When you’re striking the first match in the firebox of a steam locomotive after 70 years, you’ll want to know that your tests were done right. Bradley Varhol, SciAps representative from EON Products, shares this LIBS story straight from Centennial Park in Nashville, Tennessee:
A technological marvel of its day and workhorse of World War II, Locomotive 576 has awed visitors to Nashville since it was retired to Centennial Park in 1953. Designed right here in the city, the engine efficiently hauled troops, oil and freight over the southern mountain passes for a decade, until diesel replaced steam. Now the Nashville Steam Preservation Society is restoring it to operation so visitors can ride the rails under steam once again.
In December, we were alongside the powerful 400,000 lb. engine with representatives from World Testing, Inc. to perform new inspections on the condition of the boiler. Their ultrasonic tests had already measured the thickness of the sheet metal. Now we had the SciAps Z-200 C+ handheld analyzers to measure the amount of Carbon within the steel plates of the boiler. It is critical to know if the Carbon is under .25% — regulations mandate that in order to weld-repair any unstayed area of the boiler, the Carbon count must be below .25%. So these tests were extremely important to plan the restoration phase. Bob O’Neal of World Testing, Inc. supervised the testing while Shane Meador, president of the Steam Society, determined which components to test.
We spent about 20 minutes warming up, adjusting and validating the Z-200 C+. The instrument was tuned for Low Carbon Steel using an ARMI 1018 test standard (0.16% carbon) and then checked against standards with higher C content to validate the measurements across the expected range. During testing we identified mostly 1018 and 1010 materials and some A36. The instrument read repeatably, and the results were in line with what was expected. After an hour of testing, we checked the 1018 standard again to verify the instrument performance hadn’t changed, and the Z-200 C+ was still reading right on target.
Joey Bryan from the Steam Society was there with us, and wrote about the testing experience for their blog:
“For this inspection, World Testing used the SciAps Z analyzer that uses a LIBS technique. What exactly does that mean? LIBS means “laser induced breakdown spectroscopy” and it yields nearly instant readings on the metal that it’s testing. This is the only analyzer currently on the market that has the ability to measure carbon in alloys. We are pleased to announce that all of the readings showed the carbon amount at less than .25! The men who maintained the Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis steam fleet could never have imagined that this could be done with a tool that fits in the palm of a hand!”
Important take-aways here: Whether you’re restoring a historic steam locomotive, or just need to sort carbon and stainless, LIBS testing helps get the job done fast and safely. World Testing, Inc. discovered the portability, ease of use and consistent results of the Z-200 C+, and are exploring a new niche in their testing market for carbon and stainless steel separations.
Why is testing this antique locomotive important to today’s industry?
Consider today’s oil and gas pipeline industry. Aging oil and gas pipelines require routine maintenance including welding. However many of these 40+ year old pipelines have little or no documentation as to steel chemistry. Knowing the steel chemistry, specifically the carbon equivalent, is essential in order to weld materials properly. The Z offers a handheld solution for carbon content plus alloying elements such as Cr, V, Si, Mo, Mn and others.
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