Due to rapidly advancing production and testing technology, today’s industrial quality assessment procedures are more rigorous—and more precise—than ever before. The core of quality control in many manufacturing processes, quality assessments may include sample inspection, defect observation, fracture analysis and geometric product specifications (GPS). These tasks are performed across industries such as electrical parts/electronics, automotive, aerospace, machinery, medical devices and construction equipment.

Techniques traditionally used to perform precise surface and material analysis in relation to quality control include contact profilometry and traditional light microscopy. While both of these approaches continue to produce reliable results, the introduction of opto-digital microscopy into industrial quality control has brought material analysis into the digital age, along with a long list of advantages. The specific benefits of opto-digital microscopy versus previous analysis methods are numerous and can be clearly seen in application highlights centered in a number of different industries. Opto-digital technology can enhance quality assessment within virtually any manufacturing environment.

Opto-Digital Microscopes:
The Best of Two Worlds

In simplest terms, an opto-digital microscope combines the observation strengths of traditional light microscopy with the accuracy and convenience of today’s most advanced digital technologies. By merging the primary benefits of optical and digital methodologies, opto-digital microscopes achieve a new level of operator simplicity with no sacrifice in image quality, speed or measurement accuracy. Through a simple-to-use digital interface, an opto-digital microscope allows any operator to easily become acclimated with microscope operation and quickly begin producing reproducible measurement and inspection results. The opto-digital microscope eliminates the need for an in-depth knowledge of microscopy.

In addition to simplistic operation, opto-digital microscopy allows much faster analysis than previous observation methods, meaning crucial quality control issues can be resolved faster. Opto-digital microscopy provides a complete investigation, measurement and reporting platform.

Improving Performance and Efficiency: Sample Inspection, Defect Observation, Inspection through Transparent Layers

With opto-digital microscopy’s digital capture and display, the eyepiece is a thing of the past, meaning that comfort levels when working over long periods of time are greatly increased. Onscreen viewing is also ideal for group viewing and immediate sharing of results. Reporting functions are also more efficient with opto-digital microscopy—documentation includes observation settings presented along with results, so images and analysis/measurement information can be quickly sent to R&D, quality control and production, or shared for training purposes.

Beyond comfortable ease of use and enhanced image and data sharing capabilities, opto-digital microscopy improves a number of standard quality assessment tasks:

Sample Inspection

Due to the benefits of digital functionality, opto-digital microscopy allows the inspection of much larger samples than traditional stereo microscopy. By using a stitching function, field of view can be greatly expanded to automatically assemble hundreds of individual image capture areas into a single panoramic image, which can then be easily observed on-screen. Additionally, the resultant 2-D image is completely in focus due to the extended focal image (EFI) function, which uses a fine focus adjustment to combine many in-focus images from along the Z-axis. A 3-D image rendering can also be combined with a panoramic stitching view to construct a wide-field 3-D image that can be rotated, expanded and reduced during on-screen viewing.

Defect Observation

Opto-digital microscopes are available with a free-angle tilting function that allows easy sample inspection of different surface characteristics (such as scratches or pits) at different angles without touching the sample, a feature that is especially beneficial when inspecting a sample for surface defects. Previous inspection methods, such as a traditional stereo microscope, would often miss defects that were particularly hard to see or hidden from view due to fixed-angle viewing. Opto-digital microscopy offers sample observation from any number of viewpoints.

Inspection through Transparent Layers

Inspection of solid samples can often by hampered by the presence of transparent layers covering the sample surface. If a laminate layer obscures the sample surface, a sharp image cannot be obtained through the use of standard optical microscope. Opto-digital technology, however, utilizes polarized light illumination to reduce reflection from this top laminate layer, allowing accurate sample inspection.

Opto-Digital Technology: Industrial Inspection, Test, Quality Control, and R&D Applications

Opto-digital technology is now being used to ensure accurate, reliable results in inspection, test, quality control and R&D applications spanning a variety of industries. Representing the integration of traditional optical technology with advanced digital image processing, opto-digital microscopy delivers an extremely high level of observation performance coupled with a new level of operational convenience. This highly accessible advance in imaging and observation technology is producing exceptional results across the following applications:

Observation and measurement of electronic components such as electric connectors, PGAs (Pin Grid Arrays), cables, LEDs, printed circuit boards.

Observation and analysis of virtually any material including ink on paper, metal components (gears, drills, bolts, etc.), cloth, diamond grindstone, cast iron, metallographic structures.

Observation and measurement of semiconductors including microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), lead frames, CCDs, wire bondings, LCDs, and LCD patterns.

Observation and measurement and QA/QC of materials used to develop and manufacture medical devices including stents and catheters.

Automotive Brake Pad: Observation of Abrasion

The purpose of this inspection is to observe the state of abrasion on a sample cut from a used brake pad.

With a traditional optical microscope, there are times when bright-field observation cannot obtain a sharp image and the contrast on the sample is low. With polarized illumination made possible by the opto-digital microscope used for this application, it is possible to acquire a color image with the fibers resolved. The application of polarized illumination is simple and repeatable.

Medical Implant: Visual Inspection of the Surface Condition

The purpose of this observation is to visually inspect the surface of the coated medical implant to confirm coating uniformity and check for any defects. Visual inspection is important as the roughness of the coated surface relates to the affinity of the bone the implant will be inserted into.

Unlike many conventional stereo microscopes, the opto-digital microscope used for this application is able to image the entire implant in one field of view. By using the HDR mode, users can observe details of the implant’s coated surface in high definition, enabling them to better understand the material.

Moving Forward

As microscopy techniques grow more complex and operational expectations become more demanding, opto-digital microscopy is positioned to deliver new levels of performance and accessibility. Based on the combination of advanced optical microscopy processes and an easy-use digital imaging interface, opto-digital technology allows operators at every level of experience to quickly and consistently produce optimal imaging results. These operators can fully focus on the task at hand—not complicated microscopy procedures—enabling faster workflow, analysis and decision-making. Opto-digital microscopy can also serve as a time- and cost-efficient starting point for QC operations, indicating whether more specialized analyses using a confocal laser microscope, AFM, or SEM are necessary.

Moving forward, opto-digital technology stands to improve the success of quality assessment tasks within almost any manufacturing environment. Opto-digital microscopes can also be adapted to multiple operator environments without concern for time-consuming readjustment and user preference setups, making them ideal for production and testing facilities with large numbers of staff members or multi-shift work environments.

 Specifically designed for the needs of quality assurance, inspection and quality control environments, opto-digital technology combines today’s most advanced microscopic performance with the same ease of use one would expect from a smart phone, tablet or digital camera. Opto-digital microscopes take what used to be complicated, time-consuming operational processes and make them simple. The result is high-resolution visual images, versatile measurements and proven mechanics coupled with an operating system simple enough for a first-time user to embrace. A direct response to the speed at which quality control and assessment is moving, opto-digital microscopy meets the very specific needs of its end-users, allowing them to make critical decisions regarding product development, correct weaknesses and malfunctions, and create innovative new products and materials.