10 Points to Consider when Making Buying Decisions for Tabletop SEM

The market for tabletop Scanning Electron Microscopes has grown significantly due to the global trend toward smaller, faster, and more cost-effective equipment. It might be challenging for a prospective buyer to determine what features are essential in the landscape of choices available currently.

In line with this, we’ve contributed to an article that tackles specific points to consider when purchasing an SEM. Although these instruments effectively bridge the gap between Optical Microscopes and conventional SEMs, some still deprive users of critical SEM workflow elements.

That’s why we have endeavored to include in our buying guide recommendations on the most important topics to consider when evaluating SEM systems. We understand that electron microscopes are highly specialized tools, and purchasing one is often viewed as a long-term investment with a minimum expected lifespan of at least ten years.

Many sales practices offer incentives for the buyer to purchase a machine that, in retrospect, is not suitable for the needs of end-users or the overall design of the facility. Once this happens, machine problems arise caused by a lack of user expertise and sub-optimal environmental conditions in many circumstances. Both can cause a chain reaction, resulting in the machine being shut down for servicing rather than up and running for imaging.

Therefore, when purchasing new equipment, there should be a deliberate approach in testing the compatibility of machines to the designated facility, hence reducing the likelihood of issues happening. ​

With that said, here’s a summary of the topics we covered, which includes the primary considerations that may influence your decision-making process when buying an electron microscope.

They are as follows:

  • Who’s Going to Use it

The first thing you need to consider is the type of users that’ll use the system. It’s worth noting that most SEMs on the market today have features that allow inexperienced users to have a good imaging performance. While this is the case, considering the level of expertise of all users is still vital to preventing potential damage and making choices that will limit certain system capabilities in the future.

  • Where will you need to use it

Decide whether a tabletop SEM or floor model is more appropriate, considering the advances in technology that no longer limit equipment capabilities and your ability to expand in the future.

  • Do You Need Elemental Analysis

Energy-dispersive X-ray Spectroscopy (EDS) is a powerful tool for the microanalysis of elemental constituents. It’s used to identify the composition of a sample or a particular area of interest on the sample. A key point of emphasis here is determining if you’ll require these microanalysis or elemental analysis capabilities.

  • What Accelerating Voltage Best Suits Your Application

The point of emphasis here is whether user samples are beam sensitive to consider the type of variable voltage your system should have and what accelerating voltage best suits your application.

  • Which Imaging Capabilities Do You Need

You also need to consider the many ways in which an electron beam interacts with a given sample. This way, you can decide which imaging capabilities you need further to expand the usefulness of the SEM to your lab.

  • What About Magnification and Resolution

Know that users should consider the numbers representing magnification and resolution in terms of their application and what they actually mean.

  • How Intuitive and Complete Are the Operating System and Software

Here, we tackle the most fundamental question to ask about any microscopy instrument, which is “What operating system does it use and will it be compatible with existing infrastructure?”

  • Specimen Manipulation (Stages)

Note that with the advances in technology and general equipment capabilities, so have the size of samples that can be imaged. Here, we talk about viewing angles, height adjustment, manual and motorized stages, among others.

  • What About Service

Think about service as a significant cost-of-ownership factor that can impact your buying decision. As an actual user, consider how you’ll perform troubleshooting and maintenance.

  • What’s the Projected Growth Path for Your Lab

Here, you’d decide if this SEM will be the only piece of equipment in your analytical electron microscopy arsenal. Think about how and why you and your company should consider the future.