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Automatic Exposure Control


Lecture Overview
Introduction on AEC
Purpose of AEC Types of detectors

Technical consideration with AEC

Limitation of AEC

The Automatic Exposure Control (AEC) requires a special

understanding on the part of the radiologic technologist.

AEC is one method for setting exposure factors to ensure that

a quality radiograph image is produce.

The AEC is a device that measures the quantity of radiation

that reaches the image receptor.

It automatically terminates the exposure when the image

receptor has received the required radiation intensity.

Automatic exposure control devices can assist the

radiographer in producing consistent radiographic images from patient to patient, regardless of size or presence of pathology.
The advantages of this consistency are numerous and

decreased repeat rate; decreased patient exposure; and increased department efficiency.

Purpose of AEC
AEC is a system used to consistently control

radiographic density by terminating the length of exposure based on the amount of radiation reaching the image receptor.

When an AEC device is used to terminate an exposure, the technologist sets the kVp and mA, but the time of the exposure is automatically determined by the machine.
The AEC device differs from a manual timer because the AEC does not stop the exposure until the film has reached an appropriate density.

X Ray tube Collimator Beam


Soft tissue Bone

Patient Table Grid AEC detectors Cassette

AEC should produce consistently optimal density

radiographs because based on sensitometric, specific amount of radiation to the film produce specific density.
If the x-ray exposure is terminated when the

exposure corresponding to optimal density is reached, the resultant radiograph should demonstrate optimal density.

AEC Systems
AEC devices work by the same principle of operation: radiation is transmitted through the patient converted into an electrical signal terminating the radiographic exposure. Two types of AEC have been used: Phototimers Ionization chamber (most common) Regardless of the specific type of AEC system used,

almost all systems use a set of three detectors, arrange in same specific manner.

Phototimer type AEC Units

Phototimer Type AEC Units

Consist of
a fluorescent screen, a photomultiplier tube (PMT) or photo tube and a complex circuit connected to a timer designed to terminate the


The fluorescent screen is adjacent to the photomultiplier

tube and both lie behind the Bucky grid and cassette.
considered as exit-type devices because the detectors are positioned behind the image receptor

Phototimer Type AEC Units

Light paddles coated with fluorescent material; converting

radiation to the light.

The PMT receives the light energy and converts it to

electrical energy
The timer is tripped and the radiographic exposure is

terminated when a sufficient large charge has been exposed

The amount of light produced by the screen depends on

the amount and energy of the X-rays reaching the fluorescent screen.

Phototimer AEC






Ionization chamber system

Ionization chamber system

Ionization chamber is a hollow cell that contains air

and is connect to the timer circuit via electrical wire.

Ionization chamber AEC devices are considered

entrance-type devices because the detector are positioned in front of image receptor.
Compare to phototimers, ion chambers are less

accurate, but there are prone to failure.





X-rays penetrate the thin aluminum shell and strike the air molecules.

Electron released and ionization occurs.

The electrons are attracted to the positively charged electrode and are carried through an electrical circuit

The charge travel along the wire to the timer circuit.

The timer is tripped and the radiographic exposure is terminated when a sufficient large charge has been exposed

Even though the ionization chamber and the phototimer operate differently, they both have the same function:

convert radiation into an electrical signal which will be used to automatically stop the exposure when the film has reached the proper density

Technical Considerations with AEC

To use AEC to its advantage, radiographers must be aware of some important technical consideration peculiar to AEC system.

Patient positioning Bucky selection Detector selection

Effects of mA, kV and SID


Density setting

Backup timer


Patient Positioning
AEC units use detectors to receive radiation passing

through the patient, it is important to properly position the anatomical part of interest over the detector. If the detector receives radiation coming from another anatomical area, the exposure can be either too long or too short, overexposing or underexposing the film. If the radiographer positions the anatomical part correctly, the AEC unit will produce a radiograph exhibiting proper density.

Patient Positioning
If the radiographer positions the anatomical part correctly, the

AEC unit will produce a radiograph exhibiting proper density.

Without a technologist who is very knowledgeable

about anatomy and positioning, automatic timers are worthless.

In fact, they may actually decrease department

efficiency because of the increased amount of repeat radiographs that will result if used improperly.

Detector Selection
Proper detector selection must be made for an AEC unit to

produce the desired radiographic density. There are usually 3 detectors that are connected to a complex electrical circuit. Any single detector or a combination of two or three detectors, can be selected for a radiographic exposure. Failure to select the proper detectors will increase patient dosage because the exposure must be repeated to correct the underexposure or overexposure of he first radiograph.

Density Setting
The AEC devices are equipped with density controls allow the radiographer to fine tune the radiographic density that is produce by the unit.
These are generally are in the form of buttons on the

control panel that are numbered -2, -1, +1, +2.

These button changes exposure by some

predetermined amount or increment expressed as percentage.



+4 +3

+100 +75

+1 0

+25 0

-2 -3 -4

-50 -75 -100

Backup Timer
The backup timer is safety device that prevents

excessive exposure to the patient in cases of timer switch failure or radiographer error.
The backup timer must limit the exposure to a

maximum of 600mAs

Collimation affects the production of scatter radiation. As collimation increases, the field size decreases and the quantity of

radiation decreases.

The detector is unable to distinguish transmitted radiation from

scattered radiation.

Because the detector is measuring both type of radiation, the timer is

turn off too soon when scattered is excessive, which result in underexposure of area of interest.

The radiographer should open the collimator to the extent that the part

of being radiographed is image properly, but not so much as cause to stop the AEC device to stop the exposure before the area being image is properly exposed.

Bucky selection
The Bucky must be correctly selected.
Failure to do so results in the patient and the image

receptor being exposed to excessive radiation. The backup time is reached, the exposure terminated. The radiographer should be certain to deactive the AEC system and use manual technique when performing any radiographic study where the image receptor is located outside the Bucky.

Effects of mA, kV and SID

When using the AEC units, the radiographer does not

set the exposure time. But the radiographer can influence the exposure time according to the mA and kV setting he chooses. If the mA is changed, X-ray quantity also changes, high mA, produces more X-rays so the exposure time will be shorter and vice versa. kV setting also influences exposure time when using AEC. High kV setting, higher energy X-rays are produced, more of the X-rays will also penetrate the part , resulting shorter required exposure time. Vice versa.






Interchangeability of film-screen system

Different film-screen systems cannot be interchanged

easily once an AEC is calibrated to produce specific densities. When calibration is performed, it is done for a particular film-screen speed. The AEC device cannot sense when the radiographer use different film or screen, resulting in too much or too little density.

Minimum Response Time

The minimum response time represents the shortest

exposure time possible. Minimum response time usually longer with AEC system. This can be problem with some segment of patient population, such as pediatric patient and uncooperative patients.

Lack of calibration
Failure to maintain regular calibration of the unit and

AEC device result in radiographs that lack consistence, reproducible, and appropriate density.