Scientists, when they’re not busy exploring the reaches of space or making freaky looking robots that will one day destroy us all, have devised an incredible way of scanning steel surfaces to determine if they have been tampered with.
The need to know
There’s many reasons for wanting to know if a steel object has been changed in a particular way. One use case would be if a construction site was being examined to see if there were substandard or counterfeit steel parts being used. Another would be for customs inspectors to quickly know if a shipping container was modified and could potentially be storing items not listed on the manifest.
While the technology is only in its infancy at this stage there could be a wealth of applications it can be used for the in the future that are yet to be thought of. Being able to see proof that a steel product isn’t what it’s made out to be can not only save money but also lives.
How it works
The technology that lies underneath this method is called Barkhausen noise. There’s a lot of charts and diagrams to explain what that is, but what you need to know is that Barkhausen noise proves that magnetic fields don’t get attracted to metallic surfaces in a smooth fashion as they get closer. Instead, the magnetic attraction increases in small yet significant jumps.
Each type of steel has its own pattern of jumps that is consistently replicated over repeated manufacturing. For example, steel that is manufactured through hot rolling has a different electromagnetic signature than steel that has undergone stud welding. Add in the different steel grades available and there are an almost infinite number of variations to how a piece of steel is manufactured.
The new technology uses Barkhausen noise to scan the surface of a steel object for those jumps, and creates a map of the jumps in the ferrous metal that is, in effect, as unique as a fingerprint.
A change in what’s scanned through the new technology compared to what’s expected will mean that something has happened to the steel in between the initial scan and now. Thus, people can quickly see that the steel has been tampered with in some way.
Considering Barkhausen noise was first announced to the world 100 years ago, this is a profoundly new way to apply the technology and proves that there’s always a fresh approach to a problem available.
The future of steel
There’s a long way to go between now and the time where site inspectors are carrying around hand-held steel tampering detectors. The technology is only in the proof of concept stage at the moment, and further research and development is needed before the first viable devices can be brought to the mass market.
At ShapeCUT we’re always keen to see what the future of steel will look like. Cutting, bending and reshaping steel products of all shapes and sizes is what we do, and we make sure that we use the highest quality materials. Talk to ShapeCUT today to find out what we can do for you.
Image: Furhana Afrid at Los Alamos Laboratory