Over the past two years, heavy travel restrictions worldwide due to the Covid-19 pandemic have resulted in a mass depreciation of passenger throughput in airports worldwide. This has impacted heavily on both revenue for airlines and airports, thus resulting in major budget constraints on security equipment upgrades.
It is no secret that most airports are currently holding-off on the upgrading of infrastructure and developments until such time as travel bans and restrictions have been eased and passenger throughput begins to increase once more.
With the forcing of airports to shut and restricted numbers for travel, this has led to security X-ray machines, often being used on a continuous basis in the past, now being left dormant for months on end. X-ray emissions are controlled by an X-ray generator source, which, when not used for long periods of time, require a lengthy warm up cycle in order to protect the individual components within.
With machines not in daily use, it is imperative that when starting the machines back up once again, several procedures are put in place to both maintain the safety of those working around the machines and in order to protect the critical components inside the units. Many service providers offer various levels of either ad-hoc services and/or service level agreements in order to maximise the longevity and life cycle of the machines. Even though numerous critical infrastructures and companies have had to implement a ‘work from home’ directive, X-ray machines should still continue to be serviced until such time as being back to full operational status.
One industry to note, however, where X-ray machines have continued to be operational throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, is the air cargo industry. With the mass distribution of PPE (personal protective equipment) worldwide and a major back up of container availability and shipping space for sea freight, this has affected the ability to move cargo around the world at a reasonable pace. Backlogs of up to three or five months have resulted in companies and individuals sourcing alternative shipping methods to move cargo and commerce faster.
What impact has this had on the X-ray industry?
There are two primary methods of screening cargo to make it known as ‘safe’ to transport via air, X-ray screening machines and K9s. While K9s are extremely effective in the detecting of contraband, they do come with their limitations. Larger items and palletised goods are often required to be broken down into smaller sections in order for the dogs to process cargo practically, this in turn takes time and often results in a very costly exercise.
X-ray machines with larger tunnel sizes and higher generator outputs, however, allow for the screening of larger to mid-size items in one process, giving cargo agents the ability to move cargo at a far higher throughput and thus increasing revenue and decreasing overhead. In the recent years, as a manufacturer of X-ray equipment, HISSCO has seen the need for cargo companies to expand the size of the X-ray machines they once used, for example, machines with a tunnel of 1 metre x 1 metre are now being replaced with 1,5 metre x 1,8 metre Dual View systems in order to screen at a much higher rate.
Additionally, many companies are now automating their processes by implementing high-speed conveyors, automatic weight and dimension technology and paperless systems matching the X-ray image with the necessary documentation.
But this type of X-ray screening is no longer just restricted to cargo companies, numerous ports and border agencies and environmental departments are now implementing large scale X-ray machines for the screening of cars, containers and passengers for the detection of mis-declared items, contraband and banned substances. I’m sure we have all seen the show ‘Border Security’, where customs agencies in various countries often have large scale findings of items such as cigarettes and clothing that are usually misconstrued on the manifest and declared as something else. But why is this so important?
Items being imported into the country often hold some form of duty or tax liability and thousands of these items slip through the system daily. This results in massive loss of income for revenue services worldwide and by implementing the correct screening procedures and equipment, agencies are able to recoup millions of dollars every year. And while X-ray screening equipment is costly in the short term, it is estimated that the average return on investment is as little as six months.
Can X-ray machines automatically detect contraband?
In short, X-ray machines, as is the case with dogs, also have their limitations. X-ray machines break substances down into three primary categories: organics, inorganics and mixed materials. These substances are represented in three colour pallets, orange for organics, blue for inorganic and green for mixed substances. X-ray machines, depending on the size of the X-ray generator source used, are able to penetrate items up to a certain depth based on the density of the items being screened. By identifying the mass and density of the item, the software developed (machine specific) is often able to put certain substances into categories such as explosives or narcotics.
New software technology and algorithms are constantly being developed and within HISSCO’s own in-house team of software developers we are now able to create deep AI (artificial intelligence) learning of certain items and substances to automatically identify objects based on their size, orientation, density and shape based on an extensive and ongoing library. This deep learning cycle we call the ‘Black Box’ will quickly and effectively assist operators to identify certain items, not necessarily just threats, but also including contraband using a simple on-screen prompt, thus taking a lot of the guess work away from the operator. While several manufacturers of these types of systems have already successfully implemented this, it is still in the infancy stage of of being at a point whereby an operator is no longer primary but secondary.
Screening solutions from HISSCO?
HISSCO International is a one stop shop, supplying the entire spectrum of security detection equipment from people-screening to container scanners and everything in between. These include advanced CT systems, explosive, drug and metal detection, fully automated conveyor and tray return systems as well as manufacturing a full range of security X-ray machines for commercial, governmental, aviation and industrial applications.
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