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Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS): Everything You Need to Know about the New Player on the Field

Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) is an elemental analytical technique that can identify carbon in steel. While LIBS is not new to analysis labs, its growing presence in fieldwork is drawing attention. 

If inaccurate or inefficient carbon identification is hampering your business, LIBS might just be the solution.

What Is LIBS?

LIBS sets itself apart from other technologies by being far more accurate, and with the emergence of handheld devices, far more efficient. Other methods involve cumbersome devices, high levels of interference from contaminants, or certain conditions to be met before testing.

Another benefit of LIBS is its safety and limited impact on the material it is inspecting. Despite the laser heating the surface to over 10,000℃, the material remains cool for the operator to hold. It also heats at an atomic level, meaning that the material itself is barely compromised during the analysis process.

Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy Technology Explained

To use a LIBS device, the operator only needs to understand the data at the end of the process. The actual analysis is all performed by the device. While the user experience is simple, the analysis  process itself is actually quite complicated, and unique to the LIBS method. There are several steps that are worth understanding to fully appreciate the technology. 

  1. The device is pointed at the material, and a laser pulse is generated
  2. A very small portion of the surface is vaporised and becomes a plasma, made up of atoms and ions
  3. As these particles attempt to revert to their previous form, they emit wavelengths of light that act as signatures of the elements that emitted them
  4. This light hits a diffraction grating where it is broken into separate components and colours to be classified
  5. Once segmented, the wavelengths pass through a detector and their spectral data is collected
  6. The internal computer reviews the spectral data and creates a composition report for examination
  7. The data gathered is stored locally on the device and can be downloaded externally

This entire process takes place in seconds and the results are detailed and accurate. 

Applications Of LIBS

The manufacturing industry as a whole relies on knowing the composition and quality of the materials that pass through it. There are several applications in the industry that perfectly suit Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy. 

Positive Material Identification (PMI)

PMI refers to the process of quickly and accurately checking materials to either classify their compositions, or check that their compositions are correct. This is an essential aspect of manufacturing because of the risks associated with incorrectly classified materials.

Alloys in particular are used for different purposes depending on their strength, malleability and melting points. If they are classified as having different elemental components to what they actually contain, they could fail and cause loss of production, incur replacement or repair costs, and even endanger surrounding workers. 

Another crucial aspect of PMI is ease of use and speed of analysis. The ‘point and shoot’ function of handheld LIBS devices makes it easy to move from one material to the next. Also, by having the computer store the data for the user, they are not required to record their findings between samples. This saves them further time. 

Non-destructive testing (NDT) is another important consideration. The materials are a commodity, and if part of that commodity is destroyed when tested, that equates to a loss of income. LIBS heats such a small surface that the naked eye can barely detect where the analysis has taken place, so the sample does not lose any value.

LIBS is truly transforming the possibilities of PMI in the field.


The petroleum refinement process creates low concentrations of elements that are treated as valuable bi-products. The chemicals that most often appear as bi-products include nickel and copper, which are light elements. As the leading detector of light elements, Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy is perfectly suited for petrochemical identification. 

Scrap Metal Sorting

Scrap materials are inherently more difficult to categorise because when they are collected, their origin may be unknown and they are often contaminated. LIBS devices mitigate safety concerns around handling contaminated materials because the operator does not have to interact with the sample, other than pressing the device against it.

Contaminants are easily identified with LIBS devices because of their ability to segment wavelengths and categorise each element individually. Scrap is a competitive industry. Finding out which materials can actually generate a profit needs to be a fast process for analysts to remain competitive. 

Handheld LIBS Analyser

Niton Apollo
Niton Apollo LIBS Analyser

The Niton Apollo LIBS Analyser is the leading LIBS handheld device. Take full advantage of the revolutionary impact that LIBS is having on the manufacturing industry. Bring the power of lab analysis to the field, and gain an edge over your competitors with the speed and accuracy of your inspections. 

If you are interested in learning more about the Niton Apollo, click here, or if you would like to discuss purchasing a device, don’t hesitate to contact us.

Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy is fast becoming the most viable and sought-after element analysis technology on the market. If you are a manufacturer, don’t miss out on the LIBS wave. It might be relatively new, but it’s redefining what’s possible in the industry.