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Jan 05, 2010

De Beers scanning technology could be used at airports

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The research and development (R&D) arm of diamond giant De Beers, DebTech, said that it is ready to make its body scanning technology available to the market, as airports step up security following an attempted terrorist attack in the US.

Western countries have started implementing full body scanners at international airports to identify potential threats, after a Nigerian citizen tried to set off an explosive device on a flight bound for Detroit from Amsterdam on December 25.

The US has since announced new screening procedures for 14 countries, which would include full body pat downs, searches of carry-on luggage and full-body scans.

International Air Traffic Association director-general and CEO Giovanni Bisignani said in a recent statement that the air transport system could not support 100% pat down searches over the long term, recommending a smaller percentage of intensive pat-downs should be accompanied by technologies or proportionate screening procedures.

The UK and the Netherlands have already indicated that they would be implementing body scanners, while Nigeria’s civil aviation authority has reportedly said that it too would implement such procedures this year.

DebTech marketing manager Nico van Zyl told Engineering News Online that it had already started discussions with the Airports Company South Africa (Acsa), while it plans to also market its Scannex X-ray body scanner, which was formerly used primarily for resource protection by the De Beers group, in other international countries.

Acsa on Monday said that it was not yet planning to implement the use of full-body scanners.

However, DebTech saw great potential for the Scannex system to be rolled out in airports in the US and in Europe.

The low X-ray dose, full-body scanner is able to detect very small diamonds, while the X-ray dose is small enough to allow for a number of scans to be performed on a person each year without health risks.

The scan is also nonintrusive and only provided an outline of a person’s body, such as with medical scans.

A Scannex unit would cost about R3,7-million each, excluding support costs, Van Zyl said.

However, the system was not labour or maintenance intensive.

The unit would require at least one person to operate the system, while four or more viewers could be connected to a scanner simultaneously.

Van Zyl explained that once a scan was completed on one person, he/she could be moved to a separate waiting room, while another person could enter the scanning area.

A viewer could then assess the scan of the person in the waiting room and if nothing of concern is found in the scan, the viewer would open the waiting room door to let the person through.

A number of waiting rooms could be used, allowing the scanning area to remain open.

With scans completed in ten seconds, DebTech has recorded up to 90 scans an hour with one unit, Van Zyl noted.

DebTech was providing maintenance training and viewer training for the system under the auspices of the University of Johannesburg and could also provide remote support if necessary, he added.

Meanwhile, Van Zyl said that the company expected demand for these scanners in Africa to continue coming mainly from the diamond and precious mining sectors.

The Scannex system was already being used at a number of mines in South Africa and Namibia.

Edited by: Mariaan Webb
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