Why It Is Important to Select the Correct Scanning Electron Microscope?

You are looking to purchase a new scanning electron microscope (SEM), as you are aware of your need for increased SEM capability. Perhaps you currently possess a traditional floor model SEM, but it is time-consuming and difficult to operate, or perhaps you are utilizing an external service with excessively long turn-around times.

You have argued that your company could greatly improve their business performance and you could carry out your own role more effectively if SEM imaging and analysis were simpler, quicker and more accessible. Could a desktop SEM help you to resolve your issues? This article offers the answers needed to assist you in choosing the most appropriate SEM for your needs.

Floor Model SEM vs. Desktop SEM

The decision between opting for a desktop SEM or a larger, floor model system almost always comes down to cost: desktops are a much cheaper option. However, there are other features that make a desktop solution an attractive option, even when cost is not the principal consideration.

Scanning Electron Microscopes: Pricing & Affordability

The first issue to be addressed is pricing. Desktop SEMs usually cost a fraction of their floor model kin. There are circumstances in which the greater cost of the larger systems is clearly justified, for example, when the necessary resolution is far beyond what can be achieved with a desktop SEM system.

Nevertheless, today’s desktop SEM’s can provide resolutions smaller than 10 nm, which is sufficient for 80%-90% of all SEM applications. The first question to ask is, is this sufficient for your needs?

Following the initial purchase, a number of further costs are incurred when establishing a floor model scanning electron microscope system:

  • Facilities – usually a dedicated room at the least, with the possibility of specialized foundations and environmental isolation
  • Extra space and equipment for sample preparation; employees – a dedicated operator, trained in instrument procedures and sample preparation.

It is important to note that although the price of the equipment and facility are chiefly fixed costs of acquisition, the salary of the operator is a continuing expense that will continue for the lifetime of the instrument.

Evidently, a desktop SEM solution, which is cheaper to purchase and does not necessitate a dedicated facility or operator, is the more cost-effective choice, so long as its abilities fulfill the needs of the application.

Other Decision Factors When Selecting and Buying a Scanning Electron Microscope

(1) Microscope Speed

Desktop SEM systems need very little sample preparation, and their flexible vacuum requirements and small evacuated volume permit the system to display an image at a much greater speed than a standard floor model system.

Additionally, desktop SEMs are generally operated by the consumer of the data, removing the time required for a specified operator to carry out the analysis, formulate a report and share the result.

As well as quicker results, there is significant intangible value in the immediate nature of the analysis and the user’s ability to manage the investigation to react to observations in real-time.

Lastly, in some uses, such as inspection, longer delays incur a real cost by putting more work-in-progress in jeopardy.

(2) Microscope Applications

One should also ask, is the application routine well defined? If so, and a desktop SEM can deliver the necessary information, why incur higher costs? Worries about future needs surpassing the desktop capability should be assessed in terms of the likelihood and timing of the potential requirements, as well as the accessibility of external resources for more demanding applications.

Even in cases where forthcoming requirements will outstrip desktop capability, the primary investment in a desktop SEM can still be of value, being put to use to supplement a future floor model system, perhaps being used for screening, or to carry on performing routine analyses while more demanding applications can be managed using the floor model system.

A desktop system can also be the basis for the justification of a larger system, demonstrating the value of SEM while permitting an experience-based assessment of the requirement and costs of more advanced capability from an external provider.

(3) Microscope Users

A final question to be asked is how many operators will be making use of the system? Are these individuals trained? If not, how much time are they prepared to spend training? Desktop SEMs are easy to use and need minimal sample preparation. Procuring an image can be as simple as pressing a set of buttons.

More complex processes can be carried out by users with precise requirements who are prepared to spend more time training. Generally, a desktop system has far lower requirements for operator training, and the system itself is much sturdier. It is more difficult to damage, and the potential repair costs are much lower.

Purchasing a Scanning Electron Microscope: Take-Away Points

To review, the primary decision parameters when choosing a SEM are:

  • Cost
  • Speed
  • Usage
  • Operators

The key question to consider when looking at these factors is: Can a desktop SEM fulfill my application needs?

Experience dictates that in the majority of instances, it will. If a desktop SEM is indeed appropriate for your application, your investment requirements will be far lower than those for a floor model SEM, as desktop systems are usually priced at a vastly lower price than their floor model counterparts.

As noted earlier in this article, in some instances, the greater cost of a bigger system is defensible, such as when the resolution needs surpass those which can be achieved using a desktop system.

On the other hand, modern desktop SEMs can supply resolutions less than 10 nm, which is sufficient for 80%-90% of all SEM applications. The key question is: Will this meet your needs?

This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by Phenom-World BV.

For more information on this source, please visit Phenom-World BV.

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