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Fireside Chat with the Xperts: How Much Does an X-ray Machine Cost?

Just because they didn’t answer the question doesn’t mean they where stumped.  In this fifth edition of our “Stump the Chumps” Q&A with the Xperts, Drs. Bill Cardoso and Glen Thomas walk us through the many factors that influence the cost of an X-ray machine.  As they observe, it’s a simple question with a complicated answer.

In addition to discussing the key components that contribute to the cost of an X-ray system, source, detector, cabinet size, and software, our Xperts review how the selection of those components is driven by the inspection objectives.  And, of course, you can’t have a thorough conversation about the cost of an X-ray machine without considering the cost of not having one.  And so, when the answer ended up being “it depends,” we consulted our panel of judges.  Their ruling: Not stumped!

 

Transcript:

David Kruidhof:

Welcome back everyone. It’s 10 o’clock, time for another RSI chat with the experts. We’ll be doing another stump the chumps today. I imagine we’re going to be going through one question, because it’s quite a big one, complicated one for you today. Maybe it’ll be even considered stumping you because it’s pretty much impossible to answer. So our question today-

Dr. Bill Cardoso:

I like that.

David Kruidhof:

Yeah.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:

What is the question?

David Kruidhof:

The question today is how much does an X-Ray machine cost?

Dr. Bill Cardoso:

Come on

David Kruidhof:

Done? I win? Call it a day?

Dr. Bill Cardoso:

What’s the best answer, Glen? Yes?

Dr. Glen Thomas:

It depends, right? Just like everything else X-Ray related. It depends.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:

It depends.

Dr. Glen Thomas:

First question you’d want to ask after that question to further get to the bottom of… What are you trying to do with it? What do you expect out of your X-Ray system? If you’re looking for a budget system that’s an alternative and you can get a system in the $15,000, $20,000 price range for the most part, maybe a used refurbished system, right?

Dr. Glen Thomas:

If you’re looking for more autonomous, then you’re going to spend a little bit more money because there’s quite a bit more mechanicals involved. But in all cases, in all X-Ray systems, we have some basic components that are fairly expensive. So regardless of whether the system is a benchtop system at 16 inches by 16 inches by 16 or a cabinet that you would literally drive a forklift into, the basic components of the X-Ray system remain the same.

Dr. Glen Thomas:

We need an image detector of some sort, and we need an X-Ray tube of some sort, whether it’s a high end high kV system or a low energy system, all of those components are congruent across the X-Ray product lines, regardless of medical, industrial, security. So, there is a set cost of entry depending on what you want to do with it. That’s where things become a little bit more complicated and we need to explore what your expectations are in a more depth and we’d want a lot more detail.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:

Yeah. This question reminds me of the old saying that a quality is priceless. If quality is indeed priceless and X-Ray is a key component for quality assurance, than the price of an X-Ray machine would be irrelevant, right?

Dr. Glen Thomas:

Free almost.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:

Right? It’s irrelevant, but quality is not priceless, right? Every time I hear that, it reminds me of the Ford Pinto. Perhaps, most in our audience are too young to remember the Ford Pinto, but not… Well, actually it was a long time ago in the seventies. I have to remind myself the seventies are a long time ago. But, so, Ford in the early seventies had an amazing product line with the Mustang, the Fairlane, the Galaxy. The Galaxy’s one of the cars they used to call the land yacht. They were huge, gas guzzling, American muscle and the oil crisis happened. What that means is that the oil prices skyrocketed and all of a sudden the product line was undesirable because gas prices were very high and their showrooms had nothing but gas guzzlers. And at same time you had the Japanese coming in, a whole new Toyota, which for those who were not alive at the time, they were tiny, irrelevant companies, selling dinky little cars that Americans didn’t want.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:

All of a sudden, everyone wanted those small cars that were very fuel efficient. So Ford had to turn on a dime and design a fuel efficient car, which was the Pinto. And I think you should take them 40 some months to develop a car. And the Pinto was developed in 20 some months. It was super fast. And they had to cut the corners. One of the corners they cut, the fact that if the car was rear ended just at the right angle, the car would catch on fire. And so that’s one of the best examples that I… Oh, and what gets complicated in the story is that they found out later that they knew that the things caught on fire based on some reports they found from the engineering team. So quality does have a price.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:

And people put a price on quality every day. And that’s why this question is relevant. What has changed over the years, different from the eighties to the nineties and on the twenties again, is that the X-Ray has always been seen as a cost center. It’s something you have to have to make somebody happy or to check a box with a costumer. So X-Ray has been a cost center, has been seen as a cost center for decades. And what has changed is with augmented connectivity, especially on the factory floor, with better algorithms we have and how we can not only measure things in the image, but we can provide interpretation of what’s happening in the line, on your process, using an X-Ray image. So we’ve seen the data centers… So data generators, so actually machine, if you can see that as a data generator.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:

And if you now can turn data into information, because information is data you can act on. Once you do that, now X-Ray is no longer a cost center. Now, it can be a very important information generation center. And for companies that are smart and they can figure that out, you can quickly turn an X-Ray into a piece of equipment that provides a very, very fast return investment. But again, it’s that known trivial bridge between data and information. If you’re just collecting data and that data is… When I talk about data, X-Ray images of BGAs or pipes or whatever else you’re inspecting, if that data just sits in a box and stays there, that’s definitely the wrong way to look at an X-Ray machine.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:

Then an X-Ray machine becomes very expensive because not returning anything. And on the other hand, if the company can, and that’s something we help companies every day, is how to bridge the gap. And once you do that, the ROI comes in. And then with the return on investment, the price becomes an easy piece of the conversation to address.

Dr. Glen Thomas:

Right. That connectivity has been alluded to over the years in the electronics industry.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:

Yeah.

Dr. Glen Thomas:

It hasn’t really happened successfully. It’s been a uphill battle to get industry to adopt this connectivity. But we do have, and we have been very adamant about the connectivity of the system and the connectivity being part of the return on investment. So we do have several packages that do offer, not only a lot of data on the backend after the X-Ray, but we input quite a bit of data. Our main product right now, our newest product would be our business intelligent package. The business intelligent package enables you to put a lot of data and track a lot of data like usage, customers, etc. So, we’ve been singing the song for quite a while, as far as return on investment based on data. And it’s all… We have an X-Ray system that’s capable of capturing quite a bit of data.

Dr. Glen Thomas:

And with some of the different technologies that we use, we can put that data to work fairly easily. One of the key things that I really was amazed with with Creative Electron was early on when I found out about the… Before I worked for Creative Electron, joined the team, was the database feature. That database feature people say, “Oh yeah. Okay. Yeah, that’s great.” And move on. But if you explore just the database feature, which was a 10 year old product on our part. 10 years ago, Creative Electronic design that to go along with the counterfeit detection, which again was capturing large amounts of data. That database feature is a phenomenal feature on its own. That if used properly with some connectivity, as far as networking into your system, it has a lot of potential itself. And that’s just the standard package. That was what we would consider an easy and a good way to store images. But it has a lot of capability on its own.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:

Yeah. I think eventually one day we’re going to see, especially if you talk about SMT and there’s a whole conversation about Industry 4.0, and I definitely am tired of talking about Industry 4.0 because everyone talks about it. So we’re not going to talk about it. But I think what I really like about this equipment that it… That applies to surface mount, offline PCB, and everything else we do is, counterfeit attacks included, is the thought of the system to provide business intelligence, as a key performance indicator. So you can get a KPI out of the X-Ray machine. And we have the whole dashboard with our KPIs, but it’s interesting how as you manage… You can manage the floor or your inspection process or manufacturing process in a similar way that you manage your business.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:

And if you can set the right KPIs, you can have quite a bit of transparency to see what’s going on. Of that is part of the value, that part of the equation. And I think original question is how much an X-Ray machine costs, right? And then a part of this conversation that Glen, you started to answer, I think you have to connect with the type of sample you’re looking at, right Glen? How big it is, how dense it is, how many samples you’re going to be looking at for hour per minute per second. You’re going to be looking at… If you have a box, they’re going to be looking at one box a day, or are you going to look at one box every second? So that’s going to define how those samples are going to get in and out of the X-Ray cabinet, if you need an X-Ray cabinet.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:

Or you have to build a room to look at your sample. For example, you’re looking at engines or blades for helicopter. You don’t have a cabinet anymore. Now it’s an open air system with a nice Carestream plate and a mobile X-Ray source, battery powered X-Ray source. So that’s the reason why our sales team has engineers. Have people within more… In the business for many years, because it’s hard to go on Amazon and click an X-Ray machine and just, “Oh yeah, that’s the one I want.”

Dr. Bill Cardoso:

Some customers have, right Glen, the level of experience in… But they’re few. Most of the time it’s a conversation. Then we can understand what they’re trying to accomplish. And then with that, we can pair the right solution to them. I wish you could put a machine on Amazon and just have people buy on Amazon. But I don’t see that happening. Maybe one day.

Dr. Glen Thomas:

The cost of a mistake is very expensive in that point. So you have $100,000 invested, to say an arbitrary number, $100,000 invested in an X-Ray system. That is a top of the line X-Ray system, but not ideal for your application. When, if you had talked to someone a little more savvy in the physics or in the combination of X-Ray tubes, detectors, image processing, you may have been able to get by with a $35,000 X-Ray system. One of the major things, that seem kind of flippant, in when you’re trying to help a customer is they get sometimes bogged down in details.

Dr. Glen Thomas:

How many megapixels in… Well, all the details. Bottom line is, can you see what you need to see?

David Kruidhof:

Yeah.

Dr. Glen Thomas:

If you can see what you need to see at 35, $40,000, investing $200,000 into an X-Ray system, although you have the capability to see some phenomenal things, it’s not necessary. Your return on investment is going to be slim to none for many years in advance, right?

Dr. Bill Cardoso:

Yeah.

Dr. Glen Thomas:

In the same token, if you are cheap and you spend $20,000, $30,000 on the wrong X-Ray system, it’s not going to do the job for you. And you’re not going to be able to control your processes. You’re still running blind. You may as well just shine a flashlight at it.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:

Yeah, we see that often. People have a budget but they don’t know if they want to buy a Ferrari or a dump truck. The price is the same.

Dr. Glen Thomas:

Right.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:

And oftentimes realize what they really need is a minivan to go to Costco every weekend.

Dr. Glen Thomas:

Exactly.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:

But they have an image, they need a dump truck or Ferrari. And if you buy Ferrari and what you need is a dump truck, you’re going to get screwed. You’re going to be very unhappy. And vice versa, if you try to go to Home Depot and get a half a ton of lumber with a Ferrari you have issues as well. So the pairing of the resolution is what really matters. And some times we have more than happy to say, “We don’t have a solution for you. Go call somebody else. And they have a better solution for you than we do.” I’d rather say that than pushing a product that doesn’t work on a customer and have someone upset at us later. Life’s too short. So might as well get them happy, get them what they need. And in the future they might call back.

Dr. Glen Thomas:

Right. Not that we don’t go out of our way to find a solution.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:

Yeah. I think we do a pretty good job on that as well. Yeah.

Dr. Glen Thomas:

A really well-rounded toolbox in X-Ray sources, X-Ray detectors, cabinets. We build our own cabinets locally in house. We have the ability to wrap sheet metal around X-Ray sources and detectors. Having our own software team on staff gives us the ability to customize some of those algorithms. So we have a very deep and broad choice of components.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:

Yeah, it’s a good point. Speaking of price of an X-Ray machine, how much it costs, you have the, what are called, commodity components. You have your source, your sensor, your cabinet and something that moves the samples inside the cabinet, or in and out of the cabinets. A lot of those things are your integrator. Or you can make a piece of it or you can buy a subsystems and you build your own private label, whatever you want to do, different companies have different ways. But the real differentiator is it ends up being software. Which is the, at the end of the day, the smarts of it. What’s going to really drive that value proposition that we discussed earlier. That being, I think, a major water divider for the X-Ray industry nowadays, is companies that have and don’t have the ability to customize software or develop tools to meet specific requirements from different customers.

Dr. Glen Thomas:

Absolutely.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:

Because if you don’t have, you’re just selling a… Basically, you private labeling like our friends in Asia do. They private label box and that’s it. Right?

Dr. Glen Thomas:

Right, right. It’s just a standard bunch of tools that work for 90% or even 80, maybe 80% of the population. Good enough, right?

Dr. Bill Cardoso:

Yeah. Well, for a specific market. That’s the thing.

Dr. Glen Thomas:

A specific market, yep.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:

That’s the way it is. Yeah. So in general, the major cost drivers would be the extra resource and the sensor. The extra resource is fairly straight forward. If you want to think of pricing is the more power, usually the more it costs. More resolution, the more it costs. And the pricing is exponential. So low-power is lower cost. And as you increase the power, it goes up quite rapidly.

Dr. Glen Thomas:

Right.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:

And with that, you compound the resolution, we say spot size. I think we discussed a few weeks ago what spot size is, is how sharp your image going to look. The bigger spot size, the fuzzier your image is going to look. So you want a very small spot size, but that at a higher power costs quite a bit of money. Why? Because it’s hard and the volume’s low. Relatively speaking, if every iPhone needed an X-Ray source, X-Ray source would probably be cheaper nowadays, but they’re not. The volume is still relatively low. And the whole technology related to vacuum sealing and the whole manufacturing of those devices is in control of a few companies in the world. They’ve been doing this for a while. A lot of companies claim to do it, but then reliability and how long the tube’s going to last is the issue. So it’s one of those things where lower costs can be very expensive going forward. Like the guys, right Glen, say, “Oh yeah, I found a machine on eBay, super good deal.”

Dr. Bill Cardoso:

So either you got a cheap X-Ray machine or a very expensive boat anchor. One of the two. It’s usually a boat anchor.

Dr. Glen Thomas:

You probably bought someone else’s hazardous waste.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:

Exactly. It’s a very expensive boat anchor that you have to deal with.

Dr. Glen Thomas:

Yeah.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:

And we get, not very often, but we get, “Oh, I bought your machine on eBay. Can you guys fix it?” Well, if you’re talking about systems that have been obsolete for a while now, with computer systems that are obsolete. We do our best to keep those things alive. But at some point you just have to start upgrading. Because if you’re running Windows 2000, now you can’t connect that to any network. “Oh, I have Windows 2000, but I need to access Dropbox, but my IT doesn’t let me.” Well, nothing I can do it. Right? You got to upgrade to latest Windows.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:

And so with that comes other the challenges, right? So at the end of the day, the price embeds all this conversation. Support and everything else has to be included. So it’s not just a number, it’s everything that we use to build that number. Does that make sense?

Dr. Glen Thomas:

Right. And on that same token, take a look at the longevity of an X-Ray system. A fairly decent X-Ray system with a good detector, a good X-Ray tube and the proper software with some upgrades paths in the computer, you can get seven, 10 years out of an X-Ray system active use, depending on how many hours a day you run it. There’s limitations. If you’re running it 24/7, you’re going to get a lot less use.

Dr. Glen Thomas:

Because again, as we talked a while ago, X-Ray tubes are consumables. Every time you turn it on, you’re boiling some electrons off the filament. Whether it’s a closed X-Ray tube or an open X-Ray tube, it still has a consumable portion or consumable function. So if normal use, say eight hours a day, your actual X-Ray on is going to be probably half of that for most people. So we’re looking at five, six, seven, 10 years. So you do have a… With the right choice. And that’s why it’s important to make the right choice early on because unfortunately used X-Ray systems lose their value very quickly. So if you were to buy an X-Ray system, make the wrong choice based on price, or based on misinformation, you’re going to have an X-Ray system that’s going to lose quite a bit of value.

Dr. Glen Thomas:

It’s going to make buying a luxury car and driving it off the lot look like a bargain.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:

Yeah.

Dr. Glen Thomas:

Because it essentially, like I said, it depends on the actual use and you could get an X-Ray system, you could get… If you buy an X-Ray system, you don’t know what the actual history of the X-Ray system is, whether it was shipped all over the world, if it was dropped off the back of a truck. There are all kinds of issues that you could have with buying a used X-Ray system.

Dr. Glen Thomas:

And so you really want to make the right choice, or at least an informed choice. And informed, it doesn’t necessarily mean a comparison on a spreadsheet. Some of the most costly mistakes I’ve seen made over the years is companies and individuals that rely on a spreadsheet and specsmanship to buy an X-Ray system. Really do need to prove it out. And you need to look at backend too, again. Will this do what I need it to do for the amount of money I want to spend? Right?

Dr. Bill Cardoso:

Yeah.

Dr. Glen Thomas:

You would make allowances either up or down, depending on what has to happen there to get your outcome. Comparing boxes on a spreadsheet is rarely the smart way to buy an X-Ray system, in my opinion, anyway. A lot of room for mistakes. And there’s a lot of room for a specsmanship as well.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:

Yeah. Because the table doesn’t… It has a very hard time expressing all these different things that we discussed. Properly. And I think that’s a result of the… People sometimes, buyers have a tendency of using spreadsheets because it is a complex sale. So that’s a way to try to get some grasp on what’s going on. Putting numbers on the spreadsheets, like a way to, “Okay, now I know what’s going on. Now I can see, I can add this line up and multiply that column.” And they get a number of whoever has the biggest number wins.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:

And that works for some things in life, especially if you’re comparing commodities. If you are on the other hand buying a piece of equipment that you’re going to keep for 10, 15, 20 years. If you ask Dave Phillips, our customer service guy, he keeps machines going for 30 years. And they just keep on going. So if that’s the kind of relationship you’re going to get into, a table might not be the place to start. Just like probably you don’t choose a spouse based on a table.

Dr. Glen Thomas:

Well, maybe.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:

Maybe people do. I don’t know. It’s a new world. I haven’t done that in a while so I don’t really know, but maybe they do. A decision matrix for your next love. But if you’re talking about this longterm relationship that you’re going to have with a piece of equipment, you better off talking to people who’ve been doing this, not only us. Talk to everybody else and then have an idea and try to de-commoditize. Instead of trying to make that into a commodity, trying to understand the nuances and the features of these different systems and which one works best for you.

Dr. Glen Thomas:

Right. And for the most part, if you’re dealing with someone that somewhat has your interests and best interests in mind as a customer, they will help you understand some of the subtleties. If you ask and you have an interest, they will help you understand those subtleties. Here’s the difference between X and Y. And here’s the indicator that would make sense for your application. So purchasing an X-Ray system is quite an interactive endeavor. There’s no way around that. If it’s not interactive and you are expected, “Oh, when are you going to give me the PO? Here’s what you need.” That may not necessarily be the right choice. Might want to dig a little further, do a little research. Because some of the software that’s even available today hasn’t changed in 10, 12 years. It does what it needs to do. It was probably really good when it came out and it’s more than serviceable, but there are other alternatives and other options.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:

Well, like they say, right Glen, before you have the hammer, everything looks like a nail. Right?

Dr. Glen Thomas:

Absolutely.

Dr. Glen Thomas:

Yep. Yeah. And that always leads me back to the conversation you have early on with some folks, especially at trade shows. “Oh, I don’t need X-Ray. I don’t do BGAs.” So they’re looking at this very narrow tunnel and all they see is an X-Ray with a bunch of balls on a hidden interconnect component. Without looking at the customer returns, without looking at the ability to look at R and D…

Dr. Bill Cardoso:

Counterfeits.

Dr. Glen Thomas:

Piping inspection, counterfeit inspection, making sure that your vendors are on the up and up. So it’s rare that an X-Ray system would be used just for BGAs. And if you are using an X-Ray system for BGAs, you’re not getting a return on your investment. That’s all there is to it. There are so many other options that an X-Ray system will fit and help.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:

Yeah, but that’s because the sucky job X-Ray companies have done over the years, telling people that X-Ray is a cost center, right?

Dr. Glen Thomas:

You’re right. It goes back to that.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:

It goes back to that. So if it’s a cost center, well, I’m going to buy one unless I absolutely need to buy one. If I don’t have a customer with a gun in my head say, “Hey, you’ve got to buy an X-Ray machine or you don’t get my contract.” I’m not going to buy one.

Dr. Glen Thomas:

I always get a kick out of the customer that calls frantic, “Hey, my customer just sent me an X-Ray telling me that my product is no good. What do I do?”

Dr. Bill Cardoso:

Yeah.

Dr. Glen Thomas:

Yeah. So that’s…

Dr. Bill Cardoso:

Oops, got caught.

Dr. Glen Thomas:

Exactly.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:

Or the customer says, “Hey, I need to X-Ray every single board on the line, the whole board.” And then you say, “I think you need to work on your process.”

Dr. Glen Thomas:

Every joint on the board. Oh no, you don’t really.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:

No, you don’t. So let’s have a conversation. Let’s talk about it.

Dr. Glen Thomas:

Exactly.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:

David, did we answer the question?

David Kruidhof:

We are overtime. No, you didn’t answer the question.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:

Oh, sorry.

David Kruidhof:

Like I said, I think I won

Dr. Glen Thomas:

That’s subjective. That’s like buying an X-Ray system. Very subjective.

David Kruidhof:

All right. Well, thank you two. I appreciate it. I think that that helps a lot.

Dr. Glen Thomas:

Yeah, it helped.

David Kruidhof:

It’s not a simple question at all.

Dr. Glen Thomas:

Right.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:

Well, the question is simple. The answer is complicated.

Dr. Glen Thomas:

Questions are always simple.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:

Yeah.

David Kruidhof:

Well, if anyone has any more questions, please let us know, happy to continue answering them like this. And we’ll see you all again in two weeks. Thanks Glen. Thanks Bill.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:

Awesome.

Dr. Glen Thomas:

Thanks.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:

Thanks. Bye.

David Kruidhof:

Bye.