Enhancing Safety and Security in CNC Machining: Trace Detection of Narcotics and Explosives

If you haven’t run across discussions of trace detectors for narcotics and explosives, you will soon.  As we look back on the last decade, it’s truly remarkable to witness our growth trajectory in the field of trace detection for security and defence. We’ve seen our sales in this sector more than triple, reflecting an average annual growth rate of just over 21%. This robust expansion in our business mirrors the wider market trend. The niche market for trace detectors for narcotics and explosives, in which Macfab has been instrumental since the early days, is also burgeoning, with an average growth rate close to 9%. By 2030, it’s projected that the annual budgets for explosive and narcotics trace detectors will reach a staggering $3 Billion.

Narcotics and Explosives -Not an Odd Couple

The two may seem like strange bedfellows, but there are ample reasons for narcotics and explosives to be associated.  Law enforcement is keenly interested in both, while bad actors use similar methods to move them around.  That leaves law enforcement tracking similar quantities which are often treated in similar ways by the people moving them -they’re secreted in hidden spaces and strong-smelling substances like ground coffee are often used to mask their presence.

Drug-sniffing dogs are of limited value in many circumstances.  Chemical-based detectors can be quicker, less invasive, and notably more accurate.   Ideally, such detectors could be built into border crossings, for example, to scan every vehicle passing through without anyone having to exit the vehicle or run manual scans.  Another significant advantage is the potential to change or add specific chemical markers as the substances used by both drug and narcotics traffickers change.

CNC Machining Safety

Macfab has spoken previously here about our early involvement in this field.  Our unique commitment to not just precision machining with difficult materials, but also our focus on cleanliness and cleanroom procedures puts us in a unique position to advance this market.

This really is leading-edge technology.  The probes have to get close enough to the areas where target chemicals might be hidden.  They detect at levels of only a few parts per billion, but the further you are from the source, the faster that concentration drops off to undetectable levels.

Explosive and Narcotic Trace Detection Going Forward

It’s unclear how monitors like this might look in the future.  If the goal is to build them into portals like walk-through metal detectors or border gates, they may rely on air jets to bring enough of the chemicals to the sensors.  Drive-through sensors may have to be combined with handheld probes to cover the internal areas of vehicles.

High energy detector streams by means of radioactive or laser sources can be monitored by artificial intelligence to determine in real-time if tell-tale chemicals are present.  In many ways, this will be a natural outgrowth of other technologies that have been evolving rapidly.

Tomorrow’s detectors will deal with vastly larger samples and perform more comprehensive testing on the environment.  It’s reminiscent of Moore’s Law that states the number of components in a CPU of a given size will double every two years or so as technology advances.  For half a century now, engineers have heralded every new success as the beginning of the end of Moore’s Law.  Each advancement is more difficult than the one before, and they see no way to push the technology that much further.  But someone else finds another way and our capabilities continue to grow despite ever-smaller devices.

The accuracy, precision, and complexity afforded by CNC machining work exactly the same way.   As we learn, our machines continue to give us improved accuracy and speed, better tooling, control, and metrology.  Any idea that we’ve either

  1. Pushed the technology as far as possible, or
  2. Reached a point in precision we’ll never need to pass,

Is nothing but conceit.  Macfab knows this.

Precision is the name of the game.  We can’t skip steps or assume someone else will do them right.  Macfab is often called in to establish protocols and procedures for CNC machine shops that don’t even realize when they’re missing points.  We develop detailed procedures that yield consistent results.  Those details make all the difference in advancements at this level of sensitivity.

When you need to take the physical application beyond where it’s ever gone before, you exhaust everything you know and then look for something untried.  That’s where Macfab excels.