By Maximilian Breuer
Applied Microscopy, Leica Microsystems
There are numerous applications for optical microscopes, ranging from industrial production processes to research and even education. Indeed, they play a vital role in the quality control of final products and components, such as those produced in the electronics industry. Microscopic inspection for quality control enables users to identify whether components have been correctly produced and determine whether there are any defects and contamination by dust or other particulates that could interfere with the targeted performance of the final product.
But spending hours going back and forth between looking through eyepieces to inspect samples and looking elsewhere to document findings can be cumbersome and exhausting. This drawback has been largely addressed through the use of digital cameras that allow for the display of microscope images on a high-definition monitor. However, until recently a PC was required to view, document and share images. This requirement can be challenging, especially if the microscope is only needed occasionally. In such cases, it can be heavily time-consuming, not to mention frustrating, for users who switch on the PC to be faced by hundreds of software updates. Maintaining the PC hardware and IT infrastructure can also be resource intensive. The necessity of a PC can increase the time and effort for inspection and represent a substantial barrier to an efficient and seamless quality control process. This negative impact can be further multiplied if the workflow is utilized in multiple production sites.
But now there is a flexible stand-alone microscope camera from Leica Microsystems that can overcome these hurdles, because it makes the PC unnecessary. This “smart” digital camera is quickly and easily mounted onto the microscope and can transmit digital images directly to a monitor without the need for a PC. The camera can be adjusted and operated using the intuitive on-screen display (OSD) tools. Images can be acquired in seconds. Moreover, the camera also enables the user to annotate the image directly via the OSD. Reticules, crosshairs or customized overlays can be placed over the image, allowing a direct and continuous comparison between the sample and standard reference image. The images are captured in true-to-life color and high resolution due to the 12 MP CMOS sensor.
Additionally, the time-consuming and costly need to set up, integrate and maintain a PC is disposed of and the inspection process is more streamlined. Once the camera is mounted on the microscope, it only needs to be connected to the monitor through the camera’s HDMI port to turn the microscope into a digital imaging station. There is also an Ethernet port for connection to an IT network for easy sharing and storage of images. The flexibility to connect the camera to different viewing devices makes it adaptable to various working styles. Users also have more options in terms of how and when to annotate their images. And if for any reason connection to a PC is desired, then integration of a PC into the workflow can be done.
This “smart microscopy” approach raises the bar for modern microscopy, providing users greater simplicity, flexibility and capability. They benefit in terms of digital imaging station arrangement, as well as the development and management of analysis and documentation workflows. Reliable image capture and analysis is critical for quality assurance monitoring and documentation. Digital imaging stations are useful for QA/QC not only concerning the manufacture of electronics and automotive components, but also other highly sensitive and sophisticated products, such as medical devices. Their employment can help users quickly and accurately capture and analyze images and identify, validate and document QA/QC findings. The elimination of several steps in the workflow could reduce the variables involved, making the process less error prone.
The addition of the FLEXACAM C1 to the microscope camera portfolio offered by Leica Microsystems improves the versatility of imaging solutions available to QA/QC professionals. The camera can be combined with Leica high-performance microscopes, such as those delivering images in 3D and high resolution, like the DM8000 and DM12000 inspection microscopes.
The combination of stand-alone microscope cameras and high-performance microscope solutions leverage the advantages of modern microscopy and digital imaging approaches. For industrial engineers doing inspection, QA/QC, failure analysis and R&D, these advantages truly come to light. The benefits of time and cost savings for industrial engineers could translate to further optimized product performance. Finally, this stand-alone camera has the potential to greatly enhance the speed, efficiency and consistency of imaging tasks and sample analysis.