Innovative technology mobilises life-saving portable x-ray systems across the globe

June 2020

Revolutionary light-weight mobile x-ray systems, developed in South Australia, are delivering next-generation imaging capabilities to medical, security and defence agencies world-wide.

Adelaide-based company, Micro-X, has created a novel carbon nanotube (CNT) x-ray tube to build the world’s first ultra-lightweight mobile x-ray imaging system. The technology platform is the first innovation in x-ray emission since the diagnostic technology was developed a century ago.

Designed to be small, and ruggedly mobile, the DRX Revolution Nano system delivers a fully integrated imaging capability for applications in the medical, security and defence sectors. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in December 2019, global demand for Micro-X’s high-tech mobile x-ray units exploded and the Nano is being used across multiple countries to diagnose and monitor lung infection caused by coronavirus.

Micro-X’s CNT project commenced in 2017 with the intention of establishing and proving its carbon nanotube and x-ray tube technology in-house. The project resulted in a key addition to Micro-X’s intellectual property portfolio, in form of a published Patent for ‘Large Scale Stable Field Emitter for High Current Applications’. Obtaining control over the complete design, engineering, testing and manufacturing process at Micro-X’s Tonsley facility has afforded substantial benefits including reduced costs and cycle time, improved quality and increased scalability. Most recently, it has provided Micro-X with independence in the supply chain and presents enhanced flexibility in future product designs.

Micro-X’s small team of world-leading experts in engineering physics chemistry and nanomaterials science have worked with assistance from Flinders University, the University of Adelaide and the South Australian node of the Australian National Fabrication Facility (ANFF-SA).

Research chemist, Susanne Sahlos, was introduced to Micro-X and ANFF-SA while studying her Bachelor of Science degree at Flinders University. Majoring in chemistry with a nanotechnology specialisation, Susanne became aware of Micro-X’s intriguing work and, through a collaboration with Flinders in 2018, she became a part of Micro-X’s highly coveted research and development team.

That same year, Susanne participated in ANFF-SA’s free Microengineering Winter School during her mid-semester break. She sought to build her knowledge of world-class microfabrication techniques and equipment available through ANFF-SA’s state-of-the-art facilities at the University of South Australia’s (UniSA) Mawson Lakes campus.

Susanne’s work centres around the development of mobile x-ray imaging devices based on CNT technology and she says access to advanced microfabrication facilities through ANFF-SA’s co-located facilities at UniSA and Flinders University has been of high importance to the Micro-X team.

“Our research is novel, and we often work on prototyping, which can require specialised surface treatments of the materials we use, followed by assembly in a cleanroom environment,” said Susanne. “The facilities at ANFF-SA are perfect for our requirements and we work closely with UniSA and Flinders University.”

Susanne says the ability to improve health care, as well as defence and airport security, is a constant motivator. She is thrilled to be part of Micro-X’s award-winning product design team and to have ongoing and exceptional support from ANFF-SA’s staff.

“Our x-ray technology is game-changing. We are continually working on product optimisation and new product development,” said Susanne. “This brings new challenges resulting in further exciting research and ANFF-SA staff show real interest in our problems without compromising the confidential nature of our projects.”

With a portfolio of innovative products in the pipeline, Micro-X has completed compliance testing of its Rover mobile X-ray unit for deployed military hospitals. Currently under development is the Mobile Backscatter Imager (MBI) to image Improvised Explosive Devices for security, defence and counter-terrorism applications and a mobile baggage scanner for airports. It is anticipated that these capabilities will create at least another 20 new high technology engineering and manufacturing jobs at Micro-X in the next 18 months.

ANFF-SA is a world-class micro and nanofabrication facility providing researchers, academics and industry open access to cutting-edge equipment and facilities. Offering support from expert staff specialising in microfluidics, organic electronics, biomaterials, novel semiconductor materials and characterisation, we can help optimise the design and development of your next project.