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The rise of liquid metal bearing X-ray tubes

por Lauren Dubinsky, Senior Reporter | August 16, 2021
Parts And Service
From the August 2021 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

Chronos’ Fitzgerald thinks that cost-effective tube solutions are the answer to this problem. That could take the form of a lower initial cost of the tubes, longer lifetime or both.

Richardson Healthcare wants to make tube use and installation as easy as possible, according to Olsen, so that hospitals with in-house maintenance teams have the option of supporting their own equipment. The company hopes this will ultimately help reduce the cost of healthcare.

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A cold cathode future?
Over the last 125 years or so, the basic principles behind X-ray tube technology have remained fundamentally the same. There have been advancements along the way, but nobody has reinvented the wheel. Today, that may be changing. New tube technology is in development that could make it much smaller and require less energy than conventional tubes. If it succeeds, it could signal a paradigm shift in access to imaging around the world.

Conventional tube technology operates using thermionic emission, but Nanox Imaging Ltd.’s new X-ray tube runs on cold cathode technology. Instead of being electrically heated by a filament, this new approach digitally generates electrons.

“Purely from an intellectual perspective, before seeing exactly how it could work, it sounds like a really good idea,” said ECRI’s Launders. “You can make things a whole lot less expensive because any time you make a device with moving parts like liquid metal bearings, the device is going to wear out.”

Nanox claims that their technology can avoid a few of the main causes of tube failures. Filament burn wouldn’t be a problem because a silicon chip is used instead of a metal filament, and anode cooling requirements can be lowered because two of these fast, low-cost tubes can be used instead of a single standard tube.

“Their tube is like what an LED is to a lightbulb — LED has now pretty much replaced regular light bulbs,” said Launders. “The company is hoping that their solid-state X-ray device will basically make regular X-ray tubes obsolete.”

In April 2021, Nanox received FDA clearance for its Nanox.Arc single-source digital X-ray system, which leverages the company’s digital X-ray tubes to generate 2D CT and tomography scans. The company is touting the system as a less expensive alternative to conventional X-ray systems.

“At an atomic level, it looks like it makes sense, but we need to see the full product to see if it will really perform,” said Francisco Rodriguez-Campos, senior project officer at ECRI.

There is a long road ahead for Nanox if it plans to replace conventional X-ray tube technology.

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