Inconel vs. Stainless Steel: A Metals Recycling Perspective Featuring Handheld XRF Technology

In the metals recycling industry, correctly identifying and segregating materials is crucial for both environmental sustainability and maximizing profitability. Two commonly recycled alloys—Inconel and stainless steel—often show up on the sorting tables. Both alloys offer high corrosion resistance and dimensional stability, but they differ in cost, temperature tolerance, and strength. Understanding these differences is vital for effective recycling, and handheld XRF (X-ray fluorescence) technology plays a pivotal role in this process.

Identifying Inconel Alloys for Recycling

Inconel is a nickel-chromium-based superalloy renowned for its exceptional strength at high temperatures, often exceeding 2,000°F. It is typically used in applications like jet engines, natural gas piping, and heat treatment applications. This alloy is more expensive to produce than stainless steel, which makes its recycling both economically and environmentally beneficial.

Handheld XRF for Inconel: Using a handheld XRF device allows you to identify the precise composition of Inconel alloys quickly. This advanced technology can distinguish between various grades of Inconel, which is crucial for targeted recycling and material recovery.

Stainless Steel: A Recycler’s Favorite

Stainless steel mainly contains chromium and comes in different grades such as Austenitic, Ferritic, Martensitic, Duplex, and Precipitation-Hardenable. Its wide range of applications—from kitchen utensils to aerospace components—makes it a common material in recycling centers.

Handheld XRF for Stainless Steel: Handheld XRF devices are highly effective in sorting stainless steel by its grades. The accurate data generated by XRF analysis ensures that you can classify stainless steel grades correctly, maximizing their reuse in the most appropriate applications.

Key Differences and Applications: Inconel vs. Stainless Steel

Though Inconel and stainless steel may look similar, their properties and applications are significantly different. For example, grade 316 stainless steel performs better in chloride solutions compared to grade 304. Handheld XRF devices can easily distinguish these differences, ensuring that each metal is recycled in the most efficient way possible.

Properties Comparison Table

PropertyInconel 718316 Stainless Steel
Tensile strength180,000 psi (1,240 MPa)84,000 psi (580 MPa)
Melting point2,330-2,500°F (1,277-1,371°C)2,500-2,550°F (1,371-1,399°C)
Operating temperatureUp to 1,300°F (704°C)Up to 1,700°F (927°C)
Yield strength150,000 psi (1,034 MPa)42,000 psi (290 MPa)
MachinabilityPoorFair to poor
Corrosion resistanceExcellent, particularly in high-temperature environmentsExcellent, especially against chlorides like saltwater
The values mentioned above may vary depending on the specific conditions and heat treatment processes, but they generally serve as a good baseline for comparing these two commonly recycled alloys.

Machining Challenges: From a Recycler’s Perspective

Inconel and stainless steel both present machining challenges due to their respective hardness and work-hardening potential. In the recycling industry, the ability to cut and prepare these materials for reprocessing is essential. Handheld XRF can guide this process by determining the most appropriate machining strategy based on the alloy’s specific characteristics.


In the metals recycling industry, the precise identification and segregation of Inconel and stainless steel are crucial. Handheld XRF technology serves as an invaluable tool for quick and accurate material identification, ultimately aiding in the efficient recycling of these valuable alloys.

To fully unlock the value of these metals and keep costs under control, understanding their unique properties is crucial. Whether you’re recycling Inconel or stainless steel, investing in handheld XRF technology will offer significant advantages in material identification, allowing for more sustainable and profitable operations.

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