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Nikon Launches Three New X-ray Software Solutions

New lines improve software capability and analysis

Published: Tuesday, January 31, 2023 - 12:01

(Nikon USA: Melville, NY) --Nikon USA launches not one but three new products, and each bring significant improvements to X-ray software capability and analysis. 

The Industrial Metrology Business Unit of Nikon Corp. has introduced a new reconstruction algorithm allowing typical scanning times to be reduced 10-fold. Dual.Material CT, as its name implies, achieves this dramatic increase in efficiency on assemblies comprising two materials of different densities. It significantly improves the ability to distinguish between the two materials in the voxel (3D pixel) image reconstructed from 2D X-rays taken as the component rotates in the chamber of a Nikon X-ray CT machine.

The benefits of X-ray CT for nondestructive inspection and measurement of both the interior and exterior of components are well known. Traditionally, however, CT scanning of assemblies made from two materials, such as metal and plastic, is unsuited to quality control (QC) in a production environment.

This is because a long scan time is required to generate datasets that are sufficiently clear to be processed, which is contrary to the requirements for real-time inspection. Alternatively, with faster scanning speeds, highly skilled operators must manually remove artifacts that appear in the images post-processing to achieve accurate results. Again, this slows the procedure and introduces variability due to human intervention.

Dependent on the size and complexity of the component, prelaunch trials demonstrated that Dual.Material CT performed an order of magnitude faster on a typical metal and plastic connector, making production line integration on the shop floor a possibility alongside sample inspection. Core applications will be found in factories producing over-molded connectors, for example, or medical assemblies such as inhalers or adrenaline pens. Dual.Material CT is also likely to find uses in nonindustrial environments, such as research.

During each image reconstruction, the software engine reduces the degree to which streak artifacts, caused by the higher-density material, obscure the lower-density areas. Typical systems on the market use reconstruction engines that assume the X-rays are monochromatic, when in fact they are polychromatic. This means they must use X-ray filtration, which lengthens exposures and slows image capture. Nikon’s reconstruction engine overcomes the effects of a polychromatic X-ray beam by adjusting the attenuation for the different material combinations in dual-material assemblies, greatly improving the contrast-to-noise ratio. Consequently, the X-ray source with a Dual.Material CT scan doesn’t require filtration, so the detector can be used at much shorter exposures, resulting in faster frame rates and scan times.

As it is automated, reconstruction by Dual.Material CT is highly repeatable from component to component and does not require advanced knowledge of scanning techniques when inspecting assemblies comprising two materials of different densities. Quality control productivity is raised by enabling better visualization and more accurate definition of defects (on the surface or inside a component) in a fraction of the time taken by traditional CT image reconstruction. The high-speed scanning, and the fact that no manual data editing is required, thanks to the new software and automated part handling, enables fast and automated quality control of dual material assemblies in a production environment, consistent with the requirements of Quality 4.0.

Written by Nikon engineers, the Dual.Material CT algorithm is specifically designed to operate seamlessly with the company’s range of X-ray CT machines built in-house. The option is available for all new installations or may be retrofitted to existing equipment in the field, regardless of the machine configuration and its power.

Nikon X-ray CT systems gain OPC UA connectivity to advance shop floor quality control

Demonstrating its commitment to production line inspection and measurement, the Industrial Metrology Business unit of Nikon Corp. introduces its latest software development: Inspect-X Automation OPC UA Interface. From manufacturing execution systems to statistical process control systems, Inspect-X Automation OPC UA streamlines the way diverse hardware and software communicate with Nikon’s X-ray CT machines on the shop floor.

The company’s existing production line systems use a company-developed IPC interface, requiring working knowledge of the X-ray CT system and the Nikon IPC contract. While this interface remains for the intricate control of all aspects of the system, applications on the shop floor are now supported by the industry-standard, platform-independent OPC UA interface. Armed with the knowledge, this then enables integrators to integrate Nikon’s X-ray CT machines with factory automation and production control systems. Therefore, both time and costs are saved when installing or reconfiguring production line systems within a single factory, or across multiple connected facilities around the globe.

Nikon’s alignment with the industry-standard OPC UA communication protocol reaffirms its dedication to developing fully automated, noncontact X-ray CT quality control systems for the shop floor. There is a growing, industrywide trend toward using this technology for feeding back data in real time to optimize production line operation—the goal being zero defects. X-ray CT is especially relevant, as it is able to inspect and measure the interior of components nondestructively as well as the exterior.

The approach whereby inspection drives production rather than just identifying faulty parts is called Quality 4.0. The OPC UA interface is now one of the main communication protocols for networking within Industry 4.0 factories, as a common language is needed to simplify secure data exchange between computer-controlled machines and systems—and that is exactly what OPC UA delivers. Nikon is one of the first X-ray CT system vendors to implement it.

AI-enhanced 3D X-ray scanning accelerates lithium-ion battery cell inspection for the shop floor

Powered by artificial intelligence (AI) from the Industrial Metrology business unit of Nikon Corp., LiB.Overhang Analysis software transforms the assessment of anode overhang in lithium-ion battery (LiB) cells. Through precise and consistent inspection, LiB.Overhang Analysis uses 3D X-ray CT scanning to bring automation to the shop floor—driving shorter inspection cycle times that are crucial during mass production.

The aim of LiB.Overhang Analysis is to encourage more in-line inspection earlier in the manufacturing process to improve product quality. Paired with Inspect-X Automation OPC UA Interface—designed to simplify the way diverse hardware and software communicate with X-ray CT machines—Nikon provides a total solution by combining this new analysis approach with its innovative microfocus X-ray source, rotating target and half-turn CT technologies. Enabling high production yield to meet increasing market demand for batteries, this also results in fewer expensive warranty claims from users of electric vehicles, energy storage systems, and other battery-powered equipment.

The anode in a LiB cell is larger than the cathode to prevent lithium plating and possible dendrite formation. So, there are passive areas on the anode, known as overhang regions, that are not opposed by corresponding areas of cathode. Their dimensions must consistently be within close limits; otherwise, battery performance may be reduced and, in extreme cases, it may spontaneously combust. It is therefore critically important to analyze anode overhang.

The problem with doing this by traditional 2D radiography inspection is that, although fast, it does not provide results that are sufficiently precise or repeatable because it is extremely difficult to distinguish individual layers with a single cone-beam radiograph, especially when the sheets are not perfectly flat.

Automation of overhang analysis by 3D X-ray CT, which is relatively new to the market, eliminates all of the above difficulties. LiB.Overhang Analysis is fast enough to cope with the speed of production lines because it is less sensitive to noise in 3D images acquired by high-speed scanning.

That is because Nikon’s advanced machine learning AI model is able to use prior information to identify and classify anode overhang features and flaws in cells, regardless of the presence of typical noise and scan artifacts. Such scan data would confuse conventional methods of analysis, and produce erroneous results when trying to segment the anode and cathode layers automatically. Much slower scanning would be needed to generate a higher quality image, compromising QC productivity.

Written in-house specifically for the manufacturer’s own XT H-series of X-ray CT systems, LiB.Overhang Analysis software allows battery cells to be scanned quickly, accurately, and reliably, either in-line or line-side in a factory. Nikon engineers fine-tune both the CT scanning parameters and LiB.Overhang Analysis setup to optimize the system’s inspection speed and repeatability.

Anode overhangs are calculated automatically by Nikon’s new software for each layer in the anode/cathode stack, generating not a simple pass/fail result but instead numerical measurements of critical features, so customers can utilize the statistics most relevant to their needs. Either method allows assembly issues to be detected and quantified early so data can be fed back to optimize the production process, increasing throughput and reducing scrap. The inspection data can be stored in a manufacturing execution system database to allow full traceability of each individual cell, consistent with Quality 4.0 practices.

Other unique Nikon technologies play a crucial role in the success of this inspection application, without which the necessary high-speed data acquisition wouldn’t be possible. One is to harness the penetrating capability of the company’s powerful microfocus X-ray sources. Another is to opt for the unique Rotating.Target 2.0, which spins in order to swiftly dissipate the heat generated by the small spot of electrons impinging on the tungsten surface, again allowing higher power than is otherwise possible. Nikon’s Half.Turn CT may also be deployed. Instead of rotating the sample under investigation through 360 degrees during the X-ray cycle, it’s only necessary to rotate it through just over 180 degrees to obtain sufficient data for an image of equivalent quality, doubling inspection efficiency. Read more information here.

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