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Article

How X-Ray Microscopy is Changing Industrial Manufacturing and Reverse Engineering

By: Bryan DeVerse, Product Manager, Quantum Analytics

Engineering complex parts and components has always been challenging. As parts become more complex, more involved tool path definitions for casting & forming or chip integration for electronics are required. In the past, manufacturers have used inspection tools like classical coordinate measuring machines (CMM) and vision systems. These tools enable part inspection by providing insights and metrology on their own materials, or that of a competitor for reverse engineering. Metrology tools are generally suitable for surface measurements. But how do they understand what is happening underneath the surface? Gaining insight on complex external and internal surfaces is important, but has often been a challenging task.

Modern inspection tools, like X-ray Microscopy (XRM) allow engineers to capture, analyze, measure, and inspect internal structures quickly and non-destructively.[1] And by doing so, manufacturers save time, improve product design, and can make quality enhancements.

Each industry has its own manufacturing processes. Whether it be automotive, aerospace, medical technology, electronics, or consumer goods, each industry faces its own potential material or product defects that are normally hidden from the eye. The ability to X-ray parts paves the way for new applications, including inspecting internal defects and the dimensional measuring of internal structures to structural material analysis. XRM has proven particularly useful during the design phase to help streamline research and development projects.

What is XRM?

Simply put, XRM uses X-rays to see through the part. It collects thousands of scans from different angles by rotating the sample and projecting onto a 2D detector. Then the projections are reconstructed as a 3D volumetric image.

xrm cheat sheet
Figure 1: An XRM cheat sheet prepared using actual images of a commercial dice recorded in the authors’ laboratory.[2]
With XRM, you can study the entire part, inside and out. It can be used to understand things about a part that is almost impossible any other way. This includes shape analysis and dimensional measurements, density differences, material differences, and porosity. From these collected images, manufacturers can produce a CAD drawing which can be used to replicate and reverse engineer parts and components. With reverse engineering, the goal is often to produce a CAD model of very high-quality surfaces, or “idealized”, where faces are perfectly flat, holes are perfectly round, and surfaces are all seamlessly blended into one another.

What are the reasons for reverse engineering?

Reverse engineering of parts and components is performed for various reasons. Failure analysis, fault isolation, trustworthiness verification, and obsolescence management are all common. Some companies engage in this type of analysis for not-so-honorable reasons, including cloning, counterfeiting, and identification of vulnerabilities. Reverse engineering is a process where the goal is to reproduce, duplicate, or enhance manufactured parts based on the study of an original object. Whatever the motivations are for reverse engineering, inspection technology like XRM is changing the way (and the speed) in which metrology measurements are performed.

Benefits of XRM for reverse engineering

XRM-assisted reverse engineering is the process of generating CAD files from the reconstructed 3D images. Modern manufacturing techniques, such as numerically controlled machining, 3D printing and rapid prototyping, require CAD files. Therefore, it is becoming essential to have CAD descriptions of parts for manufacturing.

There are many cases where 3D CAD files are not available. This includes manufacturing replacement parts, revising designs of older parts, and updating CAD designs to reflect the actual manufactured parts. XRM-assisted reverse engineering can generate accurate 3D CAD files to meet these needs.

3d rendered small stepper motor
Image 1: 3D-rendered volume of a small stepper motor.
Bruker SKYSCAN 1273 X-ray microscope
Image 2: Bruker SKYSCAN 1273 3D X-Ray Microscope (XRM)

Summary

Bruker’s portfolio of desktop 3D X-ray microscopes (XRM) is providing industrial manufactures enhanced metrology tools which provide fast, non-destructive characterization of samples from µm to cm scale with resolution down to a few microns in minutes. Learn more about these instruments (SKYSCAN 1272 XRM, SKYSCAN 1273 XRM, SKYSCAN 1275 XRM, SKYSCAN 2214 XRM), and request an application consultation or pricing information.

References:

  1. “Design for X-Ray Computed Tomography.” Procedia CIRP, Volume 84, 2019. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S221282711930996
  2. “Microcomputed tomography–based characterization of advanced materials: a review.” Materials today Advances, Vol 8, December 2020. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S259004982030031X#undfig1
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