Resolve Surface Details at the Nanometer Level Quickly and Easily With 3D Laser Confocal Scanning Microscopy

Surface and interface engineering is a critical aspect of emerging technologies


May 1, 2018

Modern 3D laser confocal scanning microscopes can resolve fine surface-topography detail as minute as a few nanometers, quickly and easily. It is the solution that advanced manufacturing industries turn to for efficient quality assurance surface inspections.

The changing needs of surface and interface engineering

Many of the modern conveniences that we have today are due to industrial engineering innovation and improvements. Much of this evolution and innovation depends on the precise engineering of surfaces and interfaces. For example, car engine performance and fuel economy depend on the surface finish of the piston and engine block. The nanostructured surfaces of anodes and cathodes of batteries ensure their reliable charging performance and long use life. The surface finish of electrical steel affects the energy conversion efficiency of the motors of electric vehicles, as well as the audio quality of amplifiers.

Surface and interface engineering is a critical aspect of various emerging technologies, and a lot of research and development efforts are focused on finding the best surface designs for next-generation industrial applications.

Ensuring the quality of the surface finish of parts in a manufacturing environment is challenging. Surface inspection has become a topic of discussion in many quality assurance departments across industrial disciplines. Quality assurance experts must achieve detail at the nanometer level while weaving through related practical constraints, such as maintaining the original surface condition, accelerating the inspection speed to meet the manufacturing throughput, and meeting the size and weight requirements of the final parts. They also need to think ahead to the future because the inspection process may need to be adapted if the manufacturing process changes. Conventional mechanical stylus profilometers cannot meet all these needs.

Advantages of laser confocal scanning microscopy

Because of their noncontact approach, optical profilometers are becoming the common choice for surface-finish inspection. Among the optical surface profiling tools used, laser confocal scanning microscopy is an ideal choice, especially when the surface topology is rough and complicated. The following list describes some of the advantages provided by the LEXT OLS5000 laser confocal scanning microscope from Olympus.

The LEXT OLS5000 3D laser confocal scanning microscope at a glance
• Noncontact approach helps keep the sample from being damaged: The microscope scans sample surfaces using a 405 nm single wavelength laser beam to measure surface metrology details. After measurements have been taken, the sample can continue through the production process, and no trace of the inspection is left on the surface.
• Dedicated objectives for surface metrology offer single nanometer accuracy: Objectives designed specifically for LEXT microscopes capture clear images and precise measurements of rough surfaces.
• Comprehensive information from multiple channels: The microscope can collect 3D heightmap data, raw laser images, and true color images of the sample surface; these three channels can be used to build a complete picture of the sample.
• Fast acquisition and analysis speed: OLS5000 laser confocal scanning microscopes can acquire and analyze 3D data as quickly as a few seconds.
• No special sample preparation and treatment required: Users can simply place the sample on the microscope stage and start the measurement at ambient room conditions.
• Advanced stitching and multiple area data acquisition capability: By controlling the encoded motorized stage, users can track sample coordinates with high precision.
Measurement can easily be expanded beyond the field of view by stitching multiple tiles together. The OLS5000 microscope can also quickly travel to programmed locations for repetitive data acquisition and analysis.
• Built-in automation for efficient operation: The inspection workflow of the OLS5000 microscope, including data acquisition, data analysis, and report creation can be fully automated. Users can use the macro production tool to create and save entire inspection procedures, making it easy to obtain reliable data on repetitive measurements with just a single click.

Precision imaging down to the nanometer level, reliably and easily

Olympus’ dedicated LEXT objectives enable the OLS5000 laser confocal scanning microscope to obtain sharp images and reliably acquire surface detail at the single nanometer level. These LEXT objectives are specially designed for surface metrology applications, and their 3D measurement performance is guaranteed.

The OLS5000 microscope’s 405 nm single wavelength laser beam provides high-resolution imaging and surface metrology measurements in minute detail. This noncontact optical approach not only makes taking measurements easy but also maintains the original surface conditions of the part.

Figure 1: The OLS5000 laser confocal scanning microscope is equipped with a line of dedicated LEXT objectives that are specially designed for surface metrology applications. The optical performance of these objectives is tuned for the microscope’s 405 nm wavelength laser, helping ensure observations with minimal aberration across the field of view. In addition to high-performance objectives, low magnification (10x) and long working distance (LWD), objectives are also available to meet different application needs.

Figure 2: Measurement on the LEXT OLS5000 microscope is quick and easy. Users can simply place the sample on the microscope stage and start the measurement at ambient room conditions.

Figure 3: With the LEXT OLS5000 microscope, users can avoid cleaving the part to get precise cross-sectional measurements. A high-resolution 3D height map (A) of a nickel micro bump array and a cross-sectional view (B) of the same nickel bump array captured by the LEXT OLS5000 microscope.

The OLS5000 microscope has a small, compact footprint, enabling it to conveniently fit on most desktop workspaces. It is also easy to customize and modify the mechanical mounting scheme to adapt to new inspection requirements. Compared to SEM and AFM systems, the OLS5000 microscope requires minimal maintenance, making it a cost-effective inspection solution.

Figure 4: An example of a system setup for the OLS5000 laser confocal scanning microscope. It includes the OLS5000 microscope body, a controller, a desktop computer, and monitor.

For additional information on the LEXT OLS5000 laser confocal scanning microscope, please visit the Olympus website.

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Olympus is a precision technology leader in designing and delivering innovative solutions and breakthrough technology in product design and functionality in its core business areas: cameras and audio products, industrial measurement and imaging instruments, life science imaging systems, and medical and surgical products. Olympus also serves health care and commercial laboratory markets with financial, educational, and consulting services. Olympus NDT Inc., located in Waltham, Massachusetts, is the U.S. marketing, manufacturing, and sales headquarters for ultrasonic and eddy current testing instruments.