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Fireside Chat with the Xperts: “Barbie Dolls to Bombs”

You know a guy has been in the business for a while when you ask what kind of interesting things he’s X-rayed over the years and Dr. Glen Thomas answers “everything, from Barbie dolls to bombs.”  Joined again this week by Dr. Bill Cardoso, this fearless duo takes on one more audience question for another Fireside Chat with the Xperts.

This week’s question: “What industries do you work with outside of electronics manufacturing?” After a discussion that takes us from 50lbs of fig paste to HID lighting for modern sports stadiums, you might be left with the impression that if you can imagine X-raying something, you can probably X-ray it.  If so, please reach out, and let us know what you are imagining. Register for upcoming Fireside Chats with the Xperts and view our archives here.

 

Transcript:

David Kruidhof:
Good morning. Thank you for joining us again for another fireside chat with the experts. Going to be doing another stump the chumps here with Dr. Bill Cardoso and Dr. Glen Thomas. The question for today is a little broad, but I think pretty interesting. We’ve gone over some of this. We’ve touched it here and there, but let’s just answer this question right up. The question is, what industries do you all work with besides the electronics manufacturing industries?

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
Wow. How many hours do we have?

David Kruidhof:
Special edition. We got all day.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
All day. That’s awesome.

Dr. Glen Thomas:
Well, that leads us to the other answer is, what essentially is X-ray. So we look inside of products. We can look inside of packages without disturbing the packages. We can see just about anything that is inside of a product. So it opens it up to a broad range of different applications. And in a lot of cases, that would be considered in the realm of X-ray, nondestructive testing. And there are a lot of submodalities in nondestructive testing. Heavy industry, light industry, security, fraud prevention. A lot of different avenues, just as a broad stroke. So we could be done right now.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
There you go. That’s the answer.

David Kruidhof:
Everything.

Dr. Glen Thomas:
Everything. X-ray, everything.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
Yeah, the fraud prevention is actually one that we’ve seen an uptick with COVID. Why? People are home, buying stuff online. And this increase in e-commerce flux has increased, from what we can tell, the criminals interest in making some money or ability to make money. And the way it works, it’s fairly straightforward. Let’s say you buy an iPhone. You buy an iPhone from an e-commerce website, Best Buy, Target, Amazon, and so you buy the legit item and then you return the fake item. And what you do is you can go to eBay or any other website like that, and you can buy basically, an empty device that looks just like an iPhone, like the ones you use at Walmart, you have those empty phones that you can play with and it feels like a phone, but it’s a fake one.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
So you buy the legit and return a fake device. And of course, it can be very lucrative and e-commerce website that takes that fake device back can potentially lose out quite a bit of money because you’ve got to find out first that you have a bad device to be able to go after some of these criminals. So we’ve seen a very interesting and very powerful use of X-ray machines to inspect, to take an image of the devices that come back to figure out if they are the legit device or not. So it’s, like Glen said, the ability to see inside things and to image those devices presents us with quite a bit of opportunities, outside electronics, per se, looking at BGA’s, QFN’s, through hole vias and other electronic features like that. And so just in the counterfeit detection fraud prevention, it goes from, like we said, from returns from e-commerce to the fashion industry, where you can actually tell if a luxury bag or even a shoe is legit or not, by just looking at how it’s constructed.

Dr. Glen Thomas:
And the same is with the electronics. Counterfeit components, a 10 cent component may be counterfeited. Same thing with the products. We’re seeing that very low dollar items are being counterfeited as well. And so it is a growing industry and to some degree, the cause in the uptake based on the original supply chain disruption. So companies that produce a authentic product, their supply chain has been disrupted from shutdowns and numerous things. There’s a void to be filled there to a degree. So it’s truly an opportunistic. It’s a crime. And I do look at it as a crime.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
Oh, yeah. Definitely crime. Yeah.

Dr. Glen Thomas:
But yes, we can actually X-ray items and really what’s pretty cool is we could actually fingerprint the item as well, just like with electronics. We can actually identify that component later on, especially for a high value. If you’re talking a $20,000 bag, you could fingerprint it and when it was sold and then someone comes back up on the resale market, you would be able to look at it again and say, “Yep, that’s the same bag.” So there are a lot of opportunities in the fashion industry and in counterfeit detection fraud prevention. So it’s a fun industry and all of the things that we X-ray outside of the electronics industry are pretty exciting.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
Electronics is exciting as well. It’s not too bad.

Dr. Glen Thomas:
It’s fun see the results and see the amazement outside of the electronics industry. The electronics industry x-ray is a given. You need it for what you do, but in some of the other industries, when you actually show them the results and you see that almost childish excitement, that’s the fun part. And it actually adds a lot of excitement to our job, as far as spreading the gospel of X-ray.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
It’s like seeing for the first time. Seeing the magic for the first time.

Dr. Glen Thomas:
Absolutely. Yes. So that’s one of our major industries that we really are excited about, is the fraud prevention. It’s a good industry and it’s fun to be able to be a pioneer in that industry, as far as setting some of the standards, as far as what it takes to X-ray a product.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
Always amazes me what they can counterfeit. Honestly, they are very creative people, criminals, in general. Even all the way down to capacitors, ceramic capacitors. Why would you do that? But if you can make a buck, and that’s where the laws of economics don’t really work for us sometimes because a really inexpensive device, you would think, “Oh, there’s no money to be made there.” But in other territories where labor is very inexpensive, if you do enough of them, you actually make a lot of money. Now, if you have to pay someone 20 bucks an hour or 15 bucks an hour to do something, well, there’s a level of counterfeit that you have to do to be able to make money, but if you’re paying them 20 bucks a month, that’s a whole different set of opportunities that they have.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
So the whole counterfeit is very interesting. I also am always fascinated by when we can bring X-ray inspection to, like you said, Glen, to industries and applications that have no idea it can be done, like the sports industry, where, by X-raying simple things that you never think of X-raying before allows us to see features in construction aspects of these devices that the people who make them, they have to imagine how these things are being built and then you show them an image, an X-ray image, like, “Oh, wow, that is so cool. That’s exactly what I had in mind.” But not, because this is not what it’s supposed to be.

Dr. Glen Thomas:
Yeah. Sometimes the results are less than enthusiastic once the initial wow factor. Then the reality comes in that they have some major flaws in the process that need to be addressed.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
Yeah. And also it reminds me of the guys or the customers who we deal with when they have a, let’s call it a legacy or an antique or old X-ray inspection system with less than ideal resolution. Then we upgrade to a brand new, digital, high resolution, micro focus source, show them the image, and they look at the image and say, “Oh, wow. This same part would pass in my other X-ray machine. No, this is where too much information. Can you guys just…”

Dr. Glen Thomas:
Yeah, that’s right. Can you throttle that back a bit?

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
Hold that back? Way too much information. Won’t pass anything in our production line anymore.

Dr. Glen Thomas:
Nothing went out the door last month. The sports industry is an interesting industry. It’s a phenomenal industry for taking on technology. So it’s such a simple product, and they are receptive to taking on the technology to improve their products, improve the performance of the products as well.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
Yeah, it’s an industry that lives and dies out of peak performance. So when you have an athlete performing at its peak capacity, you want to be able to sell that to the person that’s going to be on the golf course, for example, on the weekend, that you feel like Tiger Woods on a weekend.

Dr. Glen Thomas:
Absolutely.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
Transplant that image. And then with that, you need peak performance equipment. And so going back to David’s question, as far as other industries. Another one that’s been fascinating to me as well is the whole seed. I think we talked about a few weeks ago about rice and wheat and all the grains that we inspect with X-rays, looking for contamination, pests and other things, and some of the images, they’re actually pretty… If you think the rice might have that stuff inside, it’s-

Dr. Glen Thomas:
Wheat infestation. Exactly. So that’s a true two prong approach as well. So we have grain that goes into consumer products, so you want to know what your infestation is. You want to know the quality of the grain, but we’ll have the other point of view with agricultural side in seed viability. If I’m going to plant X amount of seeds, I’m going to get X amount of return. So that way you could actually, if nothing worse, if you plant a crop of 100 acres of wheat and you get six plants, because your seeds had no viability. So it’s not only on the consumer point where you’re taking the grain and converting it to consumable product, but you’re also looking at the viability of the seeds when you plant the seeds.

Dr. Glen Thomas:
So the agricultural industry is pretty cool. Not only on seeds. You can actually look at root development as well. There are some specialized x-ray systems that will enable you to look at the root structures and look at some of the internal structures of the plant. Genetically, you can make some genetic changes to the plant and you can see that the roots have more viability under certain conditions, without disturbing the roots.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
Yeah, that’s huge.

Dr. Glen Thomas:
So the agricultural, wheat, seeds, that’s a huge… It’s actually another one of those that you really get a kick out of actually providing a solution, because you’re going back to helping millions of people. So it’s pretty cool. So a little company in San Marcos building X-ray systems can make the world a better place essentially through that, on top of the medical devices and the parts presence and placement type applications that we do, which are pretty straightforward stuff.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
Yeah. Yeah. And people often ask us, and we go back to David questions eventually, but they are asking about the impact of COVID in the business. And again, we haven’t seen any… We talk about automation, robotics, autonomous systems for a long time now, and this whole pandemic, I think, has expedited a lot of those things to happen. So more and more customers are coming to us and saying, “Hey, in stead of an operator, can you put a cobot t o feed samples inside the machine and take samples out of the machine?” So we have a good partnership with FANUC and we are working in quite a few projects with them that we… We talked about it. It would happen from time to time, but I think this whole thing just got expedited.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
And the fact that we have that integration also opens to a different range of applications, where you can really remove the human from the process 100%, other than loading samples in and out. Maybe that could be automated at some point at some level, but it’s very interesting, from everything from medical devices to die casting.

Dr. Glen Thomas:
And this, as you said, this lockdown, this COVID, this transition out of a central location for manufacturing and office, has led us to the point that we are trying to, or we can, eliminate the X-ray machine from your facility as well. We have some plans in the works that we’re working with, with if you think you need an X-ray system, or you need an X-ray of a product, you would have the ability to operate the X-ray system from your desk, from your house, back in the woods. So not only has it improved the ability for the autonomous type X-ray system, but it’s also improved or it’s expedited the ability to expand the X-ray capabilities to people that would not have primarily looked at it in the past. “Hey, I want to X-ray this.” You go to the boss and he says, “It’s going to cost you 50 grand.” And it’s like, “Yeah, no.”

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
“Not going to happen.”

Dr. Glen Thomas:
Not going to happen. But with the services that we’re looking at providing in the near future, you have that ability. You send us the sample, you can do all the X-rays you want. You apply all the state of the art tools that we have available for very little cost. And with a subscription type service, that makes the remote engineer very powerful in his ability to look at product in that fashion. So the X-ray industry is changing to a degree and we’re on the cutting edge of that change, with the services that we’re going to be providing and we do provide currently

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
Yeah. That shifts the cost of ownership equation quite a bit, so you don’t have to, with the virtual expert service we have, where we have the X-ray machine and you send the samples and you basically subscribe to use the machine on a monthly basis. You basically by hours on an X-ray machine, almost like a Airbnb or a Uber. You buy as you need to use the asset, and also because you’re right. The operator or the engineer might not be in the factory or in the manufacturing plant. Maybe at home, working from home, so, might as well displace the asset and use it as needed.

Dr. Glen Thomas:
And that opens up the industries that normally would not be able to afford or would really consider X-ray, so it’s pretty exciting stuff as well. And it will expand into other industries as needed. So sometimes you only need to do a customer return. Sometimes you have a limited application. And in some cases like electronics, once you get your process down, all you’re doing is verifying the process on a regular basis. So that’s one of the really cool things about expanding into different industries. So that’s one of the fun things that we do. It’s really interesting. I like to say, I’ve X-rayed everything from Barbie dolls to bombs.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
And everything between.

Dr. Glen Thomas:
Anything in between. And some things that are really pretty mundane sometimes turn out to be pretty interesting projects when you start learning some of the intricacies to get to that point and to get to that product. “What do you mean you want to look at a 50 pound brick of paste? What’s this paste for? Oh, fig Newtons.”

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
Fig newtons, yeah.

Dr. Glen Thomas:
“Oh, that’s pretty cool.” So yeah, we see a lot of different industries, so sometimes it’s hard to pick out your favorite industry.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
Yeah. And also the message we have to make sure we put it out there is that we work really hard to lower the barrier to X-ray inspect whatever. In other words, if someone in A application has an issue, an issue inside a product or the cost to take apart the product or package is reasonable, it might make sense to just X-ray it. Even if you’ve never done it before, or you don’t think it’s going to work, come talk to us, because we do this every day. We talk to people every day who had no idea X-ray inspection could work and it actually works really well.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
And vice versa as well. We have people think that it’s going to work perfect, it doesn’t, and we’ll let them know right away. But that step, that barrier of entry is what we need to bring down as much as possible so people are encouraged. Give it a try. The cost is very, very small and the benefits are huge. If you have 50,000 packages you have to open one by one to figure out if you put a piece or not, might as well just X-ray them all and have a machine telling you if that piece is in the package or not.

Dr. Glen Thomas:
“I have a warehouse full of product and we’re missing one of the pins from our fill machine. We’re not sure if it’s in there or not.”

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
Yeah. Or somebody’s ring is in one of the packages.

Dr. Glen Thomas:
Where did that ring-

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
He had a ring coming out, didn’t have a ring coming out.

Dr. Glen Thomas:
He’s going to get a surprise when they open it up. It’ll be like the Cracker Jack days.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
Exactly.

Dr. Glen Thomas:
“Got a$10,000 ring in this box.” And even things like antiquities. A lot of times you’d like to see what’s underneath. Paintings, it’s another fun one. So, essentially the possibilities to X-ray products and items is endless. It’s one of the things that drove me to the X-ray industry and has kept me in it for all these years is the ability to never run out of cool things to X-ray. There’s always something new.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
Yeah. Yeah. It’s intellectual curiosity that keeps you on your toes. There’s always someone asking you, “Oh, can you do that?” Like, “What? What do you want to X-ray? Sure. Let’s give it a try.”

Dr. Glen Thomas:
Absolutely. And there’s some of those things that we X-ray that you would never think like tires. Car tires, automotive tires, industrial equipment tires. That’s one of the strange things. It’s like, “What do you mean you X-ray tires? Why?” And then you get into the details of the engineering of tires and it’s quite a feat that they produce a tire that’ll last 50,000 miles.

Dr. Glen Thomas:
It’s a highly designed and engineered product. Some of the simple product that you look at, that we do look at, you’re thinking, “Well, that’s just X.” And then you find that, “Oh no, there’s 72 years of engineering expertise built into that product.” Yeah, but all it does is go from left to right. It’s the same conversation we’ve had numerous times.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
Yeah. It’s incredible how much X-raying technology is used in the automotive industry. Every little piece, system, subsystem, you look in a car or a truck has at some point very likely been X-rayed, from valves to even the engine block, depending on the car that you’re buying, to the windshield wiper holder. Remember the project we had for the windshield wiper was breaking? Not the wiper itself, but the arm that engages with the electric motor. So it’s such a wide range of… And now, cars, of course, are becoming more and more electronic devices, so everything related to through hole via inspection to BGA’S and QFN’s and chip scale packages that cars are using nowadays. And the batteries. If you look at electric cars, all those batteries is things that we’ve been inspecting for a while now, but it’s getting to a volume and size really scale up pretty fast.

Dr. Glen Thomas:
Absolutely. Yep. So it’s a fun industry and that’s the key is you have a product you think that you would benefit from X-ray, it’s a simple task. Just give us a call and we can actually help you through the task. And it doesn’t always result in an X-ray purchase. Do a lot of X-rays that are not viable. Material wise, it’s not conductive to x-ray. Just some things just can’t be X-rayed, and it’s sad when that happens. It’s almost like a funeral. “Oh, X-ray failed. How can that be?”

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
Yeah, so it’s good a question. What are the things that do not work? So X-rays are really good at telling density differences of a material. If something is dense, something is light, we can tell them apart pretty well. If things are all about the same density or with the same density, then it gets more complicated to tell them apart. So that’s one of the things people can think about. For example, with the medical kit, remember, application we had? I was actually very impressed that we were able to pick up the gauze inside that tray, the surgical tray. That’s actually pretty cool. That’s a very, very light material inside of a plastic tray, but we were able to pick up and figure out where things were, scalpels, scissors and all the needles, and we were able to tell them apart and where they were.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
So that’s one application where they were actually opening every surgical tray to find out if they have put everything they should have put before sending to the hospital. Then, after you open, you have to re sterilize, and so that’s like a classic X-ray inspection application, that now with AI and machine learning, got to be from a manual, somebody looking at an image, counting thing, to a fully automated application. And as you said, if you have 200,000 of these things sitting in a warehouse, automation is very helpful.

Dr. Glen Thomas:
That’s right. But not only do we have the AI, but we also have the improvement in image detectors, is what we had say 10 years ago, scale, and our algorithms as well. We’re doing some revolutionary things in our algorithms to help us translate that gray scale into a usable data. So, essentially, it used to be, we had 256 shades of gray. That’s the best you got. The digital detectors give us a much broader range of gray scale and we can apply, it used to be, you would have black and white, more or less, in digital detectors and in image intensifiers. The ability to pick up a broader range of gray scale helps us immensely in our ability to pick up things like soft density, gauze, paper and that sort of thing. And as we improve our algorithms and improve our ability to interpretate images, we’ll get more and more successes in some of those areas right now that we can’t see.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
Yeah. When we take an image of those bags, luxury bags, you can see the whatever they call that, lining on the bag and the folds and all that stuff is just incredible.

Dr. Glen Thomas:
Yep. So it’s an exciting industry. And we continue to revolutionize the industry with each release of software, with the new detectors that are available. Yeah. So it’s a fun industry.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
So does that answer your question, David?

David Kruidhof:
I don’t think you’re quite done yet, but it is 1030. If you want to go to a lightning round, name off other industries you have worked with, but don’t have time to talk about.

Dr. Glen Thomas:
Yeah.

David Kruidhof:
I know we did ballistic plates for military use.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
Art.

David Kruidhof:
Art. Fish finders.

Dr. Glen Thomas:
You could do bottle fill inspection.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
Forensics.

Dr. Glen Thomas:
Forensics. Forensics is as a huge industry. That is not only criminal forensics, but investigative forensics , and then accidents, things like that. Mechanical failures, so forensics with mechanical failures. The criminal forensics is an interesting thing, and then you get into some of the baggage inspection, food inspection. There are all kinds of really cool industries.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
Lighting. Lighting, LED’s.

Dr. Glen Thomas:
Oh, yeah.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
Huge market.

Dr. Glen Thomas:
Yeah, So you have the LED lighting, LED modules. That’s more of an electronics application, but if you look at tungsten, some of the tungsten in some of the HID lighting, the placement of those anodes is key in producing, not only the light, but actually focusing the light outside of the envelope. And those are purely mechanical measurements that X-ray needs to be used because you can’t see through the glass. It’s an opaque glass.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
And it’s one of the most beautiful images I’ve ever seen.

Dr. Glen Thomas:
They’re gorgeous.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
Like pieces of art.

Dr. Glen Thomas:
Exactly. They are art, but that’s one application that’s purely a mechanical assembly that X-ray is instrumental in actually making it work and making it work consistently. So you get a $10,000 light bulb. In a sports stadium, it may take you 20 hours to get up there and change that light bulb by the time you get the lifts and get everything in place and you get up there and you realize that the light bulb doesn’t produce the brightness that’s consistent with every other light bulb because the manufacturer didn’t have a quality control system. So it’s key. And then a lot of the`times, the X-ray is the final process, but it goes way back as far as engineering and in cost. The cost of not X-raying something is huge in some cases.

David Kruidhof:
All right. We have definitely run over today, but yeah, too big of a question, too broad, but thank you, gentlemen. Appreciate it, Bill. Appreciate it, Glen. We will see you all in two weeks.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
All right. See you later. Thanks, David.