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OEM Story #1 – Medical Instrument Maker

Stumped by a tough imaging problem? Recently, a medical instrumentation maker contacted us with just such a problem. They created a scintillation technology that needs a low-light camera to detect photons in a unique way. Together, we developed a solution. Here’s how.

Diffraction Limited creates innovative solutions for low-light imaging, and we have nearly 30 years’ experience solving these problems for science and industry. The medical equipment maker had tried inexpensive imagers with lacklustre results. Then they contacted Diffraction Limited. We brought our business development and engineering experts to the “virtual” table with their domain experts. Together, through video conferencing, we sketched out several ideas, and possible constraints on the problem.

To successfully measure such an extremely faint light source, it’s necessary to combine the light from large numbers of pixels. Unfortunately, CMOS sensors do not have analog binning capability, so the resulting read noise would be higher than the signal they were measuring. This is a job uniquely suited to CCD technology. Unfortunately, the popular and inexpensive ON Semiconductor (Kodak) CCD sensors are no longer available, but we still have access to very high-performance sensors from other manufacturers. We prescribed an evaluation kit for one of our Commercial-Off-The-Shelf low-light CCD cameras, often used in astronomy and spectroscopy. We prepared a sample camera and test software and sent it to their office.

A few minutes after opening the box, they were up and running with the evaluation package. Initial images were formed shortly after fabricating some optical and mechanical adapters. It looked viable; the signal-to-noise levels met their targets. Further tests and discussion with the extended team of experts from both sides led to some areas for refinement. Some of their application areas require the ability to acquire an extremely fast burst of data. Leveraging our product’s uniquely flexible FPGA and memory architecture, we were able to devise a custom firmware modification to achieve their performance objectives.

A little over a week later, our medical instrument partner flashed the new firmware into the camera’s FPGA, installed a software update, and was getting images with low latency and excellent signal-to-noise performance. They were pleased with the solution, and confident that Diffraction’s ISO9001:2015 accredited manufacturing facility could deliver the goods with quality and reliability.

The new instrument is already being used in research applications. Our customer is now working towards ISO13845 medical device certification for use in medical applications. Working together as a team, Diffraction Limited and our customer’s domain experts were able to resolve challenging issues and bring an entirely new scintillation measurement capability to market.