Confocal Microscopy for 3D Surface Finish Measurement and Analysis

Olympus’ LEXT OLS5100 microscopes can spearhead the move to increased productivity and profitability

Ryan E. Day

September 16, 2021

Manufacturing is a very competitive business where high-quality products are expected. And some clients require extremely tight surface measurement tolerances, so being competitive means investing in tools that can satisfy customer requirements.

The confocal advantage

Submicron 3D observation and measurement is a game-changing reality with confocal microscopy. Optical and standard digital microscopes are unable to measure such tiny shapes with the level of resolution and clarity that smart manufacturing demands.

Operators using Olympus’ LEXT OL5100 laser microscope have the advantage of more than 17,000X magnification. This kind of power allows for nanometer-scale measurements used for step-height and volumetric measurements. Many manufacturing clients also require surface roughness analysis of materials at this scale.

Olympus LEXT OL5100
Olympus LEXT OL5100 microscope

3D reconstruction of surface features is also a reality with confocal technology. By altering the focus of the microscope, images can be obtained at different depths. Each image is called a z-section and can be used to reconstruct a three-dimensional map of a surface. Imagine a hard-boiled egg that has been cut into slices. When the slices are properly reconfigured, then the shape of the egg—or surface—can be seen.

The LEXT OLS5100 microscope has two optical systems—color imaging and laser confocal—that enable it to acquire color and shape information as well as high-resolution images.

Being able to generate and store so much data quickly is a huge benefit immediately and later. For instance, after an initial scan has been completed and the required data have been collated and submitted, further questions often arise. Although the new questions may be peripheral to the scope of the original scan, the stored data can be digitally reformulated to satisfy them.

In summation, laser scanning confocal microscope technology gives quality professionals an all-in-one solution for nondestructive 3D color measurements. And the LEXT OL5100 provides these functions while maintaining ISO 25178 compliance.

Reducing measurement variation

You know that repeatability and reliability are indispensable in your quality control program. It’s no less important in your R&D. Taking advantage of every available opportunity to reduce measurement variability is standard manufacturing best practice.

The LEXT OL5100 microscope includes two features designed to help operators achieve maximum performance with minimum variance.

One is the Smart Lens Advisor software that helps operators choose the right objective lens for each roughness measurement application. The technician simply enters some basic information, such as the field of view and the current lens setup, and the Advisor will apprise the operator as to how suitable it is for the application.

Olympus Smart Lens Advisor
Olympus Smart Lens Advisor

Another asset for shop floor operations is the Smart Scan II feature. Much like the “auto” setting on a DSLR camera, this is the quickest way to gather basic data. An operator places a sample on the stage and presses the start button; the microscope does the rest.

Improving measurement testing workflow

Managing experiment conditions when testing new materials is complicated, so having the option to automate mundane aspects of test-plan creation can reduce time to project completion.

The OLS5100 laser microscope’s Smart Experiment Manager simplifies the process by automating key steps. For instance, once the evaluation conditions are defined, the Smart Experiment Manager can automatically create the experiment plan.

This level of automation also saves time in test execution as the scan plan that was auto-generated is now auto-populated with data as they are acquired. The data are generated as the microscope automatically scans samples according to the plan. A color map helps you understand your experiment data, verify that no data are missing, and that there are no errors.

Olympus Smart Experiment Manager
Smart Experiment Manager

The software automatically adds value to your experiment plan program with its ability to export data to an Excel spreadsheet, thus saving time and reducing transcription errors.

It is becoming more obvious that as advanced manufacturing and Industry 4.0 take us into the 21st century, cutting-edge tools, like the Olympus’ LEXT OLS5100 laser microscope, are needed to spearhead the move to increased productivity and profitability.

About The Author

Ryan E. Day’s picture

Ryan E. Day

Ryan E. Day is Quality Digest’s project manager and senior editor for solution-based reporting, which brings together those seeking business improvement solutions and solution providers. Day has spent the last decade researching and interviewing top business leaders and continuous improvement experts at companies like Sakor, Ford, Merchandize Liquidators, Olympus, 3D Systems, Hexagon, Intertek, InfinityQS, Johnson Controls, FARO, and Eckel Industries. Most of his reporting is done with the help of his 20-lb tabby cat at his side.