Help me focus on the small stuff (like 5 microns)
May 9, 2024 9:59 AM   Subscribe

I know very little about microscopy or imaging of small things, but I have a need for something greater than the stereo microscopes we use at my job. Do you know what I need?

We put an organic coating on some of our parts at my job, and hold very tight tolerances. We can do various things to these coatings: we can sand them, we can treat them with solvents, we can expose (or re-expose them) to elevated temperatures, we can machine them, we can buff them. My understanding of what is actually happening to these surfaces is limited to dimensional measurement via a coordinate measuring machine (noisy), and stereo microscopes.

I would like to get what I will call 3D pictures (when I just really mean pictures where true structure and depth are visible) of a small patch of the surface of one or more parts, do some of the treatments I've mentioned, then take these images again. Let's say my patch is 1mm x 1mm and I expect the depth of any features (hills, valleys, etc) to be in the neighborhood of 5 - 10 microns, but I a feature might be fractions of a micron wide (I don't know, because we can't see that closely). What technology do I need? What's my search terms?

If it matters this is a teflon based organic coating on an aluminum substrate. It can go through vacuum.
posted by AbelMelveny to Science & Nature (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: If you're trying to characterize the topology and roughness of a surface at that scale, you want a profilometer. Keyence seems to be to most popular manufacturer, at least in academic labs.
posted by mr_roboto at 10:34 AM on May 9

The Profilometer sounds interesting. Never worked with one.

Below visible light there are many options. TEM, SEM, AFM, STM. SEM would be a safe bet. The technology is old but even a very old, not state of the art device would do the job. But check out the profilometer.
posted by kay24 at 3:15 PM on May 9

You'll need to sputter coat the sample to use an SEM; teflon will charge.
posted by mr_roboto at 4:59 PM on May 9

Best answer: I'd start by sending samples to an analytical lab. They'll have a bunch of tools that wouldn't be cost effective to buy yourselves, and you'll learn from the results what's most effective for your needs. Plus they'll have experts who can advise you on the right measurement techniques.
posted by Lady Li at 12:53 AM on May 13

Best answer: "You'll need to sputter coat the sample to use an SEM; teflon will charge."

Nah. An SEM with environmental mode will do.
posted by kay24 at 6:49 AM on May 15

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