Figuring out a product that you could bring to a customer and help him in his field, especially if the field is the laboratory and industrial nano computed tomography (CT), might be a challenge for some companies. That is why learning your customer’s pain first and then developing the solution is a better approach. This is also the perspective of our CTO, Jakub Šalplachta.

Essential Toolkit NANO is a set of all necessary tools for nano CT sample preparation. The kit contains 18 tools for fixating, slicing, manipulating, and holding various samples. How did the Essential Toolkit NANO came to be? That’s what we are asking.

Essential Toolkit NANO for nano CT sample preparation

Jakub, how did the Essential Toolkit NANO came to be? What was the customer’s pain that you discovered? What was the impulse that led to its creation?

The idea of Essential Toolkit was created when I was working on my dissertation thesis in a nano CT research facility in Brno, CTlab CEITEC Brno University of Technology. I was working in a nano CT laboratory, preparing a sample of pharmaceutical powder, and found out that I don’t have necessary tools for its preparation. But there was no universal set of tools that would be generally applicable in the field. 

Not long after that I was talking to a fresh CT owner. He mentioned, his CT system supplier didn’t offer him tools for nano CT sample preparation into the package, not even the basic ones. Also, colleagues of mine noted facing this issue.

The search for instruments has been a long-term process mostly by trial and error. I had to collect tools overtime. Going through all the channels, comparing the quality, price, and delivery dates and sometimes you have to compromise between these three. 

At that time, I have already been working with the CactuX company, where I launched the CT phantom product line for micro and nano CT calibration. I suggested in a company meeting to find a solution to this. A simplification for fellow CT technicians. So that they don’t have to worry about running into tools of questionable quality, and so that they don’t have to search for it on a million websites by themselves. That we would actually do the work for them. And we came up with the Essential Toolkit.

Sample preparation – that is its own chapter. What does the CTLAB you worked in specialise on? Or what kind of samples did you work with?

I became a member of a CTLAB community in 2016. The CTLAB conducts diverse research, working with a wide variety of samples, from industrial to biological and uses micro and nano CT systems. I was primarily involved in nano CT measurements on the Rigaku nano3DX CT system. I have also cooperated with its manufacturer, the Japanese Rigaku. CTLAB serves as Rigaku’s application laboratory in Europe, demonstrating the capabilities of nano CT technology to customers. 

As a part of this collaboration, I have had the opportunity to work with a wide range of samples, from advanced biomaterials, and textile samples to pharmaceutical samples. Each sample category requires specific preparation procedures and also specific instrumentation. The common goal of all sample measurements is to achieve the highest possible sample stability during CT measurements.

How did you determine the Toolkit’s content? How do you use specific tools in the sample preparation process? What is their best use?

Essential Toolkit, the Nano CT Sample-preparation Kit

In determining what the box should contain, we drew on our own experience with sample preparation as well as what is known to be the best practice of sample preparation in general.

Our main goal was to achieve versatility – a product that could be used for a wide range of samples. We tried to find tools that would address the steps of sample preparation from handling to attachment. Then we wanted sample preparation using our tools to be as non-destructive as possible.

Firstly, I went through literature research about preparation of samples of similar type. I found out how they have proceeded before, how the samples have been measured, and what their CT system set up has been. I implemented their procedure, and I figured what kind of tools would be useful for my preparation process. Of course, I had to test it multiple times, evaluate if it worked and, at the end of this lengthy process, now stands the Essential Toolkit NANO.

You talked about the quality of the instruments. Is there something significant about the materials the ET is made of? What was crucial in the choice (dealbreaker)? What could you not do without?

Yes, the quality of the instruments was also a frequently mentioned topic. For example, our rod holders were originally aluminium, but due to its excessive flexibility we had to switch to stainless steel. This gave us sufficient strength and also low thermal expansion in the normal temperature range for CT measurements.

As an adhesive, we then tried to choose gel adhesives with higher viscosity and sufficient bond strength.

Moreover, air flow in the measuring chamber causes damage to the sample and its subsequent instability. Therefore, we have included tubes in the Essential Toolkit to isolate the sample from this environment. When deciding on the material of these tubes, we also had to consider that the instruments must have a sufficiently low attenuation for X-rays and therefore, Kapton was chosen.

Only as a final step did we start thinking about what we would put the individual tools in so that the packaging would be practical and pleasing to the eye. We clarified our idea and realised it could be done on our 3D printer. So, we did, and a representative box was created.

In which areas does it make sense for ET to be used? What areas did you have in mind when designing it? What areas were you surprised that it could be used for?

It is a versatile tool for a wide range of applications in terms of sample categories.  It is suitable for R&D centres and CT laboratories analysing biological, geological, pharmaceutical, and advanced materials samples. The toolkit is for research centres which need help finding a reliable sample preparation supplier. For new nano CT system owners, whose package did not include basic preparation tools. And for nano CT technicians and supply managers, who are tired of searching for their nano CT sample preparation tools all over the internet. All of those cases were in my mind, when designing the Essential Toolkit.

What surprised me was that someone thought it would be applicable as a business gift. We made the box in a 3D printer, which is now very popular. Because of that, it has quite a design look, so I dare say it’s reasonable.

What was the most challenging part of the Essential Toolkit NANO development process?

The longest time I’ve spent building up my expertise in nano CT samples preparation and identifying all the needs in the field – including preparation procedures and appropriate instrumentation. Creating a commercial product was then a piece of cake.

Essential Toolkit NANO for laboratories conducting nanoCT analysis

We launched the product in October 2022. Technical parameters of individual tools can be found on CactuX s.r.o. Jakub also said that in addition to Essential Toolkit NANO, the company is currently working on a universal toolkit for micro CT, which should be called Essential Toolkit MICRO. This variant should be available to micro CT system engineers during 2023.

Jakub Šalplachta CactuX CTO Sales
Jakub Šalplachta

Chief Technology Officer

Jakub studied biomedical engineering and bioinformathics at the Brno University of Technology. After a short presentation about CTLab he changed his specialisation to nano Computed Tomography. Then he started working in CactuX s.r.o., first as a Phantoms Division Director, now he is the company’s CTO. His ambition for next years is to develop an in-situ chamber for a nondestructive 3D battery inspection

CactuX s.r.o. is developing and producing add-ons for industrial and laboratory X-ray Computed Tomography (CT) systems and offers the services of CT expertise. CactuX was founded in March 2020 by researchers from the Laboratory of X-ray micro and nano computed tomography.