The Benefits of Small SEM Systems

The Benefits of Small SEM Systems

If you could magnify your sample up to 300,000x, what would you see? Conventional light-based microscopes allowed us to uncover the sub-macroscopic world of cells and material phase structures. That was with maximum magnifications of around 1000x, corresponding to a resolving limit in the region of 200 nanometres (nm).

The electron microscope (EM) went much further. Now, it is possible to peer within individual cells and to go beyond phase compositions to the individual atoms of an alloy or composite. How valuable would a scanning electron microscope (SEM) with six-digit magnifications at high resolutions be to your analytical workflow?

Why the Demand for Small SEMs?

Unfortunately, value is relative. Although the above performance metrics would be useful in almost any lab, there are several prohibitive drawbacks to full-scale SEMs. Namely: cost, complexity, and size. Large SEMs can cost anywhere from several hundred thousand dollars to almost $1 million – notwithstanding service and repair fees. They also have an enormous footprint and require experienced operators for smooth ongoing experimentation.

Small SEMs were designed to cater for cost-conscious users who had neither the space nor the personnel to warrant a full-scale system. Early tabletop SEMs, also referred to as portable systems, fell far behind their full-scale counterparts in terms of both resolving power and resolution.

This significantly blunted enthusiasm about small SEMs and had a demonstrable impact on uptake.

Advantages of Next-Gen Small SEMs

Electron Optics Instruments has played a key role in functionalising a new generation of small SEMs. These simultaneously satisfy the demands of budget-conscious or novice users without forcing a dramatic trade-off in terms of either magnification or resolution. This is best represented by our Cube II tabletop system; the smallest SEM on the market.


The first and most obvious benefit of small SEMs is their size. Unlike full-scale systems, small SEMs are designed with minimal installation in-mind. Ideally, they can be positioned on a tabletop much like a simple desktop computer. Our Cube II weighs just 70kg with compact dimensions and a single phase power supply. This is ideal for constricted labs where space is at a premium.


The second benefit of note is the cost. Small SEMs are significantly cheaper than full-scale systems. Although they still represent a large investment, the latest generation of tabletop systems has been designed to maximise the cost-benefit to new users. The Cube II is available with a range of optional devices, so all purchases are made on a quote-by-quote basis.


Ease-of-use is another critical advantage of small SEMs compared to larger systems. The complexity of full-scale electron microscopy was identified as a potential pain point early in the development cycle of new tabletop systems. Most small SEM manufacturers forefront simple DIY installation and clear operating systems to ensure that near plug-and-play usability.

The Cube II is designed with an All-in-One workstation based on Windows 10, featuring an intuitive user interface that is easily intelligible to both novices and experts. It is also remarkably simple to setup.

Interested in purchasing a small SEM? Why not contact a member of the EOI team today for full specifications, potential applications, or for a quote? We aim to respond to RFQs as quickly as possible and would be happy to answer any questions.