Opto-Digital Microscopy Enhances Material Testing Efficiency

Geneva-based SGS Group is a world leader in testing and certification of a wide variety of parts and products of different shapes and sizes. Specializing in the automotive, aerospace and medical technology sectors, their subsidiary, SGS Institut Fresenius GmbH in Dortmund, Germany employs a range of methods for detailed inspection of materials and parts. Enhancing the efficiency of such testing, the institute recently added the DSX500 opto-digital microscope from Olympus to its equipment portfolio.

Time is money when it comes to industrial workflows, and efficiency is a key priority. This is especially true with regard to one of the SGS Institute’s most recent projects: quality control of carbon-fiber reinforced polymer (CFRP) parts for the new BMW i3 electric car, which has since gone into production.

Quality Improved: Time Saved

As part of the quality control process, some 300 CFRP micrographs have to be prepared and examined in detail before the initial sample can be approved. As a reliable assessment of the micrograph requires a complete image, this was previously accomplished at higher magnifications by using a microscope to capture about 20 single frames and manually compiling them to create the full image. This cumbersome manual process was very time-consuming, with each micrograph taking between 15 and 20 minutes to compose.

The arrival of the Olympus automated DSX500 has transformed this process, greatly reducing the time of micrograph production to about five minutes, which has delighted the SGS team in Dortmund for a number of reasons. Firstly, jobs can be handled more quickly, incredibly important for meeting customer deadlines – which are often very tight. Secondly, by reducing preparation time, highly qualified staff are instead able to focus on the important job of evaluating the images. Employing the DSX500 has already proved worthwhile for SGS not only financially but also in terms of optimized quality.

 Opto-digital Microscopy: Innovations in Quality Assurance

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These advances have been made possible due to the operating simplicity of the DSX500, together with its automated image stitching capability. The DSX works with an astonishing degree of accuracy when overlaying individual images, and unlike other microscopes, single frames no longer have to be defined manually – with a motorized table controlled by a fully automated, high-precision fine adjustment mechanism. This can even handle very regular structures, such as memory chips, where multiple locations are repeated and it is difficult to determine where the first frame ends and the next begins, even at high magnifications. DSX500 users benefit from improved ease of use, as the microscope generates a selection of preview images from which users can choose the most suitable imaging method. Selecting the method automatically selects the necessary parameters without having to input additional information. Users are never in danger of losing orientation on the specimen, even when the image is reduced in size or enlarged, as the Macro Map function always displays the viewpoint on-screen. Inspection is also facilitated with a 13-times optical zoom and a 30-times digital zoom.

According to the team at SGS, the DSX500 offers many great advantages, especially in everyday quality assurance. For example, they routinely investigate very homogeneous looking micrographs of turbine blades from aircraft engines for potential material inclusions. When the magnifications are relatively high, it is not that challenging for a metallographer to hunt for possible irregularities, and the intuitive user interface of the DSX500 also enables fast configuration for efficiently detecting possible material faults. Specialized functions of the microscope, such as the High Dynamic Range (HDR) and the proprietary WiDER algorithm, provide outstanding options for inspecting objects with defects or extreme differences in reflectance. Thanks to the automatic system and ease of use, essentially any staff member can switch samples and capture images – all the material experts have to do is evaluate the captured images. This presents yet another way in which the DSX500 can enhance efficiency, especially within the routine testing of large numbers of material samples, providing a competitive edge for the laboratory.

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Picture Perfect with DIC

The experts at SGS regard the time-saving attributes of the DSX500 as a real advantage in optimizing analysis workflows, but they also greatly appreciate its advanced technical features. The microscope’s LED illumination allows brightfield and darkfield observation methods to be combined, enabling the easy detection of defects or irregularities. The Differential Interference Contrast (DIC) function has also become greatly valued, allowing uneven surfaces to be analyzed for defects or irregularities down to the micro- scale. A customer in the dental technology field commissioned SGS to analyze material separation between two plastic parts. After delivery of the final micrographs, the delighted customer called to say that he had never seen such impressive and informative images. DIC is not new in itself, but Olympus’s enhancement with opto-digital technology really opens up new perspectives, and the customers of SGS greatly appreciate the possibilities offered by digital microscopy in general. Thanks to the equipment and its imaging capabilities, SGS are more often witnessing the generation of repeat business that they would otherwise likely not have obtained.

For more information: www.olympus-ims.com