Following the acquisition of the new industrial X-ray system late last year, the testing lab at the Pepperl+Fuchs location in Mannheim now offers X-rays of products for internal purposes. Dr. Johannes Braun, Global Functional Manager QM Laboratory, and Michael Wittek, Quality Engineer X-Ray, explain the options the new system has unlocked.
What’s new about industrial X-ray imaging, and why has the company decided to use it internally at Pepperl+Fuchs now?
Dr. Johannes Braun: The method is essentially the same as the one familiar to us from medicine, from X-rays and computed tomography (CT) scans. There’s also nothing new about using it to visualize structures in electronics. However, we previously had to rely on external providers for that. It was very time-consuming, since we had to make an appointment first and they tended to produce standard images, which resulted in a lot of follow-up questions and rework. With the new system, we can now offer these scans to our colleagues from the various departments ourselves, with only short lead times.
Michael Wittek: In concrete terms, the X-ray system allows us to scan various kinds of objects in the electronics segment and visualize their internal structure. We can X-ray individual components, like resistors or semiconductors, fully assembled PCBs, or finished sensors, even if they are encased in metal. We used to have to open up the objects, and for cast parts, that necessarily meant destroying them. Plus, in the worst case, it also led to incorrect assumptions. Now that we can X-ray them, the objects remain intact during scanning. The new method also saves us a lot of time.
In operation since the beginning of the year…
How did you come to have the new X-ray system?
Dr. Johannes Braun: We had been thinking about buying an X-ray system of our own over the past years, but given the high costs, it was a question of the return on investment, of course. A market analysis was performed, and then we set the ball rolling in the first quarter of 2022. We compared various systems and tested them on site using Pepperl+Fuchs products. One of the systems emerged as the clear winner. The 3.5-ton unit, which measures two by two meters, was installed in our testing lab in Mannheim in December. It was like a Christmas present for us, in a way! In March, Mr. Wittek had already moved to the testing lab to work with us, bringing his specific expertise from the Customer Service Center in order to operate the system going forward and, especially, to interpret the results correctly. In the months leading up to the delivery of the X-ray system, we both completed the radiation safety training required to operate the system. After an intensive testing and practice phase, the X-ray system officially went into operation on February 20.
So what options does the new X-ray system open up for Pepperl+Fuchs?
Michael Wittek: We can use it to do things like X-ray products that are returned to us because of a failure at the customer’s end, which helps us analyze the root cause of the issue. For small parts with tiny internal structures, like semiconductors, we can visualize details down to a size of five micrometers. To give an example, after just ten minutes of scan time, it is possible to see whether a bonding wire in a diode is broken. In the past, this required the production of multiple small images, which was very time-consuming, and since the exact position of the break isn’t known in advance, the process didn’t necessarily yield any findings. Now we can produce initial 2D overview images in just a few minutes, and even 3D CT scans showing the entire interior structure of a test subject are generally complete in just an hour. It’s also possible to verify the quality of our production processes, by analyzing, for example, the solder joints located underneath a component which cannot be inspected visually or air pockets in cast parts. The X-ray system also lends itself to checking externally sourced products when they are received, since it can be used to determine whether they are genuine or counterfeit.
Has the purchase already paid off?
Dr. Johannes Braun: We were surprised to see how many root causes of failures we were already able to identify during the pilot phase, both for customer returns and during the quality control of our own products. We therefore have the impression that the purchase has already paid off at this point. We’ve managed to avoid going down the wrong track and eliminated lengthy trial-and-error processes when looking for the source of failures. The analysis times have been shortened by days or even weeks, no longer incurring huge follow-up costs. In many cases where external X-ray imaging would have been too costly and time-consuming before, we can now do the job ourselves quickly and cost-effectively. Of course, we also have to weigh up carefully whether it makes sense and advise the departments that come to us accordingly.
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