A technician scans a ceramic body armor plate with an x-ray machine made by Creative Electron, Inc. The inspection is necessary to assure the buyer that they’re getting exactly the product they ordered. After all, this plate is part of a layered defense designed to stop high-powered rifle rounds, armor-piercing ammunition and high-speed grenade fragments. The plates are carried in special pouches in body armor worn by police, soldiers and even doctors and journalists working in conflict zones. This job is important, and the technician has to pay attention. There are also thousands of plates awaiting a similar inspection that has to be completed before the items can be delivered to the customer.
The technician uses an x-ray scan of the plate to measure the physical dimensions to make sure it fits the specification of the customer order. Then the tech checks the density of the ceramic material and the thickness. All good so far, the plate matches all the customer requirements. But the tech notices a slight smudge in one corner of the plate, a defect that’s barely noticeable to the casual observer. By comparing the image of the defect to thousands of pictures of similar defects, the tech is able to determine whether or not the defect is serious enough to affect the physical performance of the plate.
After careful study and comparison the tech determines the smudge is likely caused by a minor problem in the manufacturing process, and, even though the small defect doesn’t impact the physical performance of the hard armor plate, the tech flags the item and creates a report to send to the armor plate manufacturer to review their handling procedures.
Rise of The Machines
Everyday police and military personnel trust their lives to how well that tech does that inspection and the truly amazing part is that the inspector, the one so many people depend upon, is actually a machine. A machine that completes those scans, measurements and comparisons in mere seconds. There are actual humans involved but their job is to load the automatic feeder and to retrieve the finished plates on the other side, everything else is taken care of by a small computer inside the body armor x-ray machine itself running a digital intelligence that handles the actual inspection process.
Creative Electron, Inc., a California company specializing in x-ray inspection technology, first began operation in 2008 and, like many California companies, it started in the founder’s garage. Dr. Bill Cardoso, an immigrant from Brazil, has grown the company from five employees in 2010 to over 50 today. The company first became aware of the need to inspect body armor panels in 2014. Ceramic body armor inserts going to large customers, like the U.S. military, needed to be inspected for quality and defects before being delivered.
“It’s required that they be inspected before they [the hard armor panels] are shipped out,” says Carlos Valenzuela, Vice President of engineering. “And these are huge contracts.”
Speed and Efficiency
In last generation body armor x-ray machines those inspections were slow, tedious and required a great deal of manual input. It took skilled labor to operate the machines and human eyes to inspect each panel. With the Creative Electron product, the process takes seconds and, because the unit is completely contained, it doesn’t require any special certification to operate. Unskilled labor can be used to load and unload the machine and all the x-rays and analytics are contained within the machine.
Creative Electron discovered that companies were buying multiple x-ray machines to meet the contract deadlines.
“One of our key advantages is the speed of our machines,” says Carlos. “With some products on the market it can take as long as two minutes to scan one plate. Our machines can do the same job in fifteen seconds.”
The cost of the Creative Electron machine is mitigated by the increased throughput. Customers that previously needed two or three machines and trained crews to finish certification by a deadline can meet the same schedule demand with a single machine that can be operated by unskilled labor. Because the x-ray examination is conducted completely within the machine itself, there’s no requirement for a special license or operating permit.
A Machine That Learns
Once the Artificial Intelligence (AI) brain of the machine is trained with x-rays of defective products, it can then learn to spot those defects in new products coming off the assembly line. While this particular unit is specific to body armor, Creative Electron can customize the AI and x-ray machine combination to perform rapid inspections on a wide variety of products and engineering applications. Even something as simple as verifying that a box with a return item contains the same product that was mailed to the customer.
Ease of use, lack of a permitting mandate, superior throughput and consistency are one of the reasons more police, military and security units are trusting their lives to ceramic body armor inserts inspected by Creative Electron x-ray machines.