MAI Adds Cutting Edge Scanning Electron Microscopy With New SEM and EDS Acquisitions


At MAI, our mission is focused; We solve materials engineering problems with expert failure analysis, manufacturing process problem solutions, and materials characterization. Your requirement for practical, cost effective and rapid response is paramount. We continually search for opportunities, in both technology and expertise, to meet and exceed that requirement.

Our recent purchase of the leading edge in scanning electron microscopy (SEM), the Tescan VEGA3-XMU, increases both our capabilities and capacity.  The VEGA3 features the latest detector technology and imaging software, enabling MAI engineers to fully and rapidly identify and communicate vital root cause evidence to our client’s.

With the largest sample chamber available, and multiple sample stations, a larger number of samples can be analyzed during an evaluation. This enhances both the speed and level of detail at which results can be delivered to our clients.


MAI engineers combine over 40 years of SEM experience and thousands of analyses to provide our clients with the absolute maximum benefit SEM offers to solve their materials engineering challenges.

Scanning Electron Microscopy is an essential tool in the failure analyses we perform for clients in manufacturing, as well as the litigation and insurance claim investigations we support. SEM also provides critical surface data to customers who develop and manufacture demanding products such as medical implants, stationary and aerospace turbine blades and components, and pharmaceutical and food processing installations.

The Tescan VEGA3-XMU is another step in our commitment to analytical excellence and the success of the clients we serve.

ELEMENTAL MAPPING – Charting New Solutions in Wear Failures, Fractures and Defect Analysis

Photo – Elemental map of a wear particle filtered from a hydraulic system. Blue indicates the particle is an iron based alloy, such as a low alloy steel. The light red indicates the particle scraped against a zinc, or zinc plated, component during operation of the hydraulic system.

Instrumentation to perform chemical analyses of small, and even microscopic, amounts of material has been around for awhile. A highly practical form of this instrumentation is EDS, or energy dispersive spectroscopy. This technology is used in conjunction with the high magnification capabilities of a scanning electron microscope (SEM) to identify features and particles as small as one-fifty millionths of an inch in size for analysis.

Elemental mapping, using EDS generated data, has also been available for some time. Using this technique, “dot maps” are generated that show the location of analyst selected elements in a field of view collected on the SEM.

While valuable to obtain data available by no other practical means, these maps had their limitations. They were not sensitive to very small relative amounts of elements. A lot of background “noise” was also generated that degraded the resolution of the maps. In other words concentrations of a particular element appeared to have “fuzzy” edges or, in the case of microscopic particles, could not be distinctly resolved from random background indications.

Worst of all, they require huge amounts of data and as a result, the collection time needed to minimize these resolution short comings runs into hours or even the better part of a 24 hour day. These limitations make routine mapping, and the valuable data it could provide, economically unfeasible for many clients. It is also difficult for laboratories to delegate high demand SEM time to single analyses.

MAI recently resolved these disadvantages with our acquisition of the newest cutting edge EDS technology available. This instrumentation collects data 100 to 200 times faster than previously available instruments. It is also sensitive to extremely small relative amounts of a given element, and provides photographic levels of resolution.

In addition to these elemental mapping capabilities, this instrument combination can generate size, area, aspect ration, phase percentage and other data, opening new doors to materials engineering solutions. These include advanced wear failure particle analysis of filtered particulate, but the applications only begin there.

We would be happy to demonstrate this revolutionary technology for you and your company. Please call or email to schedule a time, or online demonstration, at your convenience.

Energy Dispersive Spectroscopy (EDS)

A chemical analysis technique often used to analyze samples, or features on samples, which are too small for other types of analysis.

scanning electron microscopeScanning Electron Microscope (SEM) equipped with an Energy Dispersive Spectrometer (above).

red Blood Cells Energy Dispersive Spectrum imageRed blood cells magnified 20,000 times by the SEM.

EDS identifies the elements present in a sample and determines their relative percentages. Amounts as low as 1/10th of one percent can be detected. EDS is a “Mass Spectroscopy” technique which identifies all the detectable elements present in a sample, rather than only specific elements requested by the analyst as is common in many other chemical analysis techniques. (see Scanning Electron Microscope)

sem Complex Inclusion-EDSSEM image of a complex inclusion magnified 500 times.

eds Analysis Inclusion EDSEDS analysis of this inclusion (right) revealed the presence of a broad range of elements.