The Secret Ingredient for Success in Metal Additive Manufacturing? ED-XRF Element Analysis. Wait. What?

The explosive growth of the relatively new practice of the additive manufacturing (3D printing) of metal parts continues — both in terms of applications (from automotive components to medical implants) and sheer volume (worldwide) of products. As a result, the industry is surging at a compounded annual growth rate of over 14% — and could reach close to US$4.5 billion by 2024.

The applications of additive manufacturing are diverse, as are the various manufacturing processes themselves — from binder jetting, sheet lamination, or powder bed fusion to directed energy deposition. 

Admittedly, the use of elemental analysis as a means of compositional analysis in most additive manufacturing/3D printing applications may be rare. But there are definite and powerful benefits from applying elemental analysis in one particular process: Powder bed fusion — which involves using a laser or electron beam for thermal energy to fuse regions in a bed of powdered metals, polymers, or fibers.

Imagine the 3D printing of metal medical or dental implants. The use of the “correct” powdered metals in its manufacturing is critical. It may even be, literally, a life-or-death criticality. Here, elemental analysis may be applied across the board in three crucial areas of compositional analysis. 

First, we want to ensure that the raw metal powder feedstock is precisely as specified in the manufacturing process. For example, was there a mix-up in sourcing? Or, is there a need to check that the initial shipment from a new supplier is up to quality? Subjecting the raw metal powder feedstock to elemental analysis would confirm that the material meets chemical specifications, achieves the tight tolerances required for proper physical characteristics, and protects against incorrect chemistry that could negatively impact a successful outcome.

When the metal powder remaining after one round of additive manufacturing is routinely re-used in subsequent manufacturing processes, elemental analysis is vital to ensure ongoing quality assurance. The goal: Detect any contamination in the reclaimed powder and ensure that material destined for re-use continues to meet the required chemical specification of the virgin powder. 

In blended powder applications, elemental analysis can again be employed — in this case, to ensure the quality of the desired blend and determine its homogeneity. 

Finally, various methods are used to sort metal powder stock. These include sieve separation, dense medium separation, floatation, electrostatic separation, and magnetic separation. Since these techniques may often produce less-than-perfect results, they should be checked in terms of chemistry. Elemental analysis again can provide the required level of quality assurance.

But which elemental analysis technology is best suited to chemical characterization applications in — and help to ensure the success of — metal additive manufacturing? At SPECTRO, we offer various options, including Arc/Spark-OES for solid metal and alloy analysis; ICP-OES for liquid or dissolved solids analysis; and ED-XRF for the analysis of anything.

Our recommendation for the method of elemental analysis as the secret ingredient for metal additive manufacturing success?

It’s a two-part answer.

1. Elemental analysis in the form of ED-XRF. Why? Minimal sample preparation. Non-destructive testing (of powders and finished parts). The extreme precision of analysis. Easily available screening tools. Excellence for trend analysis. Forensics capability to compare good to bad samples.

2. ED-XRF in the form of the portable SPECTROSCOUT analyzer. For the portability of ED-XRF analysis to anywhere in the production process while eschewing a full chemical laboratory. Plus: Excellent precision. The calibration, optimized for alloy powder, provides good accuracy. Simple sample preparation. Easy and fast analysis. 

Uncover the details of "Portable ED-XRF for Chemical Characterization in Additive Manufacturing" in our new, exclusive application report. No wait. Download now!
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Jugend forscht
SPECTRO Trainees Win Regional Jugend Forscht Competition
Two SPECTRO trainees have won a regional contest in Jugend Forscht — Germany’s best-known youth and science competition — with the software they wrote to calculate mixing ratios for SPECTRO'S XRF spectrometers.

SPECTRO trainees Joest and Philipp won the Krefeld regional competition of Jugend Forscht in the mathematics/computer science area with their project, "Automation of mixing ratio calculations," in February. 

In March, they advanced to the NRW state competition, winning Second Prize.

Jugend Forscht
Jugend Forscht regional competition, Krefeld, February 2023

Joest and Philipp wrote their software, based on the LabVIEW graphical programming environment, for SPECTRO's XRF Product Support department. The software calculates mixing ratios by creating calibration solutions and automatically performing all the necessary calculations. For example, users need only to weigh the masses of the standard solution and diluent calculated by the program. Other functions include an automatic error calculation, which provides the calibration solution's accuracy, or creates an intermediate solution for better accuracy.

Joest, who is 21 years old, began his apprenticeship as a SPECTRO physics laboratory technician following his graduation from high school. He is currently in his third year of training. In his free time, Joest likes to read and play computer games.

Philipp is 20 years old. He started his SPECTRO physics laboratory technician apprenticeship after graduating from high school. Now in his third year of apprenticeship, he expects to complete his training in June 2023, with an early examination. In his free time, Philipp enjoys playing guitar, performing at medieval fairs, and playing fantasy role-playing games. 

Financed mainly by German industry, the Jugend Forscht ("Youth Researches") competition encourages and supports talented achievers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). More than 10,000 participants compete annually. "We are looking for the scientists of tomorrow," Henri Nannen, editor-in-chief of Stern magazine, declared when launching Jugend Forscht in 1965 — more than 50 years ago.

For more information on Jugend Forscht, visit
Yousef Attar
Investing in the Future: Motivation and a New Life
The latest spectrometers from SPECTRO may owe some of their industry-leading advantages to the contribution of Yousef, a Syrian-born Research & Development Engineer at SPECTRO Analytical Instruments who sees self-motivation as his biggest personal strength.
Let's meet Yousef.

Where do we begin?

Syria. I was born in Syria. When it was time to start my studies, I studied computer science because I was always interested in new technologies and the huge development in this sector. That´s why I wanted to develop my skills in this field. 

But in Syria, you don't have many opportunities as a computer science graduate – and I had no plans to leave the country. So at that time, I wasn't sure if I was really going to work in the computer sector. The more realistic option for me was to use these skills to help my father run his factory. 
But as you know, things changed. Soon after I graduated from Ittihad Private University, I left Syria like many of us did. As a refugee, I came to Germany because I have many friends here and I knew I could continue my studies and have a good future.

After I arrived, I studied German, basic and then advanced. When I received my language certificate, I was also accepted by the Faculty of Electrical Engineering to study for my master's degree at RWTH Aachen University, specializing in Systems and Automation Engineering.

I got an internship in a company and started my master's thesis. It was about the use of IoT protocols in smart factories. While I was writing it, the human resources department at SPECTRO contacted me about an R&D position in Kleve.

What happened?

I was contacted via LinkedIn. When I received the message, I thought the job description was interesting. But I had other criteria to consider — it had to be a good company and offer a good work environment. I didn't know about SPECTRO, so I did some research. I found out that it was part of AMETEK, a very large company, which was interesting. The moment I made my decision was after my first meeting at SPECTRO. There were many people at the meeting, including myself, my future manager Ulrich Heynen, and others, and I noticed the good communication between everyone.

Yousef AttarSPECTRO is a very good company to work for, even if you start with a master's degree and not much experience. The people are friendly and always helpful. You can talk to anyone, and they are willing to help. The people in my department, R&D Electronics and Firmware Development, are always welcoming and have helped me learn the structure and processes and how to use the systems.

After two years, my role has changed to helping answer other people's questions.

What do you do at SPECTRO?

We build instruments for elemental analysis, and what we do here is state-of-the-art.

I design electronic circuit boards for the sensors that collect the data for analysis. It's the brain of the instrument. I also write firmware for the boards I design, combining hardware and firmware development.

I had the opportunity to help design the card used in one of our latest spectrometers, which will be used in many others in the future.

There are always new challenges and projects in my job that I find very interesting. There is a wide range of things we work on, so you are not just working on one small aspect. I have a lot of opportunities and can build my experience quickly and have fun at the same time.

Outside of work, what do you do for fun?

I like to do sports and go to the gym. I also like to learn new things. In my free time I always try to find new hobbies, especially technical ones that I like to learn. I am learning about smart home appliances and making my home responsive. I am learning about 3D printing and now AI. It's always something technical that I like to learn about. Am I a geek? Yeah, I guess so.

You've been in Germany for over seven years. What do you miss?

I like Germany. It's a really nice country with so many opportunities. The only thing is, coming from Syria, the weather here is not so nice. But for myself, I feel at home here. 

However, I miss my family. My whole family is in Syria and it's hard to visit them. And there are still a lot of memories there. I would like to visit and see the streets where I grew up, but my family is much more important. That's the biggest thing that still connects me to Syria.

What is your vision for your future?

I am now in the phase of mastering what I do. In the future, I would like to take on the challenge of being responsible for a new product development project. But in the meantime, we have several systems that we are constantly developing. So you have the opportunity to design and test new components and new systems. It is a journey. You learn a lot and you get a lot more experience. It is fun to keep learning new technology.

What advice would like to give others who may see themselves in a seemingly impossible situation?

Actually, I think that self-motivation is the most important asset you can have in such a situation. You can always develop yourself if you have the motivation to tackle your weaknesses or difficult circumstances. Because if you are motivated, it doesn't matter what you don't know. If you see somewhere that you need help, you can get that help. If you're motivated enough and following your goal, you're very likely going to reach your goal in the end. 

Related to me personally, I guess that self-motivation is actually my biggest personal strength – and I would never surrender to any circumstances.
Julia Kiessling
Investing in the Future: From Thesis to the U.S.
Julia, born and raised in Germany, knows SPECTRO. She completed her bachelor's degree thesis using a SPECTRO instrument and her master's degree thesis at SPECTRO in Kleve. She was hired by SPECTRO as an Application Specialist and relocated to our US headquarters in Wilmington, Massachusetts (see image below), where she's also a member of our US sustainability council. She's one of a small group of company professionals trained on all SPECTRO product lines. Julia knows SPECTRO. Let's get to know Julia.
SPECTRO Headquarters in Wilmington, MA, USALet's start at the beginning. What was your first contact with SPECTRO?
I was working with SPECTRO before I realized it. Writing my thesis for my bachelor's degree in Chemistry at the Niederrhein University of Applied Sciences involved analyzing the coating of metal sheets at thyssenkrupp Steel Europe AG, a steel company in Germany. I performed my analysis on a SPECTRO ARCOS, an ICP-OES instrument. That was my first contact with SPECTRO.

For my master's degree in Analytical Chemistry, I had to decide again if I wanted to write my thesis at the university or go to a company. My preference was always to get some real experience in work life and go to a company. After considering and discussing with my supervisor at the university - Professor Schram – he pointed me in the direction of SPECTRO. It was Dr. Dirk Ardelt, R&D Director Science, that I contacted there. After that call, the decision was clear.
How did you become interested in analytical chemistry?
To be honest, I wasn't too good at chemistry during school. I was around average, but it was always the most interesting subject. While working a year abroad in New Zealand, after school, I had enough time to think about what was interesting enough for me to spend a lot of time on to start a career. So I decided to spend time learning something that I'd enjoy doing. At university, I always thought Analytical Chemistry was the most interesting and logical, so I chose that field as my specialization.

How was your experience at SPECTRO in Kleve?
It was great! When writing my thesis, I had a lot of freedom to try things myself. And I had so much support. Whenever I had a question, they helped me. After six months, I asked the person overlooking my work on my thesis if he could imagine me staying at SPECTRO. He liked the idea and sent in my information. After two weeks, he came back to me with an answer and a question. He said they liked the idea of me working for them, but how about in the USA?

It was all really funny: Yeah, but how about three years in the USA? So I took the weekend to think about and discuss it with my partner. If you could imagine: Will you join me and go to America? He said yes, and we said Yes. So that turned out great for us!

That's a big step. First job. New continent.
But it was not right away. I had to stay for another six months in Kleve to qualify for a visa. It turned into eight months because everything was delayed because of COVID. But that was good because I spent all the time learning as much as possible about all the product lines. 

Today, I am an application specialist. I measure samples for all our products, including XRF, ICP-OES, and Spark Instruments. In addition, I do customer support, mainly for Spark applications but also a bit for ICP-OES. Last week, I was in Illinois doing customer training on a SPECTROGREEN, one of our ICP instruments. Next week, I will be in Atlanta where I will attend a trade show for Metal Forming and Welding. We will be there with one of our mobile XRF instruments.

I really like what I do. Analytical chemistry is a little bit like a riddle. Sometimes you follow recipes and know what you need to do. Sometimes it's completely different, and you must rethink what to do. It's challenging, but it's logical. Like puzzles. Solving them is the fun part.

How do you like America? What is different?
So far, very good. America is great. New England is great, especially with the white mountain forests next door. How is it different? I think the winter will be a lot different, way colder. The people seem more friendly than in Germany. Small talk is definitely easier here. Everybody's a little bit more relaxed.

Three years ago, where did you imagine you be?
When I started at SPECTRO with my thesis, I could imagine working there, but in Kleve. I had no idea that I would come to the US. That was a once-in-a-lifetime chance, and the timing was perfect. It couldn't get any better. But was I planning all this two or three years ago? No way.

And three years from now?
That's a good question since my last three-year plan got totally bombarded. I hope my manager will say stay in America. Then, maybe, my visa could be extended up to five years. That is the maximum for my visa. After that, I have to return to Germany. But in three years, I still see myself with SPECTRO. I don't know if in the USA or Germany — or somewhere else.

What's the best part of what you do here now?
I have a lot of freedom to plan my work. No one is watching every step I take. I enjoy working with and helping our customers. I also travel quite a bit when I can't help a customer over the phone and need to see the instrument and application. Every customer I visit is different. The applications are different. Some companies are small, and some are huge. Just last week, I visited a large corporation. I could see their facility from the plane. When I was there, I almost needed a map to get around. All the customers are interesting. And the locations. I have been to Texas, California, Michigan, Illinois, and Georgia next week. All in just six months, which is pretty cool.

Any special experiences?
My favorite experience so far isn't work-related. I was in California, Los Angeles for a week and spent most of my time working and training with our customer. Then, on my last day, I got up very early to go to Santa Monica Pier. I had the whole beach to myself, and I saw dolphins around 10 meters away. They were playing around in the water. That was the most magical moment. Later I was told they were probably hunting, but I kept telling myself they were playing.

Any advice for future students?
Take chances. I was very lucky, and I took all the opportunities offered to me. I never planned to end up with three years in America on my CV, but when I got the offer, I agreed. I had to. It would never be that easy to accept an offer like that again. So, my advice is: take all the chances available and be open to new experiences

And thoughts about your future?
I am very excited about being at SPECTRO. They are a great company and the market leader for metal analyzers. So that's an excellent place to start your working career. But mostly, it was the people who impressed me. Even though they didn't know me, they just took me in. And now I am in America doing my work, which I enjoy every day. So, with SPECTRO, it has been a very good partnership since the beginning, and I plan for it to continue like that in the future.