Analytical X-ray technology has become an integral tool in today’s research methodology. An industry leader at the forefront of this technology for material analysis, Bruker AXS continually aspires to create more accurate and easy-to-use analytical X-ray instruments.
The company designs and manufactures analytical equipment used for elemental analysis, material research, as well as structural and surface examinations. Bruker AXS equipment is used in a range of fields from heavy industry to pharmaceutical research labs and academic institutions. With headquarters in Madison, Wis., the firm’s international reach extends to various engineering design, production and service facilities in Germany and Japan.
“[Bruker AXS] designs analytical X-ray equipment that allows the user to characterize materials at a sub-molecular level,” says Mark Stover, continuous improvement manager. At one end of the spectrum, a cement plant may need this equipment for analyzing different composites to ensure that they adhere to the plant’s manufacturing requirements. At the other end, a pharmaceutical company could use Bruker AXS technology to analyze the molecular structure of a protein sample. The company also provides solutions for chemistry, ophthalmic, semiconductor, solar, life science, nanotechnology and academic research laboratories.
The company focuses on three different analytical X-ray technologies: X-ray fluorescence, X-ray diffraction and single-crystal X-ray diffraction. The instruments themselves can range from bench top models to a single machine the size of a small SUV.
“These instruments are generally used pretty heavily – whether it’s by a physicist in a university laboratory or an industry researcher,” Stover claims. The company leads the industry in single-crystal X-ray diffraction technology, he notes.
Ease of Use
As the market has evolved, analytical X-ray technology use has become more widespread. “A major change that we’ve noticed is that users want equipment that is easier to operate – regardless of whom the operator is,” says Randy Randell, manager of Detector Operations. “In the old days, the user was likely to be a Ph.D. chemist who had studied X-ray crystallography.” Current operators may not have that type of background.
Some very critical elements of analytical X-ray technology lie in maintaining a very precise physical relationship between the X-ray source, the experimental sample and the detector. In adapting to this high level of precision, Bruker AXS has developed machines that automatically perform these alignments.
“The user basically selects what components to use and the system reconfigures and realigns, making changes to experiments a much simpler process,” Randell asserts. “In our most automated instrument, the user can set the sample in the front opening, the sample will align automatically and the machine will record and display the data.”
According to Kline Wilkins, senior vice president of operations, Bruker AXS has simplified the machinery for the user by enabling the electronic and software components to control the equipment. “Though they’re more complex to manufacture, they’re much simpler to operate,” he notes.
To keep informed of the latest needs of its clients, Bruker AXS team members attend various industry conferences and closely monitor research literature. In addition, the company utilizes the assistance of a Scientific Advisory Board, whose members are experts in analytical X-ray technologies and applications.
The company aims to maintain a competitive edge by introducing technical innovations before its competitors. Bruker AXS recently expanded its Small Angle X-ray Scattering (SAXS) technology by integrating the IμS microfocus X-ray source with Bruker’s VANTEC-1 detector into the Kratky MICRO series of SAXS cameras. This MICROCalix system allows users in chemistry and drug discovery research to “simultaneously execute SAXS and calorimetric investigations, while the new MICROPix system is ideal for high-throughput analysis of protein size, shape and size distributions in 10 minutes,” the company claims. “[This technology] opens new market opportunities in molecular biology and drug discovery which so far were accessible only when using large-scale research facilities with synchrotron sources.”
Another recent product introduction is the Photon 100, which is the first complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) active pixel sensor detector for crystallography applications. One key benefit of this detector is that the CMOS technology eliminates the need for an external cooling system. “This is important because eliminating the need for a chiller reduces the power consumption of the system, the space needed for the instrument and the general hassles that come with having to maintain another piece of equipment,” Stover claims.
Though CMOS technology is not new, the Photon 100 extends Bruker AXS expertise in digital detector technology used in x-ray diffraction. “It is something like going from using film-based image making to digital-based images, and then on to making images with the latest digital chip innovation,” Stover says.
He adds that the platforms on which the instrument works – the D8 Venture and D8 Quest – are fairly new to the market. “Since we have introduced these systems to the market, we are finding a very strong customer response,” he declares.
Bruker AXS instruments are manufactured by assembling and aligning components in the instrument enclosure. The entire system is then tested according to the company’s internal procedures as well as the customer’s test specifications. Because of the precise performance requirements of these instruments, manufacturing methods require special processes.
To ensure quality, the ISO 9001 2008-certified operation performs internal audits of manufacturing and testing processes in addition to maintaining control of design and development documentation. “Our ISO 9001:2008 system provides a continuous improvement mechanism called CPAR [corrective or preventative action requests] for employees to report problems in the manufacturing process,” Stover says. “We use root cause analysis to investigate these problems and take appropriate steps to fix them.”
Training is a major focus of the firm’s sales efforts. “We have a whole department dedicated to training users on our equipment,” Stover says.
Training facilities are located in Madison as well as Germany, The Netherlands, Japan and China. Bruker Training Central is an online portal that delivers live or on-demand e-learning classes. Online support is also offered, allowing customers to access training videos, machine manuals and software updates.
When a customer purchases an instrument, initial training is conducted by the service technicians who install the new equipment. “One of our application scientists will typically schedule a follow-up visit to our customer’s facility to help them customize how they will use their new instrument,” Stover says.
Employee training also is critical to Bruker AXS operations. “Technicians and service personnel receive classroom training as well as on-the-job training by experienced technicians,” Stover says. “Employees are also given X-ray and general safety training as well as an orientation to the ISO system.”
All employees are encouraged to learn about the company’s products. “When we manufacture a new instrument, everyone can participate in the demonstration,” he says. “Whether they’re in administration or manufacturing – everyone is welcome.”
“Bruker AXS has a strong name in the scientific community,” Randell says. “It’s a fairly small community of researchers who frequently interface with our application scientists and service engineers – either through face-to-face meetings or through our online support portal.”
In addition, clients can depend on Bruker AXS equipment to perform accurately and reliably, Wilkins asserts. “If there is an issue with the instrument, our clients know they can get troubleshooting advice at any time of the day or night.”
According to customer satisfaction surveys that Bruker AXS conducts with its customers, more than 75 percent of respondents say that they are very likely to recommend the company’s equipment to colleagues. “When customers are willing to recommend [our instruments] to a colleague, we realize they’re putting their own reputations on the line – which says a lot about our products,” Wilkins notes.