Industrial X-ray & CT Scanning: Which is Best For Your Needs?

Understand differences between industrial X-ray and CT scanning. Know when to use each for detailed inspections and precise measurements.

Victoria Russman
Victoria Russman

Both industrial X-ray inspection and industrial CT scanning are popular imaging methods. Automotive, aerospace, additive manufacturing, and many other industries use these methods to inspect the internal structure of components or to detect contaminants. While both these methods use X-rays, they differ in their capabilities. So, what are the differences between the two methods? What is the appropriate use of each method? We try to answer these questions.

Technology and Image Capture

Industrial X-ray Inspection

Industrial X-ray machines generate 2D images that engineers can use to inspect the structure of plastics, ceramics, composites, and metals. Industrial X-ray inspections reveal important information about the density, thickness, and shape of objects. An inspection can help identify defects such as cracks and porosity or foreign object contamination.

Industrial X-ray inspection, also called Radiographic Testing (RT), is a non-destructive testing (NDT) technique that employs X-rays or gamma rays to inspect the internal structure of manufactured components. In this process, the test piece is positioned between the radiation source and the film (or detector).

X-rays are then captured by the detector, which produces a flat image. The internal features of the object are represented in different shades of gray, depending on material density and thickness.  

Industrial CT Scanning

The process involves taking multiple 2D images of the object scanned from different angles. These images are then reconstructed using algorithms to create a 3D representation of the object inspected.  

Detail and Accuracy

Industrial X-ray Inspection

Industrial X-ray machines generate good surface images of objects. A drawback of industrial X-ray inspection is that different layers of an object inspected can overlap in 2D images, and some features can be hard to distinguish. It is less capable of distinguishing materials of similar densities.

Industrial CT Scanning

Computed tomography overcomes the shortcomings of industrial X-ray inspection by eliminating the possibility of overlapping. It can help distinguish between different features, making it easier to characterize and locate defects externally and internally. CT allows for virtual slicing and detailed analysis of internal structures.

Time and Cost

Industrial X-ray Inspection

Industrial X-ray inspections usually take less time than scanning objects and cost less. If you want to quickly inspect flat components with simple geometry, industrial X-ray inspection may be a better choice.

Industrial CT Scanning

The time it takes to perform a CT scan depends on material properties, size, and number of parts. It is typically considered speedy and efficient, but may take more time than X-ray inspection. It is more costly due to the complex processes used to collect data and process images. However, investing in industrial CT scanning services is a worthwhile cost. Outsourcing can avoid high capital expenditures and costs to maintain equipment and trained personnel.


Industrial X-ray Inspection

Industrial X-ray inspection is used in several industries for quality control and testing. Here are some applications of industrial X-ray inspection:

  • Aerospace and automotive - In these industries, X-ray inspections are conducted to detect simple surface and internal defects.  
  • Electronics - Electronics manufacturers conduct X-ray inspections to identify soldering defects and component misalignments and check circuit board integrity during the production of electronic components and assemblies.
  • Food and pharmaceutical industries - In these industries, industrial X-ray systems are used to inspect packaged goods for foreign contaminants (metal, glass, stone, and high-density plastics). Industrial X-ray inspections are also carried out to test package integrity.  
  • Construction & infrastructure- Industrial X-ray systems can help inspect welding joints (in pipelines, bridges, and buildings). Industrial X-ray inspections enable construction and infrastructure companies to detect flaws early, so they can be fixed promptly to prevent structural problems.  


Industrial CT Scanning

Here are some common applications of industrial CT scanning:

  • Automotive - Industrial CT scanning can be used to inspect automotive components to ensure they meet quality standards. It helps with failure analysis and can also be used to reverse engineer parts.  
  • Aerospace - In the aerospace industry, CT scanning is used to inspect complex, lightweight components for defects such as cracks, voids, and inclusions.  
  • Medical devices - Medical device manufacturers use CT scanning to inspect parts of medical devices with complex geometries and unique features. CT scanning can also be used to compare samples to design intent, or for standards compliance.
  • Additive manufacturing - Additive manufacturing companies use CT scanning to inspect the internal structure of printed parts, ensuring that they are free of defects (such as voids and other inconsistencies). CT scanning is also conducted to check the density and geometry of parts.  
CT scan of assembly analysis on a plastic bottle

When to Use Each Method

Use industrial X-ray inspection if you
  • Want to inspect welds, castings, and composites with varying thicknesses and densities for defects.
  • Plan to rapid test multiple samples.  
  • Want to inspect components with relatively simpler internal structures.  
  • Are working on a tight budget.  

Use industrial CT scanning if you
  • Want to scan components with complex geometries.  
  • Need high-resolution images that reveal even the tiniest defects.  
  • Want to inspect assemblies and reverse-engineer products.  
  • Are looking for colormap comparisons.


Outsourcing to a service provider allows companies to leverage advanced CT technology and expertise without significant upfront investment, making it a cost-effective solution for detailed inspections.

Nel PreTech offers a wide range of industrial CT scanning services. Our team consists of knowledgeable physicists and mathematicians who understand the science behind X-ray imaging. To discuss your requirements with our team, call 708-429-4887.

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