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Portable Spectrometer Reduces Mill Downtime

Photonics Spectra
Jul 2000
Daniel S. Burgess

When a paper mill suspects contamination in the production line, the manufacturer faces costly downtime. Technical support specialists must be called in to test for the buildup of various deposits and to design a solution with the proper chemical additives that will prevent its recurrence. Traditionally, this diagnosis takes days or more, as the technicians must take their samples back to the lab for testing. The TravelIR portable Fourier transform infrared spectrometer from SensIR Technologies, however, has offered an alternative to one support team.

"It's about the need for speed," explained S. Allen Grimsley, a project leader at the water treatments business of Ciba Specialty Chemicals North America. "If a machine is not running, it can cost the producer $15,000 to $20,000 per hour." The business, part of Ciba's Additives Div. in Suffolk, Va., troubleshoots at paper and paperboard mills.


A portable Fourier transform infrared spectrometer from SensIR Technologies enables technical support specialists to take the lab to the paper mill.

The TravelIR weighs 26 lb and, at 16.5 × 5.2 × 12 in., can fit in the overhead compartment of an aircraft's cabin, so technicians can take the lab to their clients and identify any contaminants immediately. "It's enabled us to change the whole nature of how this process gets done," Grimsley said. "We can hop on a plane with the instrument and ... test samples on-site."

With a maximum spectral resolution of 2 cm-1, the device samples across the midinfrared and matches the spectra to an archive in an external computer. Its diamond attenuated total reflectance element allows technicians to place liquid, solid and gel samples directly on the interface without any concern for scratching or corrosion. A microscope video feed ensures the proper positioning of a sample on the window; Grimsley noted that his team has analyzed samples as small as 100 to 200 µm.

"Our work is almost forensic in nature," he said, "with samples at very low concentrations." SensIR markets the spectrometer for forensic scientists as well as for applications in law enforcement, including the analysis of confiscated drugs and the confirmation of arson at crime scenes.

The release of TravelIR comes at a cost to the Ciba team, however. Grimsley said the researchers had enjoyed mystifying their customers with the machine while it was in its beta testing. "We'd go on a site and give them an answer on the spot, and they would grumble, shaking their heads."


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