Micro-X CNT-based X-ray tube
(Photo Credit: Micro-X)

Micro-X develops own carbon nanotube X-ray tube

July 23, 2019
by John R. Fischer, Senior Reporter
Micro-X has manufactured a new carbon nanotube X-ray tube for its platform of X-ray products.

Composed of a carbon nanotube electron emitter, development of the tube will make Micro-X one of two companies in the world capable of developing CNT-based X-ray tubes, alongside third-party supplier, XinRay, for products such as the Carestream DRX-Revolution Nano mobile X-ray system.

“The advances Micro-X has made in this new X-ray tube design — both in the quality and potential lifetime of this innovative new tube — will be of great benefit to healthcare providers,” Charlie Hicks, general manager of X-ray solutions at Carestream Health, said in a statement. “We at Carestream are the first company to introduce carbon nanotube X-ray technology to the medical imaging field, and as our sales of this new device grow, Micro-X is well-positioned to quickly supply anticipated demand from customers."

CNT-based x-ray tubes are the first and only not to use heated-filament electron emission, reducing size, weight, heat and power. Originally relying on XinRay for manufacturing, Micro-X set to work developing its proprietary CNT emitter in 2017 at its base in Adelaide, Australia, employing a small team of world-leading experts in engineering chemistry and nanomaterials science to work alongside researchers at Flinders University and the University of Adelaide.

The total cost of the project was approximately $3 million, including for the development work and new capital equipment. Part of this sum was supported by funds from a $2.4 million matching grant secured under the Federal Government’s Advanced Manufacturing Growth Fund.

The process involved key elements such as design, process engineering, production engineering and validation and testing. It also focused on improving existing reliability standards and garnering support from stakeholders to create a smooth transition from the current supplier to Micro-X internally manufactured X-ray tubes.

In developing its own tubes, the company expects to achieve higher yield, increased commercial margins, improved reliability for clientele and enhanced flexibility in future product designs, including for the Rover and Mobile Backscatter Imager product that is now being developed in collaboration with Thales.

Manufacturing its own tubes provides it with greater control over the manufacturing process of the tube, which has been hindered by issues relating to yield, production delays, and transfer cost for Micro-X. It also reduces reliance on XinRay for manufacturing, a task that often involved technical and financial assistance in the form of sending Micro-X’s technical team abroad, frequently, to Raleigh, North Carolina. Other benefits include reduced costs, reduced cycle times, improved quality, increased scalability and independence in the supply chain.

“The strategic and operational importance of having established and proved our own carbon nanotube and X-ray tube technology in-house cannot be overstated,” said Micro-X managing director Peter Rowland, in a statement. “We now have co-located, with our product manufacturing in Adelaide, complete control of the technology which will shape our destiny with our current and future products, as we develop and take to market the innovative X-ray products that only this technology can permit.”

The process has been locked down, with design verification completed, and meets the ISO 13485 standards and FDA requirements for supply of a Class II medical device. The company has created its own proprietary intellectual property around the new CNT emitter and method of manufacture, and filed a new patent that is in the process of being prosecuted.

Micro-X currently has a supply contract with XinRay for X-ray tubes for the DRX-Revolution Nano. The tubes are reported to be performing beyond expectations and will be ready to be fitted to DRX Revolution Nano deliveries for Carestream clients following reliability testing, which is expected to be completed in Q3 CY 2019 to ensure no disruption to the sales process with Carestream.

Manufacturing will take place adjacent to Micro-X’s current Tonsley facility.