Ultramicroscopy 2020 Apr 24;214:112989. Epub 2020 Apr 24.
The Henry Royce Institute, Department of Materials, University of Manchester, M13 9PL, United Kingdom.
Here we describe the first automated fully integrated in-microscope broad ion beam (BIB) system. Ar-BIB has several advantages over Ga focused ion beam (FIB) and Xe plasma-FIB (PFIB) methods inducing less beam damage, especially for ion beam sensitive materials. It can mill areas several orders of magnitude larger (up to millimetre scale), and is not confined to the edge of the sample with associated curtaining issues. BIB is shown to have sputter rates up to five times higher than comparable FIB techniques. This new coupled BIB-SEM system (commercial name 'iPrep™II') enables in-microscope surface polishing to remove contaminants or damage for two dimensional (2D) imaging, as well as automated serial section tomography (SST) by milling and imaging hundreds of slices, cost and time efficiently. The milled slice thickness can be controlled from a few nanometers up to a micrometre. A novel sample transfer, handling and interlock system allows automated and sequential BIB polishing, scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and analysis by secondary electron (SE) imaging, electron back scatter diffraction (EBSD) and energy dispersive spectroscopy (EDS) for 3D microstructure analysis. Furthermore, insulating surfaces can be sputter coated after milling each slice to reduce charging during SEM analysis. The performance of the instrument is demonstrated through a series of case studies across the materials, earth and life sciences exploiting the imaging, crystallographic and chemical mapping capabilities. These include the study of butterfly defects in bearing steels, meta-stable intermetallic phases in bronze bearings, shale gas rock, aluminium plasma electrolytic oxide (PEO) coatings as well as liver and mouse brain tissues.