X-ray Microscopic Inspection of an Electronic Cigarette

Figure 1: Volumetric rendering of e-cigarette device

E-cigarettes are battery-operated devices that heat a special liquid to produce an aerosol that users inhale. They come in a range of shapes, with some looking like USB drives and others looking like pens.

Marketed as tools for quitting or cutting down on smoking, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classes e-cigarettes as tobacco products because the e-liquid usually contains nicotine.

Typically e-cigarettes or vaporizers have four main components: a battery, a tank, an atomizer, and a drip tip. The battery powers an electrical current that travels to a wicking material surrounding a metal coil. The wicking material is soaked in an e-liquid that is then heated up by the metal coil. The liquid eventually reaches a temperature at which it converts to a vapor, which is inhaled through the mouthpiece.

For a non-invasive inspection of this e-cigarette, we utilized our high speed SkyScan 1275 that contains a 10W X-ray source with a 100kV accelerating voltage, allowing us to image small electronic devices despite the density of the solder joints.

X-Ray Microscopy Imaging of an e-cigarette

As can be seen from the view in Figure 1 above, the high-speed acquisition mode within the SkyScan 1275 allowed us to complete an entire overview scan of the electronic cigarette in under 30 minutes. This type of rapid overview imaging is useful for ensuring assembled components are in the correct location and orientation as part of the manufacturing quality control process.

Figure 2: Planar views of reconstructed data from the e-cigarette

As shown in Figure 2, the densest regions of the device are within the circuit board where components are soldered in place. While the metallic battery collector is visible in these images, the individual battery layers and spacers are not resolved at this resolution. For more insight on the battery, the data could be acquired at higher resolution to separate the individual layers of the battery from one another. In this case, we used the SkyScan 1275 to capture a portion of the battery at an isotropic voxel size of 13 µm (Figure 3).     

Figure 3: Trans-axial view through the battery with individual layers resolved

Figure 4: Clipped volumetric rendering of e-cigarette through the battery layers and circuit board

In examining the dataset in 3D, we can digitally isolate any regions of interest for closer inspection (Figure 4). This digital inspection ability provides quality control engineers an irreplaceable view within assembled electronic devices without the need for destructive and time-consuming disassembly.


The SkyScan 1275 allowed us to quickly capture the overall assembled state of the e-cigarette device using the high-speed imaging modes and the full 10W of available power. While the intent of this acquisition was to provide a general overview of the sample as a manufacturing quality control checkpoint, high resolution images could be obtained on other regions of interest within the sample to extend the study effectiveness. To demonstrate this, we also captured a high-resolution view of the battery layers at an isotropic voxel size of 13 µm. We hope you found this Image of the Month informative and encourage you to subscribe to our newsletter and social media channels in preparation for the continuation of our image of the month series next month.

Scan Specifications

Sample e-Cigarette Battery
Voltage (kV) 100 100
Current (µA) 100 100
Pixel Size (µm) 50 13
Rotation Step 0.4 0.2
Scan Time (HH:MM:SS) 00:29:27 01:01:20

These scans were completed on our high-speed desktop SkyScan 1275 system at the Micro Photonics Imaging Laboratory in Allentown, PA. Reconstructions were completed using NRecon while visualization and volumetric analysis of the 2D and 3D results were completed using Dataviewer, CTVox, and CTAn.

Would you like your work to be featured in our monthly newsletter? If so, please contact us by calling Seth Hogg at 610-366-7103 or e-mailing seth.hogg@microphotonics.com.

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