Five Factors You Need to Know When Purchasing X-Ray Scanners

Whether you are a first-time buyer or an industry veteran, here are the 5 critical factors you need to know when purchasing an x-ray system.

1.Tunnel Size

X-ray scanners screen a variety of items, ranging from backpacks to cargo and even vehicles. A scanners’ tunnel size determines what types of objects it can screen, and it is typically measured in centimeters (cm) as width by height. Most x-ray scanners, including Astrophysics’, have their tunnel size in their name. For example, our XIS-6040 has a tunnel that measures 60 cm by 40 cm, making it easy to determine the size for each scanner. 

Astrophysics categorizes x-ray scanners by their tunnel size and general use, as shown below:

  • Mail and Small Parcel Size Range: 53.3 cm x 35.8 cm – 65.7 cm x 45.1 cm
  • Checkpoint Size Range: 60 cm x 40 cm – 75.6 x 55.2 cm
  • Hold Baggage Size Range: 58.4 x 78.3 cm – 100 cm x 100 cm
  • Cargo Size Range: 58.4 x 78.3 cm – 181.1 cm – 180.5 cm
  • Mobile Size Range: 100 cm x 100 cm – 101.6 x 81.4 cm
  • Vehicle & Freight 305 cm x 320 cm – 375 cm  x 500 cm

2. Generator Power 

X-ray generators are the energy source in scanners. They emit beams of electromagnetic energy that pass through the objects being scanned. Detector arrays in the x-ray scanner and a manufacturer’s proprietary software transform that x-ray data into images for security personnel to inspect for threats and contraband. The important thing to note when choosing a scanner is the generator’s power, measured in kilovolts (kv). More powerful generators with a higher kV deliver greater steel penetration and are more capable of screening dense objects. X-ray generators are the most expensive and valuable component in an x-ray system. 

Generators typically range in power from 90kV up to 450kV. Astrophysics offers generators at 90, 160, 180, 200, 320 and 450kV. Generator power is especially crucial when scanning checkpoint and cargo. Generators range from 160-180kV for checkpoint scanners, 200-320kV for conventional cargo systems, and up to 450kV for the Astrophysics Multi-View CT™, a revolutionary 3D CT cargo system with two times the power and four times the speed of conventional cargo products. 

We recommend discussing what you plan to screen with your sales representative, including specific objects you will scan and steel penetration you expect to need. Although a higher powered generator increases scanner costs, you want to avoid purchasing a system with too low-powered a generator that cannot scan the objects you are screening – then you will not achieve your security mission. 


3. Image Quality

X-ray scanners are only as effective as the quality of their imaging. If an x-ray manufacturer produces low quality images that are blurred or pixelated, it will be challenging, if not impossible, for operators to screen effectively and identify threats and contraband.

Astrophysics is known for our R&D culture and our relentless innovations in x-ray software technology. We pride ourselves in having the best quality x-ray images on the market. Many imaging features have different names across manufacturers, but share similar functionality, including basic imaging functions like: Organic/Inorganic Imaging, Atomic Z# Measurement, and Threat Image Projection. Astrophysics has pioneered many imaging firsts that are now industry standards, including 6-Color Imaging and Real Time Diagnostics. We now offer our exclusive
Enhanced Imaging (EI) software that automatically enhances images in real-time as they pass across the screen. EI eliminates the need for operators to manually manipulate the image and enables them to identify threats and contraband faster and more effectively.

4. Service 

This factor includes product field reliability, service response, customer service approach and service warranty and parts coverage. Nothing is more frustrating than purchasing a new x-ray scanner only to have it frequently out of service because of product reliability and maintenance issues. That is why it is critical to choose the right manufacturer with field-proven products and service metrics including high Mean Time Between Critical Failures (MTBCF) and low Mean Time to Repair (MTTR). MTBCF is the average time a specific product has historically been in the field before a critical failure (i.e. generator), and MTTR is the average time it takes Service to have a scanner operational following a fault or failure. Astrophysics products are proudly designed and assembled in the USA to the highest quality standards, with impressive Service MTBCF and MTTR metrics we will gladly share with customers to demonstrate our service capabilities. 

What is the x-ray manufacturer’s customer service approach? Is that manufacturer focused only on sales, resulting in unsatisfactory or nonexistent after-sales support? Astrophysics is customer-centric and provides not only product customizations that meet our customers’ security challenges and objectives, but also goes above and beyond in customer service satisfaction. Our internal service mantra is “solutions-focused” and is integrated into our service delivery system. We feature a customer service questionnaire on every Astrophysics Service Report and have personnel dedicated to following-up with customers regularly regarding their service experience so we can continuously monitor, improve and provide world-class service.

Service warranty and parts coverage is a crucial, but often overlooked part of service. Astrophysics offers comprehensive service warranty packages with various guaranteed response times, preventative maintenance visits, radiation surveys, refresher operator training and more.  Unlike most competitors, x-ray generators are included in our warranty parts coverage, and we operate them below their maximum to ensure longer lifespans. Generators are the most expensive components to replace! Our holistic approach to system reliability and emphasis on generator lifespan and coverage is especially critical with cargo and vehicle scanner products, making service an important consideration when purchasing a x-ray scanner.

5. Total Cost of Ownership

This final factor encompasses multiple aspects that need to be considered when purchasing an x-ray scanner – ensuring maximum product value with minimal lifetime costs. Not just a scanner’s upfront purchase price- total cost of ownership includes product quality, service parts and warranty, performance, and efficacy – all weighed against the costs and tradeoffs needed to ensure the scanner accomplishes its mission for as long as possible. 

A scanner that is less expensive upfront, but fails frequently, has slow service support and significant downtime, or requires costly generator replacements, has nowhere near the value and low total cost of ownership of an effective, well-maintained scanner. It is critical to evaluate the total cost of ownership, along with the tunnel size, generator power, imaging quality, and service to determine exactly which x-ray scanner is best for your security mission.


Looking to purchase x-ray equipment? Have questions? Email our experts at or call us directly at (909) 598-5488 for more information.

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