make sure our designs and parts are what we intend for them to be. After countless hours of painstaking design, research, and prototyping, we won't think twice about breaking a part in a testing machine, deciding it's not good enough, and going back to the drawing board. We've got some big, room-filling gadgets like our dyno and axle endurance testers, and we've got hundreds of smaller testers like durometers down to simple air pressure gauges.

Point is, we use the right tool for the right job, all in an effort to make the very best parts we can. Which brings us to the XRF Material Analyzer.

The XRF Analyzer is a small, brick-sized device shaped like a gun from some sci-fi movie. Its job is to make sure the material we have is the material we want. When we "shoot" something, we stick the "barrel" of the XRF onto a piece of metal, pull the trigger, and it gives us a readout of exactly what the elemental composition of the material is. This helps us avoid any unpredictable problems with metal suppliers and makes sure materials aren't mixed in the fabrication process.

How does it work?

It's magic. Or it's as close to magic as our technology allows at the moment.

These devices are pretty standard in any sort of fabrication environment and I bet some of you have heard of it before. I'm also willing to bet that none of you (OK maybe a few of you) know what XRF stands for without Googling it.

X-Ray Fluorescence or XRF is what the XRF Analyzer detects to know what elements are in a material.

But I'm getting a little ahead of myself. Let's walk through what this thing does step by step when you pull the trigger.

Once the trigger is pulled, the gun shoots an x-ray beam a few millimeters into the sample. This is where it gets a little complicated. The x-ray radiation interacts with the electrons in each individual atom. A low-energy electron will get enough energy from the x-ray radiation to off the atom leaving a vacant spot. Basically the X-ray hits the electron off the atom like a baseball bat hitting a baseball. (Imagine it making a satisfying twang when it does this.)

[caption id="attachment_2431" align="alignnone" width="728"]xrf atom TWANG X-Ray Radiation ejects an electron from an atom.[/caption]

After that electron twangs the heck out of there, an electron from a higher energy orbit will "fall" to fill that space. It's basically the same thing as having someone pull the chair out from under you as you sit down.

[caption id="attachment_2346" align="alignnone" width="787"]xrf atom CRASH A higher energy electron falls to fill the hole[/caption]

Now comes the exciting part (if you've read this far then it's probably as exciting for you as it is for me): at the same time that the electron crashes down, an X-ray shoots out. An electron has to release energy when it falls much the same way you release a swear when you fall. That energy is released in the form of another X-ray.

[caption id="attachment_2390" align="alignnone" width="624"]xrf atom - Copy (5) The falling electron releases an X-ray[/caption]

This ejected X-ray is X-ray Fluorescence, and it's what the XRF gun detects. Each different kind of atom is a different size so its electron has to fall a different distance. That means they each give off a different type of X-ray. If we could see X-rays like the XRF gun sees X-rays, an X-ray shot off from an iron atom might look red, and an X-ray from an aluminum atom might look blue.

To the XRF gun, the metal is glowing all sorts of colors once the trigger is pulled (glowing sort of like a fluorescent light bulb. Get it?). The XRF gun counts up all the different colors it can see - 96.5% red, 2% green, 1.5% purple, for example (imagine looking at a rainbow where red is very bright, you can just barely see green and purple, and there are no other colors) - and gives an exact readout of the material composition.

It will read 96.5% Fe for iron, 2% Si for silicon, and 1.5% Cr for chromium. This example is not a real composition of anything, but we can take a real composition readout and see that it's 7075 aluminum, or 4140 steel, or countless other metals.

[caption id="attachment_2440" align="alignnone" width="1920"]Periodic table. Handheld XRF range The XRF Material Analyzer Gun can detect any of the highlighted elements. That's almost everything in the universe. You'll notice that it can't detect Hydrogen through Neon. That's what make X-rays so good for looking at bones![/caption]

So this is how the super complicated piece of tech works that helps us ensure we have the best quality products available. This was only a brief explanation and we didn't even touch on how the detector part of the process works (Hint: I have no idea. It's probably similar to a really fancy digital camera?) but this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to top-of-the-line tech that we use to test our products. We'll be covering our dynamometer in future. So keep your eyes here if you're interested! And be sure to check out to see all the different things we've shot with our XRF Material Analyzer Gun!