Bruker Detection serves the safety and security market with high-grade analytical equipment, and has built a proud reputation for its user-friendly and rugged security products that protect against chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive (CBRNE) threats. Dr Norbert Klöpper, head of business unit ETD, discusses the importance of robust screening systems and how these will evolve in the coming years.
Dr Nobert Klöpper: Since 9/11, the screening for traces of explosives or explosive trace detection (ETD) has become an integral part of passenger screening. ETD adds an extra level of security. They are usually placed after scanning hand luggage, using X-ray detection methods, at metal scanning gates next to body scanners. The aim of this technology is to identify individuals that have been in contact with explosives, by providing airport security with thorough checks.
On average, 10-20% of passengers registering negative readings on the other scanning systems have to undergo this procedure. The systems currently deployed tend to rely on ion-mobility-spectrometry (IMS), which provides high sensitivity. The principle of IMS is quite simple: a swab sample taken from passengers' luggage, laptops or mobile phones is placed into the machine, in which it is rapidly heated to 200°C and the resulting vapour is ionised by means of a radioactive source to create ions that are examined by their flight time in an electric field.
The use of these radioactive sources is a major hurdle for operating authorities since regular checks for radioactivity need to be performed, according to legal requirements, which also demand the proper tracking of these instruments.
Recent technological developments mean that non-radioactive ionisation sources can be used, so the burden on authorities is drastically lower. Another crucial point is the use of consumables such as swabs and filters that play an important role in the total life-cycle cost. Here, novel design approaches provide better value for money.
The major issue for ETD in the current security approach is that swab samples need to be taken manually to assure that the surface most likely contaminated with explosive traces are screened. This means that there needs to be proper operator training to conduct this task in a timely manner, as analysis time lasts about ten seconds, which can cause a throughput issue.
Bruker Detection is continuously updating its product line for ETD based on IMS technology. After the success of the DE-tector, a bench-top system for swab samples at passenger checkpoints, it introduced the RoadRunner, which is a dual-mode handheld system for vapour tracing as well as for swab samples particularly suitable for cargo screening.
In line with its continuous efforts to offer the best value for money to our customers, Bruker Detection will launch the novel DE-tector flex at inter airport in Munich in October. This system offers a higher operational flexibility with built-in batteries for flexible deployment, while maintaining the operational robustness of the well-known DE-tector.
The key benefit of both products is that they are using a non-radioactive ionisation source that avoids the legal burden on the operating organisations. Furthermore, the consumables are reusable, which reduces the total cost of ownership. Technical features such as automatic internal calibration reduce the logistical burden on the operator and allow them to focus purely on their screening task. The systems are already in use with trusted forwarding companies, which highlights the low number of false alarms compared with existing systems on the market.
Bruker Detection's motto is 'innovation with integrity' so, in this case, it means it has taken the field-proven IMS technology and added features such as non-radioactive ionisation and reusable consumables, which are novel approaches in signal processing to improve performance and reliability. The company's major goal is to provide its customers with the most economic and user-friendly equipment without compromising performance.
Bruker Detection is actively participating in projects run by the EU and DHS to look for novel approaches in ETD. Enhanced mass spectrometry technology might be the future of ETD passenger screening since this technology drastically lowers false alarms and provides more selective results. However, size and weight constraints need to be taken into account.
As an example, the EU has rolled out new regulation regarding the requirement of ETD screening in aviation, and we believe that other countries and areas will follow. This opens a new market to the industry. Bruker Detection thinks that in five years, ETD screening will definitely be a requirement; however, customers will force the industry to provide solutions with the lowest possible burden in terms of radiation safety regulations and total life-cycle cost. With its new products, DE-tector flex and RoadRunner, Bruker Detection is well prepared for this challenge.