The costs of a microCT scan

MicroCT is a very powerful technology, though it does not come for free.

When running a project, either in academic or industry settings, we are always faced with budget restrictions. The challenge is getting the most out of the money we invest.

This post wants to give you an idea on where the microCT costs come from. To do that, it is useful to break  down the microCT activities into the following: Administration, Measurement and Reconstruction, Analysis, and Reporting. Costs may vary depending whom you talk to, but I believe the following pie chart gives a good idea about cost breakdown.

If your study must be run under Good Laboratory Practice (GLP), you will have to multiply the total cost times 1.2 or 1.3, but let’s leave GLP out of the equation. Of the above activities, only three are associated to deliverables that the end-user would probably consider as useful, i.e. Measurement and Reconstruction, Analysis, and Reporting.

The cost for Administration can be considered fixed, whereas the Measurement and Reconstruction cost, despite variable, is something one has obviously to pay for if you want to use micro-computed tomography. So there is a 60% left that is linked to activities we may or not want to do, depending on what outcome we are interested in.

A cost efficient approach applicable to some studies, like for example a formulation screening study, may consider two steps:

  1. Measurement and Reconstruction: assess your product qualitatively by looking at the 2D images. Images already tell a lot, e.g. they give hints on the presence of defects in a sample, or on the efficacy of a certain treatment, or on its mechanism of action.
  2. Analysis and Reporting: only after step 1 decide whether it is worth running the analysis, or maybe restrict it to a subgroup of samples

If you have read this post hoping to find out how much a scan costs, I will try not to disappoint you. Cost depends on many factors, as on whether you work with a company or a university lab; on the country where the service is performed; on how many samples you want to process; on the sample size and resolution; on the complexity of the project. Indicatively, a company can charge from 100 EUR for a simple scan, up to 1’000 EUR for a large sample that requires custom analysis. A university lab can be cheaper, say 50 to 500 EUR. Working with a company or university lab depends on the type of services one is looking for.

It would be great to read your comments and hear from your personal experience!

5 thoughts on “The costs of a microCT scan

  1. Mike Marsh

    This is a nice topic for discussion.

    But you should consider two very different use cases, which will give you very different pie charts.

    If you have a routine analysis workflow, and you deliver to the customer the same analysis routinely, then your figures may be correct. Consider the digital core sample analysis service provided by many labs now. They may have some standard workflows that have an easily reproducible “analysis” deliverable. But they may also have one-off cases that require custom analysis.

    So now you must consider custom analysis or research activity. If the work is novel, and the analysis has not been sorted out before, then the analysis wedge of the pie approaches (or exceeds) 95%.

    Cheers,
    Mike

    Reply
    1. Enrico
      Post author

      Mike, what you are saying makes a lot of sense. It is true that standard applications for which automated software analysis has been developed require much less resources for the analysis compared to custom projects where unique analytical methods have to be developed. Not only the relative cost % of the analysis part of the pie is smaller for routine applications, but also the absolute cost of the whole microCT study, being on the low side of the range mentioned in the post (~150 EUR/sample).
      However, 95% or more of the cost covered by analysis seems to be quite high according to my experience as an industry service provider. Figures may be different for research institutions, where the considerations of Alex Ball’s post (see below) may be applicable.

      Cheers,
      Enrico

      Reply
  2. Alex Ball

    This is a decent enough consideration of one aspect of the costs, but really only considers the staffing costs. The lion’s share of the costs for CT analysis comes from the recovery costs for the facility, so would be made up of a proportion reflecting the investment cost for the instrument itself, the ongoing cost for the service charges, the facility costs for housing and running the instrument and finally the data storage and data transfer infrastructure.
    To this you could also add the cost of IT investment in processing workstations, software and maintenance of the software.

    Typical start-up costs for CT facility might run to €650,000 or more, with ongoing annual costs of €50,000. If this is considered as a 10-year investment with respect to write-down, then there is an annual cost of around €105,000 to be recovered.

    If the working year is 250 days, the the daily costs to be met, to break even, will be in the order of €420. Divide this by the number of scans you might expect to collect, this depends very much on the materials you are working with and the scanner performance, and you can calculate a base cost for a per scan rate for data acquisition.

    This should be added into your pie chart above and I would suggest it would be the largest slice!

    Alex Ball
    EM Unit Manager at The Natural History Museum,
    London, UK

    http://www.nhm.ac.uk/research-curation/science-facilities/analytical-imaging/index.html

    Reply
    1. Enrico
      Post author

      Alex, you are presenting very interesting information, thanks. A very helpful and realistic overview on what the costs for purchasing and running a microCT scanner are. When I wrote the post I assumed that the costs you are referring to in your comment are split among the cost items in the pie chart. So, for example, the measurement and reconstruction part would include the costs for the amortization of the scanner and part of the IT costs.

      What you are writing is very valuable to the other readers who are considering to purchase a scanner. “Doing microCT” does not only include the cost of the scanner, but must also consider the operator, his/her training, the software, etc… It would be interesting to hear other opinions on this topic!

      Cheers,
      Enrico

      Reply

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