Intrinsic Fingerprint of Steel Can Reveal Fake Components

Scientists using magnetic signals have discovered unique “fingerprints” on steel, which could help to verify weapons treaties and minimize the use of fake bolts in the construction sector.

David Mascarenas, a research and development engineer at Los Alamos National Laboratory, used Barkhausen noise to find unique-looking “fingerprints” in steel that could help to verify weapons treaties and reduce the use of counterfeit bolts in the construction industry. (Credit: Los Alamos National Laboratory)

“Magnetic signals provide a wide range of possible national security applications,” said David Mascareñas, a research and development engineer at Los Alamos National Laboratory and the study’s lead author published recently in the journal Smart Materials and Structures. “It’s a promising phenomenon that we hope to leverage to uniquely identify different pieces of artillery.”

In the study sponsored by the U.S Department of State, scientists applied Barkhausen noise, a magnetic phenomenon to two types of steel—conventional steel and an abrasive-resistant type of steel used in mining equipment. A sensor measured electromagnetic signals by continually scanning the various kinds of steel over a period of time. The researchers compared the signals from those two sets of scanned images and discovered signatures that were intrinsic to each type of steel.

The differences that occur from the manufacture of different kinds of steel are reflected as unique fingerprints. “They seem to be repeatable,” said Mascareñas.

That intrinsic signature could help to detect fake or low-grade steel parts in construction by looking for variances in the electromagnetic signatures. “It could also help solve that big problem in that industry,” said Mascareñas.

Going forward, the research could involve exploring other types of steel and designing a handheld sensor for treaty verification.

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