X-Rayted Files: Best Practices in Buying Machines

A couple of months ago, a good friend and colleague of mine, Dr. Glen Thomas, passed away. I worked with Glen for more than a decade. I was much younger than him—I was in middle school when he was earning his PhD—and I learned a lot about X-ray machines from him.

He once wrote an article on how not to buy an X-ray machine, which offered a cheeky take on how X-ray machines can actually increase profits. We often discussed how to convince people that an X-ray inspection is not a “necessary evil” that customers request, but a means to improve quality and customer satisfaction, reduce recalls, increase competitiveness, and ultimately grow margins. Over the years, we repeatedly saw customers buy X-ray machines based on faulty information or a lack of good research. In honor Glen’s memory, I’m dedicating this month’s column to sharing best practices for buying an X-ray machine.


Know Your Requirements
When looking for an X-ray machine for a PCB inspection, first consider the size and complexity of the PCBs you are inspecting, the type of defects you need to detect, and your desired inspection speed. Knowing these types of inspection requirements will help you determine which features and capabilities to look for when buying an X-ray machine.

Research Your Options
Most X-ray machines that are available for PCB inspection provide two-dimensional (2D) and three-dimensional (3D) images of PCBs, although 2.5D images are also available. (But keep in mind that 2.5D is nothing more than a marketing nomenclature that means oblique view.) 2D X-ray machines are generally affordable, easy to operate, and suitable for most PCBs. 3D X-ray machines offer greater accuracy—they are better at visualizing and analyzing complex PCBs with multi-layered components—but are also more expensive and require more advanced image-processing techniques.

So, when choosing between 2D and 3D X-ray machines for your inspections, consider the complexity of your PCBs, the type of defects you need to detect, and your budget. It's essential to research and understand the pros and cons of each type of machine to find the one that meets your inspection needs.

Safeguard Your Investment
As you look at X-ray machines and their capabilities, consider your current and future needs. What will you be doing in three to five years from now? How will your needs change? Will you have more complex boards, higher PCB volumes, greater complexity and mix? Then, to safeguard your investment for the long term, find a good salesperson to help you balance your needs against your budget when making a purchase.

Consider Image Quality
An X-ray machine’s image quality plays a crucial role in PCB inspection. High-resolution imaging not only provides clear and detailed images of PCB components and defects, but it can better detect small defects—a real plus when you are inspecting miniaturized components on modern PCBs.


Evaluate Inspection Software
An X-ray machine’s inspection software also plays an important role in image analysis and defect detection. In evaluating software, consider ease of use, functionality, and whether it is compatible with your existing systems. Look for user-friendly, intuitive software interfaces that allow you to easily manipulate (i.e., zoom, rotate, and measure) X-ray images, and support data storage and analysis for traceability and process-improvement purposes. You also may want to consider getting some advance software features such as automated defect recognition (ADR) algorithms and reporting tools for generating inspection reports.

Ongoing Support
Ongoing technical support is essential for the long-term reliability and performance of your next X-ray machine. To protect your investment, check the warranty policy and maintenance services of your manufacturer or supplier. You can go online to review customer feedback on products, or ask the manufacturer for customer references.

Last, don’t be shy about asking about your manufacturer or supplier about their technical services and products. A great service team will address all of your concerns thoroughly and honestly. Suppliers and manufacturers are eager to help you choose the right X-ray machine and modalities that fit your needs and your budget.

Dr. Bill Cardoso is CEO, Creative Electron, Inc.



X-Rayted Files: Best Practices in Buying Machines


A couple of months ago, a good friend and colleague of mine, Dr. Glen Thomas, passed away. I worked with Glen for more than a decade. I was much younger than him—I was in middle school when he was earning his PhD—and I learned a lot about X-ray machines from him. In honor Glen’s memory, I’m dedicating this month’s column to sharing best practices for buying an X-ray machine.

View Story

X-Rayted Files: ’23 and Me?


I’ll start this year’s X-Rayted Files as so many of us do at the start of a new year, whether in a column like this or in our conference rooms—with a look forward for 2023. Just like that, I’m struck by what a daunting task it is to forecast some of the simplest things in these uncertain times. With the disruption we’ve seen already seen these last couple years in the 2020s, ’23 is likely to be the hardest of recent years to predict. I’m both curious and cautious as we embark on a new year and, like most of you, I find myself trying to identify opportunities among all the noise.

View Story


X-Rayted Files: Battery-Powered Advancements Keep on Ticking


Understanding that batteries will power our increasingly electrified future is an important focus for the electronics manufacturing industry. While most manufacturers will simply benefit from an increased demand for additional boards and electronic assemblies, some may choose to migrate into battery production as well. Understanding batteries and how they power so many of the devices we make is crucial to the success of this enterprise.

View Story

X-Rayted Files: What’s Cooler Than X-ray?


At the most basic level, imaging—whether optical, X-ray, or even computed tomography (CT)—is data collection. Why we gather that data, of course, is to develop useful information about the product we are imaging. When the method of imaging provides the information we need, we have actionable data. When considering whether to employ X-ray imaging vs. CT, there are quite a few considerations, but most important is whether our choice will successfully result in actionable data, providing genuine insight (pun intended) into our product and process.

View Story

X-Rayted Files: My Favorite BGA Assembly Ever, Part 3


While the novelty may have worn off, let’s take one last look at my favorite BGA image. In part 2, we discussed issues of coplanarity, shorts and head in pillow. Now we will review the other common BGA assembly issues, illustrated so well in Figure 1. Whether you are fascinated by this, maintaining awareness of these common failure modes of BGAs, and inspecting for them throughout your process will increase yield, reduce rework and scrap, and result in higher quality, more reliable products.

View Story

X-Rayted Files: My Favorite BGA Assembly Ever, Part 2


One of the most notorious component failures in manufacturing is a faulty ball grid array (BGA). Any line manager or engineer will tell you that there are too many things that can cause a BGA to fail. When a BGA is installed on a circuit board in a factory, it is visually checked for proper alignment. If it passes this simple test some might assume all is well. However, even a board that passes a cursory exam can still be terribly flawed. Because the BGA is a bottom terminating component, examination for quality of the connection cannot be seen with optical tools. To make sure there is a good connection between the BGA and the board, an X-ray inspection is essential. We’ll revisit my favorite X-ray image of a BGA that I shared in my last column and dig into the details of how to address its many problems.

View Story

X-Rayted Files: My Favorite BGA Assembly Ever


In the early 1980s, Motorola and IBM introduced a novel package that allowed a high number of input and outputs with a large pitch in a small area, thus providing large savings in board real-estate. The ball grid array (BGA) was born. Initially in ceramic, by the late 1980s Motorola—and this time Citizen—brought to market the plastic BGA. This was the pivotal step needed to drop the cost of this packaging technology and to enable the electronic miniaturization wave that soon followed.

View Story

X-Rayted Files: Smart vs. Intelligent SMT Factory


Amazon currently employs over 200,000 robots across 175 fulfillment centers around the world. The robot ranks at Amazon grow every year, and in some facilities, they outnumber the humans. As the lights out concept rapidly grows with the giant retailer, automation adoption still finds resistance in the SMT manufacturing world. I don’t know what the future holds for surface mount technology (SMT) manufacturing, but I’m certain it depends on our intelligence. As a community, we spend a lot of time discussing the Smart factory. Instead, we should aim higher to the "Intelligent factory."

View Story

X-Rayted Files: X-ray Everything!


It should be clear by now that my enthusiasm for X-ray knows no bounds. From fighting counterfeits, inventory management, solder inspection, and quality control for an endless array of manufactured products, the usefulness of X-ray inspection tools is seemingly limitless. So, forgive me for not setting my bias aside, but when it comes to X-ray imaging, you probably fall into one of the following categories: you don’t need X-ray and you know it, you need X-ray but don’t know it, you have X-ray but are underutilizing it, or you are the rarest of birds who has X-ray but just doesn’t need it.

View Story

X-Rayted Files: What’s That Noise? Is it Your Data?


We are in the era of data, big data, and that should be a good thing. But the sheer volume of data we are collecting can be overwhelming; its meaning and usefulness can become a burden, just more noise. All data is noise until it can be contextualized into actionable information. From that perspective, our goal with data collection should be to reduce the noise and organize data in ways that generate meaningful information that can be used to improve our processes. Take this short quiz to gauge where your organization stands.

View Story

X-Rayted Files: Should I Stay or Should I Go? The Future of Trade Shows


I’ve heard the question repeatedly over the last couple of years, “Is the trade show dead?” It’s a valid question, and I’m not sure what the answer is, should be, or even what I wish it was. With a couple years under our belts now with canceled live events, some limited in person events, and an absolute tidal wave of virtual events and webinars, I am developing an opinion. Informing this opinion is also the fact that we have experience, and in some cases, success in finding effective alternatives to fill the void left by years of shows being on life support. On the whole, it has me scratching my head on another question. Is there a valid purpose for trade shows?

View Story

X-Rayted Files: Nine and a Half Facts About Unknown Radiation


As we kick off 2022, we thought it would be a good idea to give you a break from another column, talking about “what’s next” after COVID. Yes, the pandemic still here, inflation is kicking in, labor shortages are an issue, supply chains are still disrupted. But let’s take a break from all that and have some fun with X-rays. How about going over some facts that you may (or may not) know about X-rays?

View Story


X-Rayted Files: 2022's Word of the Year is... Resilience


On balance, this last year goes down as a pretty good one. While we are not as far along in putting the pandemic behind us as we might have hoped, the progress is promising. The economic recovery has been remarkable, despite persistent supply chain woes and (transitory?) inflationary pressures. With consumer demand high, and signs of relief regarding the supply chain, the coming year and its prospect of a return to “normal” will likely offer substantial opportunities, though we must also be mindful of risks.

View Story

X-Rayted Files: Three or More Intriguing Thoughts on Reshoring


The ground beneath us is always shifting, and while the term “unprecedented” can be somewhat overused, it does seem to be a little tougher to keep our balance these days. For almost every economic disruption, there emerges some argument for how reshoring can mitigate it. This time around, though, there’s a bit of a tug-o-war between the disruptions that are shaping the manufacturing landscape and the broader economy. I’m no economist, but as a dyed in the wool entrepreneur I’d like to share three thoughts about the future of manufacturing with a focus on reshoring, the talent pool, and the joy of making things.

View Story

The X-Rayted Files: Was CS Model 101 Built on Industry 4.0?


While smart devices like sleep trackers that monitor the quality of our ZZs are exciting to some, for others it induces the fear of becoming subject to robot overlords. Regardless, the age of IoT is upon us, and as manufacturers, IoT is just one facet of the broader Industry 4.0.

View Story

X-Rayted Files: Radiation’s Effects on Electronic Components


Whether it’s from naturally occurring sources or induced by modern human ingenuity, electronic components, like everything else, are subject to regular exposure to radiation. It is vital to understand the various sources of radiation exposure as well as their likely effects on today’s microelectronics and the devices they make possible.

View Story

X-Rayted Files: Semiconductor Shortage—Avoiding Counterfeit Components


From bicycles to sundries, from consumer electronics to automobiles, shortages and supply chain issues have hampered an otherwise strong economic recovery much of the world emerge from the pandemic. Among these challenges, none has received more media attention than the semiconductor shortage.

View Story

X-Rayted Files: Tales from the Files of Lithium-ion Batteries


Lithium-ion batteries have, in part, enabled the continued miniaturization of the devices we love. They have also played an important role in making practical electric cars a reality. But like other approaches high density energy storage, they do present risks.

View Story

X-Rayted Files: Genius, Evil, or Evil Genius?


Apple dominates its market in many ways. Is this genius for the consumer, or does it effectively rule out any competition? Columnist Bill Cardoso debates its merits—and disadvantages for other players.

View Story

X-Rayted Files: Crafting Our ‘Next Normal’


As profound an experience as it has been to lead an enterprise through the pandemic, what’s to come may make every bit as much of an impression. So many things that we took for granted as practices and behaviors etched in stone, were interrupted, suspended, or eliminated entirely. As we exit the tunnel into the light of the post-pandemic, we will be challenged collectively in crafting the next normal.

View Story

X-Rayted Files: The Bright Side of the Chip Shortage


In his previous column, “The Dark Side of the Chip Shortage: Counterfeits,” Bill addressed one of unanticipated outcome of the crisis: the shortage of electronic components and predictable wave of counterfeit components likely to flood the market. Combating that tsunami of fakes may also accelerate the adoption of advanced techniques for detecting counterfeit components.

View Story

X-Rayted Files: The Dark Side of the Chip Shortage—Counterfeits


It’s February 2021, and as the world slowly recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, another problem plagues the global economy: the electronic component shortage. What some economists have deemed to be a decade of immense prosperity and growth, the “roaring ‘20s” started with a hiccup.

View Story


X-Rayted Files: Solving for the Limits of Human Visual Inspection


Because a key element of quality control in manufacturing is still good old-fashioned visual inspection, it’s important to understand the ability of operators to sustain their focus and what we can do to support their success. And while the fallibility of human inspection presents challenges, Dr. Bill Cardoso details how there are many ways to address shortcomings.

View Story

X-Rayted Files: iPhone Transparency—A Window Into SMT


Though we don’t do them just for fun, teardowns are fun, but they have also taught us more than we could have imagined. Modern teardowns provide critical insights into the nature and construction of these devices. As an example, Dr. Bill Cardoso details the history of the iPhone as told through X-ray.

View Story

X-Rayted Files: A Century of X-Rays in the Automotive Industry, Part 2


As one of the main users of X-ray inspection, the automotive industry has been one of the main drivers for the development of higher power and higher resolution X-ray imaging systems. Dr. Bill Cardoso continues with Part 2 of this column series.

View Story

X-Rayted Files: A Century of X-Rays in the Automotive Industry, Part 1


If you have read any of Bill Cardoso's previous columns, you know that he is passionate about X-rays, cars, and electronics. In this column series, he talks about some of his idols, including Curie, Roentgen, Marconi, Galvin, and Ford.

View Story

X-Rayted Files: Is Quality Really Priceless?


In a day and age when we can learn virtually anything online, manufacturers still manage to be opaque about pricing, especially when it comes to specialty equipment. Some may say, “Quality is priceless,” but Bill Cardoso explains how it isn't.

View Story

X-Rayted Files: Marching Toward 2021, 20 Miles at a Time


We’re only at the halfway mark, and 2020 has been a real challenge. Our best-laid plans have been cast in doubt by the COVID-19 pandemic. During this transformational time, Dr. Bill Cardoso looks back a century for a bit of inspiration from Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen.

View Story

X-Rayted Files: E-Commerce Boom Fraught With Risk—X-Rays to the Rescue


It’s not news that online sales are increasing dramatically during this global pandemic. However, with increased sales comes the increased risk of return fraud and abuse. Dr. Bill Cardoso explains how X-ray can help detect dummy and counterfeit merchandise.

View Story

X-Rayted Files: Why Do We Break Stuff? Intelligence From Teardowns


The impulse to break a new gadget to "see what's inside" and to “learn how it works” is often the first sign someone will become an engineer. We’ve learned a lot in over a decade of teardowns, which have helped us to understand how the SMT industry has changed over these years. Bill Cardoso investigates.

View Story

X-Rayted Inspection: Manufacturing in the Eye of a Pandemic


Dr. Bill Cardoso usually writes about X-ray inspection, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and how it all connects to Industry 4.0. This month, however, he shifts gears and shares some of the things Creative Electron has been doing during the COVID-19 outbreak.

View Story

X-rayted Files: X-ray and AI—A Match Made In Heaven, Part 2


In Part 1, Dr. Bill Cardoso covered the basics of the relationship between X-ray inspection and artificial intelligence (AI). In Part 2, Cardoso takes a step forward to cover some of the practical ways we use AI to improve the efficiency of our X-ray inspections.

View Story


X-Rayted Files: Will Radiation Damage My Electronic Component?


Before I start talking about radiation damage on electronic components, let me warn you: if you are looking for a simple “yes” or “no” answer to the question, "Will radiation damage my electronic component?" stop reading now. Things will get complicated. You may feel like I did not answer the question at all, and you would be correct. There are whole conferences dedicated to this question (check IEEE’s Nuclear and Space Radiation Effects Conference), so the goal of this column is to give you some background to guide you to the right answer for your specific situation. Ultimately, the best way is to ask an expert.

View Story

X-Rayted Files: The Currency of Technology


In the ever-moving tide of technology, the need to innovate requires a constant shift in vision, and this need has never been more evident than in PCB manufacturing. In fact, innovation has become so valuable that PCBs are quickly becoming the currency of technology. Dr. Bill Cardoso explains.

View Story

X-Rayted Files: The Risk of Installing Counterfeit Parts


In high-tech manufacturing, the use of sub-standard components can be catastrophic. There is no greater need for quality control than in PCBs, as they are only as good as the components installed on them; therein lies the problem. Some components shipped to manufacturers are counterfeit!

View Story

X-Rayted Files: Just Because You Can't See the Problem Doesn't Mean It's Not There!


In this new column, Dr. Bill Cardoso will cover everything related to X-rays from cool historical facts to the latest in technological advancements, starting with the discovery of X-rays in 1895.

View Story
Copyright © 2023 I-Connect007 | IPC Publishing Group Inc. All rights reserved.