Where Should You Focus When Buying An Inspection Microscope? Cost or Quality?
It's a daily battle as you strive to find balance when managing and meeting important production goals including maintaining quality levels, keeping time at a minimum and costs down. Furthermore—these three things, time cost and quality, (TCQ)—don't always play well together.
Each TCQ piece connects to and affects the other. If your output quality reduces, you increase the risk of added production time, because of higher failure rates and factors such as reworking. Decisions that cause unavoidable detours with no clear-cut best roads to take are inevitable, because applications vary and priorities can change at a moment's notice. Additionally, once you make a decision, there's no easy way to regain the time or cost back if it goes awry. Quality inspection lines are deadline driven environments, and high quality inspection equipment supports improved decision making, greater user comfort and accuracy with consequential throughput benefits.
Weighing your options when buying a stereo inspection microscope
There's an overwhelming amount of information online about inspection microscopes. And generally, if you have a particular microscope need, it's most likely been developed. Whether you're considering a microscope for inspecting printed circuit boards (PCBs) or lifesaving medical device components, it's all about what you want to accomplish.
Technological advances, such as optics, magnification, lighting and ergonomics will most likely be at the top your list, as well as researching the benefits of a high quality microscope and how buying one of lesser quality can adversely affect time and costs.
Let's consider, for instance, the type of microscope needed to address the growing challenges of circuit board assembly. As electronic devices get smaller and smaller, so do the component parts. This makes microscope ergonomics and optics especially important because of the continuous time spent during inspection and the intricate levels of detail an operator must observe during assembly and rework. The design of traditional microscopes means that operatives need to lean forward to look into the eyepieces, increasing the risk of back and neck problems. Plus the small eyepieces and the way light is focused in them can increase eye strain and associated complications. These symptoms can be significantly improved by using an ‘eyepiece-less’ type microscope, which enables operators to sit upright, and does not force them to look into small eyepieces.
First things first
Even before operators can begin assembly, you must decide how much you trust the quality of your supplier's goods, i.e., have the circuit board parts been through a quality inspection or do they first need to go under your microscope? Also, once the circuit boards are assembled, are you comfortable with just spot checking because you have confidence in your microscope and your operator's ability to use it? The answer is particularly important during assembly and after completion, as you seek to avoid the extra costs and time associated with ‘non-quality’, and greater than normal ‘rework/scrap it’ can cause if you're not certain.
Tap the experts
Once you've done your own homework, one-on-one contact with a subject matter expert is a smart next step. Like your quality manager, the subject matter expert's expanded product knowledge is critical. When you talk with them, they should clearly demonstrate that they understand your application needs and your goals, and you should feel confident they can fit those needs to the appropriate microscope.
Ultimately, your ideal inspection microscope will help you -
- Detect defects and prevent rework
- Meet production targets
- Reduce production costs, e.g., prevent scrap
- Meet/Exceed your customer's expectations
- Produce accurate documentation and analysis reports as needed
Any expert should be able to talk to you about price, lens options, lighting and overall microscope capabilities, then find a match to meet your basic requirements.
- Can I document and analyze during production?
- Do I need to capture images or video while I'm working? What magnification is needed?
- Can the lenses be changed out easily?
- What additional options does the microscope package offer?
But, you'll also want to know things about the company, such as -
- Do they understand my requirements?
- Do they offer free demos?
- What have other buyers said about the microscope?
- What have other buyers said about the company?
- What does their customer service/service after the sale look like?
- Is there a warranty?
- Do they have a good reputation?
- How long has the company been in business?
- Does the company use proven innovative technology?
- Do they and their products have staying power?
Factoring in true cost of ownership
True cost of ownership is one of the most difficult things to predict because you can't see into the future. Anything can cause a disruption—from late shipments, to machine downtime, to employee illnesses.
Mantis Elite configured with 2 objectives. All Mantis microscopes come with a 2 year manufacturers warranty.
So what can you control? How can you maintain quality while managing time and costs? At some point, it may be necessary for you to decide which of the TQCs will take precedence. When you buy a quality microscope, you're also buying peace of mind. Unlike time and cost overruns, the quality of your microscope doesn't change and can be the one constant and area of relief during production.
Before you buy, you must assess the features, benefits and overall design, and how they affect time and costs.
- Optics - quality optics are simply the most significant and important elements when inspecting PCB components. Microscope optical capabilities, such as 3D imaging and field of view can help ensure operators catch the minute defects that can cause large problems later.
- Ergonomics - inspection work often requires operators to sit in a fixed position for hours on end causing worker fatigue, which can lead to lost time and increased costs. An ergonomically designed microscope, such as those offering eyepiece-less technology, like Vision Engineering, can greatly improve many facets of worker discomfort and decrease health-related absences linked to back and neck pain.
- Ergonomics for the eye - to obtain the best image quality using a traditional microscope, operators must precisely align the diameter of their eye pupils with the diameter of the microscope's exit pupils (the small circles of light that can be viewed by looking just above the eyepieces).
Because workers must keep their eyes fixed for long periods of time, they often experience eye strain, headaches and eye fatigue requiring them to take multiple relief breaks, which takes time away from production. Eyepiece-less microscopes offer an ideal solution by replacing the eyepieces with a window that significantly expands the field of view and removes the need to perfectly align the eyes to the eyepieces.
- Light - lighting advances, such as LEDs significantly improve the quality of what workers see; shadows are no longer prevalent and an object's color is truer. Note - there are variances in true color (good, better, best), so be sure to ask.
- Tool quality/tool life - when you buy a quality inspection microscope, you're also banking on how long the tool will last and stay technologically ahead. Quality microscopes generally will grow with you and your business by offering sophisticated features and advanced options to improve efficiency and productivity far into the future.
Quality adds trust
Stephan Sanderson is Product Manager, Vision Engineering Ltd.
Overlooking the "true cost" of a less expensive inspection microscope may be more expensive in the long run. It's not necessary to buy more bells and whistles than you need, however, it is important to think ahead and consider how your business may change and grow, as well as about less tangible things, such as the cost to repair your reputation if you do not deliver quality results. Buying a quality microscope has underlying value because it gives you and your workers more confidence in the completed work and customers trust you because they know you're inspecting with a reliable, quality tool. In short, buying a quality microscope enables you to improve and maintain your own product quality, more quickly, for less in the long run.
For more information about maximizing your quality whilst managing your costs contact Vision Engineering at email@example.com