SEM Applications: 3 Engineering Uses of Scanning Electron Microscopy

SEM Applications: 3 Engineering Uses of Scanning Electron Microscopy

Physicists routinely push against the boundaries of contemporary technology and thought. In the early 20th Century, one of the key challenges for researchers was the supposed resolving limit of light which made it impossible to visualize small scale structures at high resolutions.

Pioneering discoveries into electron optics furthered this sense of futility, given it was suddenly possible to associate a frequency and wavelength to charged particles. Yet the resolving limit of electrons was proved to be several orders of magnitude smaller than visible light which meant that, though a theoretical limit still existed, it was much greater than that of light-based microscopy. This led directly to the invention of the transmission electron microscope (TEM), and eventually the scanning electron microscope (SEM).

Scanning electron microscopy has had to overcome numerous development challenges through its extended life cycle, from lens aberrations to competing electron source technologies. As a result, most SEM applications were of an academic or proprietary nature for decades. High-resolution SEMs weren’t widely available for engineering use until the 1980s and ‘90s. Today, however, it is a practical tool with far-reaching applicability in various manufacturing chains.

SEM Applications in Semiconductor Inspection

Semiconductor technology forms the backbone of the global digital infrastructure, with silicon wafers especially contributing enormously to consumer electronics, telecommunications, photovoltaics, and so on. Inspecting silicon wafers for morphological and topographical uniformity is one of the primary SEM applications in modern engineering. Inspectors use what is known as defect review SEM to magnify the surface of silicon wafers to detect and characterize defects at specific localities and to subsequently determine what causes the fault. This feeds back into a constant quality assurance loop with SEM data providing rich insights for incoming materials screening, process control, and more.

Microchip Assembly with SEM

Microchips remain a crucial part of everyday life the world over, forming the basis of every electronic subsystem at hand. The level of finite detail and electronic density that manufacturers can achieve with new and emerging microelectronic systems is incredible, with smaller, lower cost, and more efficient chipsets spearheading the next generation of networked devices. This comes with its own unique challenges.

The extremely high resolution of SEM imaging makes it uniquely suited as a supplementary technique for microchip assembly, providing the three-dimensional magnifications necessary for advanced SEM applications on the microelectronics production line.

SEM Applications in QA/QC

Lastly, engineering SEM applications stem into quality assurance and control (QA/QC) at large. The powerful resolution of industrial-grade SEMs makes it the ideal solution for micro- and nanoscale screening of fibers, particles, and pigments in high-value applications. Compositional analysis of paint, for instance, to determine the presence of specific heavy metals, toxic elements, and desirable pigments are one of a routine production-grade SEM application. This same level of detail can be applied to synthetic fibers, polymers, and practically a limitless range of intermediate goods.

EOI: More SEM Applications

At Electron Optics Instruments (EOI), we offer a range of SEM systems for various fields of application. Contact a member of the EOI team today for more information about the SEM applications that we will routinely service.