Editorial Feature

Market Report: Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) in Nanoscience

Global Market ReportAtomic Force Microscopy (AFM)

Atomic force microscopy (AFM) is a method of topographical measurement, wherein a fine probe is raster scanned over a material, and the minute variation in probe height is interpreted by laser diffraction.

Surface features only nanometers in scale can be appreciated using AFM, as it has a significantly higher resolution than optical microscopes due to the optical diffraction limit. As of 2021, the global AFM market was estimated at a value of over $480 million, and is projected to reach $806 million by 2031. This article will discuss current and future trends in the AFM market, and highlight upcoming technologies within the technique.

Applying Atomic Force Microscopy to Nanotechnology

AFM is useful in obtaining information about topographical details of a material’s surface, such as surface roughness, and can appreciate nanometer scale features. Besides the surface of bulk materials, AFM can also be used to characterize the dimensions and produce computer-aided images of nanoparticles and other nano-sized objects, such as carbon nanotubes.

Market Report: Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) in Nanoscience

Image Credit: sanjaya viraj bandara/Shutterstock.com

As a physical technique requiring actual physical contact between the probe and sample material, it has several advantages over similarly high-resolution electron microscopy techniques, requiring less preparation and being more suitable to a wider variety of low-density materials.

Soft and malleable materials like proteins can also be examined by AFM because the forces between the probe and sample a relatively weak.

Recent Developments in Atomic Force Microscopy

Scanning tunneling microscopy (STM) is a related technique to AFM, wherein the tip of the probe is constructed from a conducting material, and the potential difference or current flow between tip and material, owing to the occurrence of quantum tunneling, used to infer information relating to electron density. This is less useful in determining topographical features of the sample but provides the electronic arrangement of the material and can be used to determine atomic arrangement.

Indeed, the atomic arrangement of electron-dense materials, bulk gold, for example, can be discerned by STM. Another related technique is scanning microwave microscopy (SMM), wherein the probe tip is supplied with a GHz range electric field. The interaction of this electric field with the material is measured as the probe is scanned across the surface at a fixed height, providing information relating to the electronic field of the sample.

In materials with permanent dipoles or GHz collective modes a dielectric loss is observed, while energy is dissipated if the material is electrically conductive due to in phase oscillation with conduction band electrons, and energy is lost by other routes to piezoelectric materials.

Several modern benchtop devices have been developed that include AFM, STM, and SMM functionality, such as the Scanwave Pro, produced by PrimeNano. PrimeNano was formed in 2014, and brought the Scanwave Pro, along with specialist models such as the Low Temperature Scanwave, offering cryogenic microwave microscopy, to market in 2020.

Combining these microscopy techniques into a single platform allows an unprecedented level of nanomaterial characterization, potentially simultaneously describing both physical and electronic aspects of the sample. Revolutionary and high-end AFMs developed by Park Systems (Park FX40, 2021).

Bruker (Nanoracer high-speed AFM, 2020) and Oxford Instruments Asylum Research (Cypher VRS1250 video-rate atomic force microscope, 2021) have become available in recent years, offering unparalleled levels of automation and frame rates up to 50 frames per second during temporal studies.

Current Global Market of Atomic Force Microscopy in Nanoscience

AFM microscopes are increasingly utilized in both research and industry in the characterization of materials with nano-scale features of interest, particularly within the life sciences, electronics, semiconductor manufacture, and the broad field of nanotechnology.

The wide range of specific sub-types of is expected to continue to expand, generating further market growth as additional applications are realized. Currently, North America holds the greatest portion of the global AFM market share, followed by Europe, with the Asian Pacific market expanding rapidly, particularly in China, Japan, and India.

The industrial demand for AFM exceeds that of the entire academic and research demand, and this disparity is expected to grow further by 2031, as AFM and its variants become increasingly utilized in materials, electronics, and nanomaterial manufacture and quality control.

The COVID-19 pandemic caused many business difficulties worldwide, with major global AFM suppliers being no exception. Oxford Instruments (UK) and Horiba (Japan), both world-leading manufacturers of a wide range of AFM systems and accessories, saw a 2% increase in sales during the year of the pandemic compared to the year prior, while South Korean company Park Systems saw a 20% drop in sales between 2020 and 2021.

However, since global shipping restrictions have lifted, sales have risen and exceeded pre-pandemic levels for market-leading companies. As discussed, Bruker, Horiba, Park Systems, and Oxford Instruments hold the largest global AFM market share, followed by Hitachi High-Tech, Nanosurf, amongst others.

A company named WITec had produced the alpha300 range of AFMs, and though the product is still available, the company was acquired by AFM giants Oxford Instruments in 2021 for €42 million.

Image Credit: Thanakorn.P/Shutterstock.com

Major Players in the Atomic Force Microscopy Industry

Nanosurf

Founded in 1997, Nanosurf is a Swiss pioneer in atomic force microscopy (AFM), providing customized solutions for academia and industry. By incorporating cutting-edge scanning probe technology into manufacturing, Nanosurf enhances precision and efficiency. With a focus on advancing measurement modes and accessibility, the company is dedicated to expanding AFM applications. Notable products include DriveAFM, FlexAFM, and CoreAFM.

Oxford Instruments Asylum Research

Oxford Instruments Asylum Research is a key player in the AFM market, lauded for innovation, problem-solving, and top-tier customer support. Since 1999, they've pioneered advanced AFM technology, delivering high-performance models with improved resolution and speed. Their customer-focused ethos and robust assistance make them the preferred choice for nanoscale challenges in research and industry, with product categories including Jupiter, Cypher, and MFP-3D AFM families. For instance, products like Jupiter XR large-sample AFM, Cypher L AFM, and MFP-3D Origin AFM belong to these respective families.

Park Systems Corporation

Park Systems Corporation stands as a global leader in the AFM market, excelling in nanoscale microscopy and metrology solutions. Park Systems has pioneered advanced AFM technology, delivering innovative solutions for scientific research, semiconductor fabrication, and quality assurance. They supply various AFM products and accessories for line metrology, research, and surface analysis. For instance, Park FX 40 is one of their small sample automatic AFM that effortlessly delivers high-resolution images and measurements across diverse applications.

Bruker Corporation

Bruker Corporation is a prominent player in the AFM market, offering high-performance scientific instruments and analytical solutions that enable researchers to explore life and materials at microscopic and molecular levels. Bruker's Dimension Icon AFM, powered by innovative PeakForce Tapping technology, offers proven high performance and versatility in a tunable AFM platform and stands as a benchmark in advanced research, enabling researchers to achieve the highest resolution imaging and exceptional versatility for various applications in nanoscale characterization and analysis.

Hitachi High-Tech

In 2001, Hitachi High-Tech was established through the amalgamation of Hitachi Ltd. Instruments Group and Semiconductor Manufacturing Equipments Group with Nissei Sangyo Co., Ltd., a specialist in electronics. Hitachi High-Tech is another global AFM company with a network expanded to 26 countries with more than 13000 employees and a total revenue of 674.2 billion yen. Their AFM products include AFM100 Series (Multifunctional probe microscopy platform), AFM5500M (Mid-size probe microscopr=e system), AFM5300E (Environmental Control Unit) and AFM5100N (Small, general use unit).

Mad City Labs, Inc.

Since 1998, Mad City Labs, Inc. has been a leading manufacturer in the AFM market, offering a comprehensive line of piezo nanopositioners that excel in precision, stability, and orthogonality while also leading in multi-axis stages for high-speed optical microscopy imaging providing essential tools for biotechnology and nanotechnology applications, including super-resolution microscopy, AFM, scanning probe microscopy, and more. Their SPM-M Kit with high-resolution atomic force microscope has applications in data storage, semiconductors, nano-optics, optical antennas and nanoscale characterization/ fabrication.

HORIBA, Ltd.

HORIBA, Ltd. is a diversified company with a strong presence in the Atomic Force Microscopes (AFM) market, among other industries. HORIBA specializes in manufacturing and selling a wide range of scientific analyzers, including AFMs, alongside automotive emission measurement systems, medical diagnostic analyzers, and environmental measuring instruments. Their global reach and technological expertise position them as a significant player in analytical instrumentation and various other fields. The AFM Optical Platform integrates confocal Raman microscopy and AFM for co-localized measurements, including Tip-Enhanced Optical Spectroscopies like TERS and TEPL.

WITec

WITec, established in 1997, is renowned for Raman imaging and correlative microscopy solutions in AFM Market. After becoming part of the Oxford Instruments Group, WITec's expertise in Raman microscopy has been fortified, and their German-made instruments are recognized for their quality, reliability, and user-friendliness, making them a go-to choice for researchers seeking AFM solutions that address the latest challenges.

The alpha300 RA-Raman-AFM microscope by WITec offers integrated chemical and nanoscale structural imaging. It combines Raman microscopy (alpha300 R) and Atomic Force Microscopy (alpha300 A) for comprehensive analysis, controlled through a single software suite enabling correlative imaging without moving the sample, with easy switching between techniques and image overlay.

Future Directions for Atomic Force Microscopy in Nanotechnology

AFM has found extensive use in research and industry within the field of materials science, particularly in electronics and nanotechnology, where the fine nano-scale physical aspects and electronic and atomic structure of materials must be appreciated in design and manufacture.

Hard and rigid materials constructed from metals, polymers, and ceramics are particularly suited to characterization by AFM and associated techniques, and thus design towards the optimized analysis of these materials has and continues to be extensively explored. As discussed, soft matter such as living cells, biomolecules such as proteins and lipids, and dynamic and flexible polymers can also be assessed by AFM, though at this stage, with lesser resolution compared to rigid materials.

Specific technologies have allowed and improved existing soft matter AFM applications, such as peak-force tapping, developed by Bruker. This method monitors the applied forces to the AFM probe against the sample surface, better preserving the integrity of sensitive materials.

Sister company JPK-Bruker has similarly developed ‘QI mode’, or quantitative imaging, which largely utilizes novel algorithmic and software capabilities to derive properties of biological samples, such as adhesion, stiffness, and dissipation. This technology is available in the NanoWizard 3 AFM, and provides a non-destructive method of sensitive benchtop sample analysis by AFM.

The AFM Market: Final Thoughts

AFM technology is dependent on three components: the AFM probe, the laser and detector, and the software handling machine operation, data collection, and result interpretation.

As individual innovations in the design and operation of these components are developed, for example, finer probes and cantilevers to allow higher resolution, improved temporal resolution via faster scan rates, and increasingly complex electronic field generation and interpretation, AFM and its related technologies will continue to be exploited in materials characterization to a greater degree, particularly as a regular tool used in manufacturing and industry.

Market Report: Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM)

References and Further Reading

Tanumoy, U. & Vineet, K. (2021). Atomic Force Microscopy Market by Offering (Atomic Force Microscopes, Probes), by Grade (Industrial Grade AFM, Research Grade AFM), by Application (Material Science, Semiconductors and Electronics, Academics, Others): Global Opportunity Analysis and Industry Forecast, 2021-2031. Available at: https://www.strategicmarketresearch.com/market-report/atomic-force-microscopy-market

Chu, Z., et al. (2020). Microwave Microscopy and Its Applications. Annual Review of Materials Research50(1), pp.105–130. doi.org/10.1146/annurev-matsci-081519-011844

Pavloni, E., et al. (2019). Blisters on graphite surface: a scanning microwave microscopy investigation. RSC Advances, 9(40), pp.23156-23160. doi.org/10.1039/C9RA04667D

Marcuello, C. (2022). Current and future perspectives of atomic force microscopy to elicit the intrinsic properties of soft matter at the single molecule level. AIMS Bioengineering, 9(3), pp.293-306.

Bruker Corporation (2023) High-Resolution AFMs for Challenging Research [Online]. Available at: https://www.bruker.com/en/products-and-solutions/microscopes/materials-afm.html

Hitachi High-Tech (2023) Scanning Probe Microscopes (SPM/AFM) [Online]. Available at: https://www.hitachi-hightech.com/global/en/products/microscopes/spm-afm/

HORIBA, Ltd. (2023) AFM Optical Platform  [Online]. Available at: https://www.horiba.com/int/scientific/products/afm-optical-platform/

Mad City Labs, Inc. (2023)  [Online]. Available at: http://www.madcitylabs.com/

Nanosurf (2023) Atomic force microscope products [Online]. Available at: https://www.nanosurf.com/en/

Oxford Instruments Asylum Research (2023) Oxford Instruments Asylum Research: The Technology Leader in Atomic Force Microscopy [Online]. Available at: https://afm.oxinst.com/

Park Systems Corporation (2023) Emerging Trends of Nanotechnology [Online]. Available at: https://www.parksystems.com/

WITec (2023) WITec: Raman imaging solutions [Online]. Available at: https://raman.oxinst.com/

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Michael Greenwood

Written by

Michael Greenwood

Michael graduated from the University of Salford with a Ph.D. in Biochemistry in 2023, and has keen research interests towards nanotechnology and its application to biological systems. Michael has written on a wide range of science communication and news topics within the life sciences and related fields since 2019, and engages extensively with current developments in journal publications.  

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