General Cost of a Micro-CT
One of the first questions customers ask us is How much is a micro-CT scanner? The short answer is between $100,000 to over $1,000,000. The longer answer, and the reason for the wide price range, is that the price depends on the types of samples you are scanning and the results you need from the system. This determines the resolution needed for the proper analysis, which determines the choice of x-ray source and detector.
Micro-CT instruments can be as varied as cars and trucks and the different functions they perform. You wouldn’t use a compact car to move large rocks, nor would you use a front end loader to take the kids to a soccer game, although they might find that rather fun. Similarly, you wouldn’t use a low voltage MicroCT system to scan rock cores for oil exploration, nor would it be the best application of a complex nanoCT/microCT combination instrument to scan samples on which you only need routine resolution.
The components that determine a micro-CT’s capabilities also determine the price. The basic components of a micro-CT system are the X-ray source, the X-ray detector, rotational stage, additional motors, and the software. The type and quality of these components determine the ultimate results you can achieve and dictate the cost of the system.
The smallest compact micro-CT instrument can be acquired in the $100,00 range. For a typical benchtop micro-CT instrument the range can be from $200,000 to $450,000 depending on the exact configuration and options. For larger free standing systems you can expect to pay $500,000 – $1,000,000.
Other factors to consider are warranty, training, and the company you are choosing to partner with to advance your research.
The X-Ray source generates the electromagnetic X-rays needed to acquire the transmission imaging. Two main specifications are commonly quoted for the X-Ray sources: the maximum applied voltage and the X-ray spot size. An additional option on some systems is the target material of the x-ray source.
X-ray voltage: The applied voltage indicates the highest energetic X-ray photons that are emitted from the source. This is not to say all of the emitted X-rays have this peak energy. In fact it is a distribution of X-rays with a range of energies from zero kV to the applied maximum voltage. Higher energy x-rays allow you to image larger and more dense objects. Lower energy x-rays are better for scanning lower density materials to achieve better contrast.
In practice, to generate higher X-ray energies, more expensive components are required. This translates to higher overall system prices for higher maximum applied voltages. You can expect to pay more for a 100kV source versus a 50kV source and even more for a 190kV source.
X-ray Spot Size: The X-ray spot or X-ray focal spot is the point where the X-ray cone beam originates. In an ideal geometry, the point of the cone is infinitely small. By definition, a point is a 1-dimensional object without a thickness. In reality the point of the cone where the X-rays originate is a 2-dimensional object. You can think of it as a cone with the tip cut off. Therefore, the tip is actually a circular parameter with dimensions usually specific as a diameter, referred to as the spot size.
The size of the focal spot directly affects the best achievable resolution. A typical clinical CT system will have a spot size on the order of 500 microns. Micro-focus sources used in micro-CT systems usually have spot sizes ranging from 50um down to 1um. (Note: the size of the spot is not typically changeable in a source. So you get a system with a spot size of 5um or 50um but not typically both.) A nano-focus source will have a focal spot less than 1 micron. Decreasing the size of the X-ray spot requires sophisticated components which results in an increase to the system price. So expect to pay more for a system with a submicron source vs a 50um source. Conversely, you may not want to pay more for a submicron source if you only need 5um or 50um resolution.
X-ray Source : 30 – 60% of the total cost
The other main component which affects your final resolution and image quality is the detector. There are two basic technologies of X-ray detectors used for micro-computed tomography: Charged-Couple Devices (CCD) or Complementary Metal–Oxide–Semiconductors (CMOS). There are pros and cons for each type of architecture in regards to imaging. Matching the correct detector to the correct x-ray source is important enough to be treated separately in the article (What Is the Difference CCD Versus CMOS).
Detector Size: X-ray detectors rely on intricate semiconductor technology to create arrays of pixels that capture an image. The larger the array of pixels (4kx2k vs 1kx1k), the more costly it is to produce. Large area detectors are ideal for computed tomography because it is possible to acquire images from larger samples but still maintain good resolution and/or reduce the number of scan rotations to image a larger volume (versus line detectors). The more pixels you have in your detector, the finer the resolution your image will be. For example if you have a 1kx1k detector with a 5mm field of view you will have a 5um pixel size with 1,000 slices each 5um apart. But if you have a detector with 2kx 4k pixels that same scan would be 1.25um with 2,000 slice each 1.25um thick, assuming that the pixels are isotropic. The number of pixels has a large influence on the ultimate resolution of the sample image and what you can see in it.
Detector Noise Level: the detector quality is measured in background noise level, called dark current. High quality scientific detectors reduce the background noise level for high sensitivity. Lower noise level of detector will increase the price.
The quality of x-ray detector and the number of pixels is important for you to get the best results from your samples and is often the most expensive component in the micro-CT.
Detector 40-60% of the total cost
The rotational stage (for ex vivo micro-CT specimen scanners) or the rotation gantry (for in vivo micro-CT scanners) dictates how accurately the sample can be rotated; contributing to the degree of accuracy with which the projection images can be reconstructed. As the required degree of accuracy goes up, such as the case with conducting nano-CT, or when imaging heavy objects where the weight must be accounted for so not to cause misalignment, the cost of the stage will increase. The finer the stage the finer the detail you will be able to see in your sample.
We have examined the major hardware components of a CT system but there are of course other factors that contribute to the overall performance and price of the unit. As a major purchase that will be used in your research for years to come, you want to make sure you fully evaluated the total system and services that are offered, along with the company with which you are partnering.
Getting a nice image is critical, but so is the ability to visualize and analyze the data. Understanding the features of the software programs included with the micro-CT scanner is critical to determining the intrinsic value of the system. What platform does the software run on? What investment in additional computing power will you have to make? Is there a cost for additional licenses? Are there fees for updates? How often are software updates released? Is the software developed internally or will support be provided by a third party? Is analysis software included with the system or is that provided by a third party? For information on Bruker micro-CT software visit What software can I use to view and analyze my micro-CT data?
Free – $30,000 per year
With the advancement of computational power, micro-CT datasets have increased in size exponentially. For instance, the SkyScan 1272 with the 16MP X-ray detector can generate 14450 x 14450 pixels in a single cross-section. That is 200 mega-pixels in a single image! Ensuring your newly acquired piece of equipment comes with an equally suitable engine to run it well is important to your workflow and ability to output data.
$ 4,000 – $ 15,000
Training and Application Support
Can you be sure you are going to get the right education to use the system? Does the company offer free customer support? Are there trained staff available and if so, how long have they worked with micro-CT? Is there continuing education offered past the initial install? What happens if a new student needs to be trained on the system?
(???????) – Can be invaluable
Understanding the warranty that is provided with the instrument is critical to a true valuation of the price. Having assurance that you will not have unexpected out-of-pocket costs is important. The initial warranties can range from 6 months to 2 years. Are extended service contracts offered? Do they offer more than just covering repairs (further training for instance)?
6 – 10% of the purchase price per year
So…How much is a micro-ct scanner ?
You can see that the results you need go a long way in determining the cost of the micro-CT system you are investigating. Besides choosing the right instrument for your application, software, warranty, and selecting a partner who is willing to assist in your selection and to make sure you and future users are thoroughly trained can be just as instrumental to your success as the hardware itself.