Insights from industry

Nanomechanical Testing Under Vacuum - An Interview with Michael Davies

insights from industryDr. Michael DAVIES
International Sales and Applications Engineer
Micro Materials Ltd

In this interview, Michael Davies from Micro Materials talks about the new NanoTest Xtreme, which offers nanomechanical testing capabilities under vacuum as well as at elevated temperatures.

WS: Can you give us a brief overview of Micro Materials and your technology?

MD: Micro Materials have specialised in manufacturing nanomechanical testing platforms for 25 years. Our current instrument, the NanoTest Vantage, is the most flexible of its kind available today.

We recognise that users have many differing requirements for nano-scale testing and therefore make our systems as versatile as possible. We achieve this through test modules, which can be specified either at the time of new instrument build or as simple retrofits when requirements change.

Micro Materials are pioneers in controlling environmental conditions for test samples.

This is especially true for temperature, where high and low temperature testing can replicate in-service conditions for materials operating in extreme environments.

In addition to temperature, we also offer full liquid immersion and humidity controlled modules.

Nano-scale testing is not just about indentation. At Micro Materials we recognise the value of other test methods in characterising a material’s performance. To this end we also offer high strain rate impact, scratch, fretting and wear tests to provide users with the most comprehensive tools to characterise their samples.

The NanoTest platform from Micro Materials Ltd

WS: The NanoTest series has recently been updated – what new features have been added, and what applications will these help?

MD: The NanoTest Vantage already offers users the most flexibility of any nano-mechanical test system. To extend this capability even further we have recently launched our latest instrument, the NanoTest Xtreme. The Xtreme complements the Vantage by offering all the same test options but within a vacuum environment.

Testing under vacuum eliminates oxidation of samples at high temperatures and allows low temperature testing to be performed without condensation or frosting. Testing temperatures from below –100°C to in excess of 850°C are now possible. This will allow researchers in a wide range of application areas to working to develop new materials and coating systems for use in the most extreme environments.

WS: What are the key application areas you see the NanoTest Xtreme being used in?

MD: The extended testable temperature range lends itself to the aerospace industry. Researchers in this industry are working to improve the efficiency of their engines. In many cases this involves running at ever higher temperatures. The ability to test prototype materials and coatings at relevant temperatures in a lab environment will be an invaluable tool in progressing their research.

The interest is not limited to high temperature though, as satellites experience a huge variation in temperature during their operation. The ability to test at sub-ambient temperatures means that researchers can look at the effect of temperature cycling on both material properties and wear behaviour.

The aerospace industry is just one example. The ability to perform high temperature experiments in an oxidation free environment is relevant to researchers working in a wide range of fields.

WS: Are there any interesting emerging areas that you think will become more important for you in the future?

MD: We are seeing increasing interest from researchers concerned with materials for nuclear power applications. Materials used in such applications need to retain their properties after exposure to high irradiation dosages and temperatures.

With its high temperature and vacuum capability, the NanoTest Xtreme provides an excellent platform for investigating changes in fundamental material properties under these more extreme conditions without oxidation of the sample affecting the measured properties.

Satellites experience a huge variation in temperature during their operation - the NanoTest Xtreme can help to determine how materials behave under wide temperature cycling under vacuum, which is crucial for developing spacecraft materials.

WS: What advancements and major developments do you foresee in the nanoanalysis field in the next few years?

MD: Environmental simulation is a growing trend, and we are seeing more and more demand for this. Researchers are seeking to test materials in atmospheres as close to their envisaged application environment as possible.

High and low temperature testing is also gaining popularity. Materials are required to operate in increasingly extreme environments, and researchers need methods of acquiring rapid, reliable test results to quantify performance. Instruments such as the NanoTest can now provide such information.

WS: How does Micro Material’s strategy for the near future fit with these developments?

MD: At Micro Materials we develop instruments to meet demands of our users and it is only by paying close attention to what future demands may be, that we are able to design instruments to meet these requirements.

In order to keep up with demand we are currently working toward extending the high temperature capability of the Xtreme to 1000˚C. We have already made significant progress in this area and we foresee completion of this development in the next few years.

WS: What sort of customers typically use your equipment?

MD: Our primary market is in the research and development sector, with researchers at universities making up the highest proportion of users. Our instruments are installed in most leading academic establishments such as MIT and Berkeley in the USA, and Oxford and Cambridge Universities in the UK.

Within industry our systems are used in a broad range of sectors including nuclear, aerospace and cutting tool manufacturing.

WS: Micro Materials run a lot of workshops, masterclasses, and user meetings – what are the main benefits of such close contact with your users?

MD: Workshops provide an excellent balance of indentation theory with practical demonstrations.  They assist existing users in updating their knowledge and provide prospective users with information to aid their instrument choice.

Gathering users from a variety of backgrounds also enables positive discussions between them to share experiences and also provides us with valuable feedback on future development needs.

WS: Where can we find more information about Micro Materials?

MD: Our website has a lot of details and can be found at  Alternatively, our applications specialists are available to answer any questions about new or existing products by telephone on +44 (0) 1978 261 615 or email [email protected].

About Michael Davies

Michael graduated with a degree in Physics at the University of Nottingham, and went on to complete a PhD focusing on the characterisation of the mechanical properties and creep behaviour of power station structural materials at their operating temperatures using high temperature nanoindentation technques.

He joined MML in 2011, bringing a wealth of high temperature experience and knowledge to the existing applications team. Since joining MML, Mike has worked on a wide range of projects and developments further expanding his nanomechanical testing expertise.

For more information about the NanoTest, download the PDF brochure, or visit the Micro Materials website.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily represent the views of Limited T/A AZoNetwork the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and conditions of use of this website.

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