Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) is a powerful materials analysis technique. It’s uniquely designed to capture compelling, high-resolution images of a sample’s surfaces. In fact, depending on the sample, we dare say the resulting photos often verge on art.
Of course, these images aren’t just eye candy. From microelectronics to food processing, SEM images provide invaluable topography and composition information for companies across a range of industries, helping ensure product quality, analyze failure potential, and inform product development. And when SEM is used in conjunction with energy dispersive spectroscopy (EDS), the analysis also provides qualitative and quantitative chemical analysis data about the sample.
Read on for a more complete picture of the advantages and disadvantages of SEM.
Advantages of Scanning Electron Microscopy
Here are some benefits of using SEM with EDS for materials characterization and failure analysis.
This test provides digital image resolution as low as 15 nanometers, providing instructive data for characterizing microstructures such as fracture, corrosion, grains, and grain boundaries.
2. Traceable standard for magnification.
Because all imaging is calibrated to a traceable standard, it’s easy to apply analysis—such coating thicknesses, grain size determinations, and particle sizing—to saved images.
3. Chemical analysis.
SEM with EDS provides qualitative elemental analysis, standardless quantitative analysis, x-ray line scans, and mapping. This data can be used to examine product defects, identify the elemental composition of foreign materials, assess the thickness of coatings, and determine grain and particle size.
Disadvantages of Scanning Electron Microscopy
While an excellent test for surface typography and chemical analysis, some samples are not a good fit for SEM with EDS. Here are a few reasons to consider different types of materials analysis.
1. Vacuum environment.
In most cases, SEM samples must be solid and vacuum-compatible. However, higher pressures can be used for imaging of vacuum-sensitive samples that are nonconductive and volatile. For more information, read our comparison of conventional SEM, variable pressure SEM (VPSEM), and field emission SEM (FESEM).
2. Artifacts are possible.
Samples that are strong insulators must be coated—usually with gold or carbon—before testing. However, this process can result in artifacts. That said, preparation and analysis by a knowledgeable SEM testing lab ensures that these artifacts have minimal impact on testing results.
Is SEM a Fit for Your Materials Analysis Needs?
Scanning electronic microscopy services provide both high-resolution typographical imaging as well as qualitative and quantitative chemical analysis—benefits that are valuable to industries such as general manufacturing, microelectronics, medical devices, food processing, research and development, insurance, and litigation support.
Contact us for more information about SEM or one of our other testing services. Whether or not you know what your testing needs are, we have a solution for you. We’re known for our expert support and extremely fast turnaround.