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Unlocking the potential of colour X-ray imaging

Silveray wants to help a range of industries get more detail more easily

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We wouldn’t ever go back to black-and-white TV.

Could the rise of colour X-ray imaging lead to a similar major shift across many different industries that need to see inside things from human bodies, to pipelines and beyond?

University spinout Silveray wants to lead the way with its technology. Read on to find out how…

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Silveray wants to unlock to potential of colour X-ray imaging

Silveray’s Dr Karthieka Raja Rajeswaran and Dan Cathie with a mockup of their DXF product

In summary:

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An old mill building just outside Stockport town centre is the unlikely location for a lab where a startup called Silveray is working towards a lofty goal: colour x-rays available at low cost across the world.

While technology from CERN has already been used elsewhere to create the first colour X-rays images for medical use, Silveray wants to tackle markets as diverse as pipeline inspection and airport security, as well as medical use cases.

“In the same way that black-and-white TV moved to colour… colour X-ray gives you more information. You can see more, you can get more detail,” explains Silveray CEO Dan Cathie.

But colour X-rays are a long-term goal for this University of Surrey spinout. In the short term, they’re looking to shake up the existing markets for X-ray imaging by helping industries still stuck with analogue X-rays to go digital.

“Radiographic film is just like the analogue film you had in cameras in the old days… . That's what they still use in loads of industries today,” says Cathie.

“The reason that people haven't moved over to digital flat panel detectors, which is the incumbent technology, is because they can't. They want to, but they can't because they're too rigid, too thick, too heavy, too expensive… various reasons, depending on the industry.”

The first market they’re targeting with their Digital X-ray Film (or DXF, as the startup calls it), is pipeline inspection - the people who check for damaged pipes in sectors like oil production. 

X-rays give these specialists a look at the insides of the pipes to understand how faults and breaks happen, but Cathie says they’re slowed down by the need to use analogue processes, getting images chemically processed before they can be analysed.

If you’re on a submarine or a ship inspecting pipes at sea, that’s obviously an expensive delay.

A render showing how the DXF product can wrap around a pipe to capture an X-ray image

How it works

Silveray’s first product can be thought of as the equivalent of a portable digital camera for X-ray imaging. But how does it work? Cathie explains:

“You effectively have an image sensor, like you would see in your mobile phone’s camera. But it’s maybe better compared to a TV screen. It’s using, effectively, a digital backplane. We coat it with our X-ray sensitive material, so then when X-rays hit our material they convert to a signal, which is then picked up by this digital backplane.”

The resulting digital image can then be transferred to a computer for instant analysis.

Core to Silveray’s technology is its approach that directly creates digital information from X-rays, therefore translating the X-rays into images.

Traditional X-ray detectors use a scintillator to create light from the X-rays. But Cathie explains that this approach leads to tradeoffs between image resolution, radiation exposure, time you have to wait for a good image, and other factors. Essentially, the current approach is inefficient and can lead to suboptimal outputs.

Silveray’s digital approach not only allows for better imaging with fewer tradeoffs, but also smaller, more portable, and potentially cheaper hardware.

So how will they get from here to colour X-rays? Cathie gave me a clear written explanation after we spoke:

“The main technology innovation is in our material, trademarked as NPX. 

“This is made up of a polymer, which gives the material flexibility,  doped with nanoparticles that are sensitive to X-rays. This method of X-ray imaging is called direct conversion because the signal generated is proportional to the energy (wavelength) of the incoming X-ray. 

“Existing detectors are indirect conversion detectors which convert X-rays to light first (with a scintillator), losing the energy information in the process, then use a camera (photodiode) to convert the light into a signal.

“Direct conversion X-ray detectors are therefore capable of creating colour (hyperspectral) X-ray images, whereas indirect conversion detectors are not.”

Cheers: a Silveray team photo

The story so far

Silveray’s technology stems from the work of co-founder Professor Ravi Silva CBE and his team at the University of Surrey. The IP was spun out as a startup in 2019, after which early scoping work and product development began.

Cathie came in as co-founder and CEO in 2022. He was fresh from leaving technology company Nordson, which had acquired his first startup, vivaMOS.

With a background in circuit design and a passion for managing teams and manufacturing, he began his career in the semiconductor industry before moving on to running a glassblowing factory making industrial products.

He was then invited to spin vivaMOS out as a startup from the Science and Technology Facilities Council, commercialising an image sensor for use with X-rays. 

Cathie says Silveray now has a demonstrator product working. However, it’s too small to offer as a commercial product, and the plan is to have a product ready to go out to lead customers for testing and feedback by the end of this year.

Then Silveray plans to start selling its products commercially by the middle of next year.

“There's plenty of engineering and still some problem solving to do in the meantime. But we've got everything in place, we need to be able to get to that stage,” Cathie says.

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