Which SEMs are most suitable for quality control and failure analysis

The worlds of quality control and failure analysis are getting more demanding. Increasingly complex samples are now analyzed on the nanometer scale where detailed information on their structural composition and morphology is expected in ever-decreasing timescales. It’s a complex undertaking and one machine is up for the job – the Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM). In this blog post, we examine a selection of SEM failure analysis and quality control systems, investigating the best SEMs for these applications. We explain how you can meet today’s demands for fast and accurate quality control and SEM failure analysis, without compromising on the quality of your measurements and the depth of the resulting information.


Today’s SEM failure analysis and quality control systems

Today’s SEMs are superior analysis machines, both compared to other microscopy tools and their predecessors. Compared to an optical microscope, a SEM provides high resolution, magnification and depth of field. SEMs also provide a wealth of information, helping you to analyze the topography and chemical composition of your samples with ease.

Modern SEMs now come with a range of advanced analysis capabilities. They are optimized for high throughputs, ease-of-use and measurement consistency for your quality control and fault analysis applications. Many use automation and other intuitive features to provide a solid user experience. Simply put, modern SEMs can achieve the high performance and ease-of-use demanded by today’s research, industrial and commercial applications.

There are plenty of SEM options available. Your choice of instrument often comes down to your target applications and your current facilities. There are two main groups of SEM: [desktop SEMs and floor-model SEMs]. Desktop SEMs have a smaller footprint and are available at a lower cost. However, a floor-model SEM provides superior resolution and is often more suitable for specialist analysis applications. Let’s look at some different options now.

Quality control workflow

Desktop scanning electron microscopes

Desktop scanning electron microscopes are easy-to-use and highly versatile instruments, enabling a fast time to image and simple sample handling. They are suitable across a wide selection of quality control applications and are compatible with a range of sample holders, including metallurgical, temperature controlled, electrical feed-through and many third-party holders.

The Thermo Scientific Phenom product line redefines speed, ease-of-use and performance in this space. Thanks to its innovative, user-friendly design and software, non-expert users can obtain a SEM image in minutes. The cutting-edge Phenom Pharos SEM also features a field emission gun (FEG) source, enabling resolutions below 3 nm.

The Thermo Scientific Axia ChemiSEM is a leading SEM energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (EDS, EDX, or XEDS) instrument, providing instantaneous, quantitative elemental analysis. Unlike traditional SEMs, it always collects EDS data in the background and displays the morphology and quantitative elemental composition of a sample together, in real time. It also features our SmartAlign technology for alignment-free operations and several other newly developed autonomous functions. Combined with live quantitative EDS mapping, these intuitive features make analysis twice as fast, compared to traditional methods.

A quick note on ChemiSEM Technology

Most of our SEMs are available with the Thermo Scientific ChemiSEM Technology. ChemiSEM Technology colorizes the greyscale SEM image in real time according to elemental composition using combined SEM and EDS imaging. As a result, you can gain valuable insights into the roots causes of component and material failures, establish key quality control metrics and easily analyze your quality requirements.

This revolutionary feature provides you with key elemental information, quickly, for your quality control and failure analysis applications – from one user interface. As a result, your users can conduct their EDS analysis with the click of a button, dramatically reducing your time to result. In fact, you can get your elemental information 2-4 times faster using ChemiSEM, compared to conventional technologies.


Entry-level and environmental floor-model scanning electron microscopes

Entry-level and environmental floor-model SEMs are ideal for multi-user laboratories working across both quality control and failure analysis applications, offering high stability and ease of use.

The Thermo Scientific Prisma E and Thermo Scientific Quattro SEMs are versatile machines, making them the ideal choice if sample flexibility is a priority. Using their low vacuum modes, you can achieve high throughputs and easily analyze charging, outgassing or otherwise difficult samples.

There are also a selection of optional accessories available and a highly modular analytical chamber with the Prisma and Quattro SEMs. So, you can easily adapt these instruments for a wide range of quality control and failure analysis applications.


High-resolution scanning electron microscopes

If you want to maximize resolution and contrast, look no further than our Verios and Apreo SEMs. These instruments provide the most detailed information possible, allowing you to analyze the smallest and most complex of samples. They’re also easy for expert and non-expert users thanks to automation and a range of intuitive features.

Verios allows the precise characterization of nanomaterials with sub-nanometer resolution and high material contrast, achieving an electron beam resolution of 0.6 nm at 2-15 kV. Apreo achieves all-around nanometer or sub-nanometer resolution performance on materials ranging from nanoparticles, powders, catalysts, and nanodevices to bulk magnetic samples, with a resolution of 0.9 nm at 1 kV.

Both come with the Thermo Scientific SmartAlign Technology and the Thermo Scientific FLASH technology, which automates the image fine-tuning process by auto-correcting the lens centering, your stigmators, and the final focus of the image.

This combination of SmartAlign and FLASH allows novice users to access the high-end performance of these high-resolution instruments with ease. This not only increases your productivity levels but also provides peace of mind that your measurements are repeatable and accurate.

High-resolution SEM failure analysis

Let’s look at a common high-resolution SEM example – semiconductor failure analysis. Our SEMs are used across every function of a semiconductor lab, from general imaging tasks to advanced failure analysis techniques requiring precise voltage-contrast measurements.

Our high-resolution instruments are often used to analyze increasingly complex semiconductor devices, hunting out failure-inducing defects that other instruments may struggle to resolve.

When conducting semiconductor failure analysis, our next-generation workflows can help you to localize and characterize subtle electrical issues. Our high-resolutions SEMs massively reduce the time and cost associated with electrical fault isolation, quickly extracting comprehensive defect data from the sample.

Our advanced semiconductor metrology and yield analytical capabilities are also ideal for defect analysis, metrology, and process control, helping to increase productivity and improve yield across a range of semiconductor applications and devices.

Cross-section of a camera image sensor using the Apreo SEM.
Figure 1. Cross-section of a camera image sensor using the Apreo SEM.
Cross-section image for a V-NAND flash memory from a Verios SEM, using the in-column detector.
Figure 2. Cross-section image for a V-NAND flash memory from a Verios SEM, using the in-column detector.

What is next for your SEM failure analysis and quality control systems?

Quality control and failure analysis are essential in modern research and industry. We offer a range of SEM tools for multi-scale and multi-modal analysis of defects, allowing you to make reliable and informed quality control and failure analysis decisions.

An SEM is a major investment for any laboratory and it’s important to select the right system for your specific requirements. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution and we’d recommend getting specialist advice before you make such an important purchase. It’s important to evaluate each system based on your requirements, including your required level of resolution, type of information required, materials type, testing requirements and end-users.

Feature sizeFrom 10s of microns to sub-nanometerDetermines resolution required
Type of information requiredTopography / Materials contrast / Transmission / Elemental information / Crystallography / Impurities etcDetermines detector selection
Materials typeConducting, insulating, humid, sensitiveDetermines low energy performance and low vacuum option
Materials testing requirementsHeating / Cooling / Hydration / Mechanical force / Chemical environment / Electrical currentDetermines Environmental SEM / Accessories selection
Need for unattended operationRepetitive tasks / large area acquisitions / machine learningDetermines automation capabilities
Serving multiple usersEase of use / Safe operation / Minimize trainingDetermines user interface capabilities

If you’d like to find out more, click here to speak to one of our expert team today.


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