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Intuitive Workflows for Automated Particle Analysis using SEM/EDS

Particle size analysis is a critical component of the overall material characterization in variety of materials and industries, such as pharmaceuticals, R&D and industrial labs. The industries and materials that typically benefit from dedicated particle analysis and characterization include characterization of inclusions in metal alloys, automotive cleanliness, additive manufacturing, pharmaceutical products, identification of foreign substances, forensics (GSR), electronics, and more.

Traditionally, the labs have employed techniques such as light scattering, light obscuration, or direct imaging for analysis of particulates. The range of questions the researchers are trying to address could be diameter and morphology, surface area and porosity. Moreover, additional ability to characterize not only the size distribution of the particles, but also correlate with the chemistry and elemental distribution offer invaluable insights into manufacturing and ultimate performance of a specific material. The combination of Scanning electron microscope (SEM) imaging and embedded microanalysis (EDS) offers the perfect combination of direct particle visualization and chemical information at the same time. The recent emergence of automated solutions and multi area analyses has brought this technique to the forefront of the available automated particle analysis solutions.

More recently building on the successful implementation of automation algorithms within JEOL’s SEM-EDS platforms, we have developed Particle Analysis Software 3 (PA3) that enhances the capability of an analytical SEM by automating the detection, EDS analysis and classification of particles, grains or other features in a variety of samples. PA3 software is fully integrated within JEOL’s SEM-EDS systems, and dramatically increases throughput and productivity by providing fast, unattended measurements across large areas of a sample, or multiple samples.

Fig. 1. PA3 software analysis window.

A typical PA3 workflow includes taking an optical image with integrated Stage Navigation System camera to be used for easy navigation to the ROIs, then acquisition of corresponding SEM images and EDS spectra in an automated fashion. For routine analyses, the user created recipes can be easily utilized for a specific type of analysis required for a particular material class, including user defined chemical classification. Recipes simplify the setup and make it fast and easy for the less experienced user taking as little as five minutes to initiate a run. Moreover, the software was designed with the user needs in mind and provides materials-specific libraries that meet industry standards:

  • Metal Feature Analysis (MFA) Library. For the analysis of inclusions in steel with classification and reporting that complies with ISO 4967.
  • Road Vehicle Cleanliness (RVCLB) Library. For particle analysis from automotive parts with classification and reporting that complies with ISO 16232.
  • Gun Shot Residue (GSR) Library with classification and reporting that complies with ASTM E1588.

PA3 software has built in advanced functions for optimizing particle characterization routines including probe tracking, using shape information to include/exclude particles from EDS analyses, automatic gun axis alignment to control brightness changes and different means of stopping the run (by count, morphology or element). The final montaged (mosaic) image will reassemble larger particles that reside in multiple fields providing the correct morphology and count. PA3 can facilitate identification and analysis of up to 2.5 million particles at an achievable rate of 10,000 particles per hour, which dramatically improves throughput of SEM/EDS based characterization.
While the ease of data collection setup is important, as critical is the ability to output the data in a comprehensive yet straightforward manner. PA3 offers simple particle analysis reporting whether it be for an individual particle or for classification of the entire collection of particles, based on multiple types of morphology, elemental composition and statistics including binary/ternary plots are available.

Fig. 2. Particle analysis reporting options within PA3 – ternary plot (left) and morphology vs size (right). Cu/Sn particles sample.

Whether you require individual particle analysis or multi-field/multi-sample sophisticated particle classification based on morphology and composition JEOL’s PA3 intuitive interface covers the entire range of user needs. Combined with an automated SEM/EDS platform, this workflow solution is an ideal throughput enhancer for additive manufacturing, pharmaceutical and other industrial applications.

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