STOP outsourcing your scanning electron microscopy research — get your own SEM!

By Karl Kersten - September 6, 2018

Are you a lab operator who wants to stop outsourcing your scanning electron microscopy jobs and buy your own Scanning Electron Microscope? Then you’ve probably already calculated that a personal SEM is a worthwhile capital investment. But the operational costs of SEM are just as important too: all the ongoing equipment expenses related to an SEM like the facilities, its maintenance, and operators.

We have explored the challenges you face when outsourcing and deciding which system to purchase. We’ve also examined the costs involved in opting for a traditional floor model system compared with a desktop SEM, including a few specific advantages of Phenom desktop SEMs.

The problem with outsourcing SEM jobs

Outsourcing scanning electron microscopy jobs is ideal if you have samples evaluated a couple of times a year. However, if the number of samples or evaluation periods increases, a few practical issues typically arise.

Logistically you have to send lots of samples, or even transport them to an external company (or university) yourself, which takes up valuable time.

And if you’re not present during the sample evaluation, the point of interest where you’d like your sample imaged or analyzed might be missed, leaving you with results you can’t use. Any descriptions that you provide for external operators must also be very precise, taking even more of your time.


Get your personal SEM microscope

With your own personal SEM microscope, the number of samples you can evaluate is basically unlimited. There’s also the potential to evaluate samples from other departments as well. That means the cost per evaluation — something you have to consider when outsourcing — is no longer a limiting factor.

So the big question is, which SEM system to buy? For example, should it be the same system that does your external evaluations? What budget can you spend on your personal SEM and does it include operational costs? These are questions that are important to answer upfront.

Which scanning electron microscope to buy?

First of all, you need to find a SEM system that can evaluate your samples now — but that also has the capability to analyze any samples you might have in the future. Magnification, resolution, detector, vacuum system etc. are all specifications that you need to have sorted.

Of course, you could buy the same system you outsource to, but that might mean purchasing a system which is ‘overspecified’ for the job. And ‘overspecified’ often means ‘over-priced’. The best way to verify which SEM system you need is to test your most used and most challenging samples at different SEM suppliers and compare the results.

Providing guidance in the selection of the right microscope for your research Download the How to Choose a SEM e-guide here

Operational costs of a SEM

Besides the capital investment in your own SEM, operational costs will also play a role in your decision. Operational costs can be split in:

SEM facilities

  • How big is the floor space?
  • Do you need air conditioning, anti-vibration floor or water cooling?
  • Is compressed air, dry nitrogen or other gas required to operate the system?
  • What is the power consumption: a few hundred watts/hour, or a few thousand watt/hour?

SEM operators

  • Will you or your colleague operate the system?
  • Will the whole lab have access to it?
  • How much training is required to operate the system?
SEM maintenance
  • How often does the system need maintenance?
  • Which parts will need to be maintained or replaced?
  • Who can do this and how much time will it require?

Finally: floor or desktop SEM?

All these questions should be answered before you make your decision. To help you make your final choice we’ve compared two systems: a floor model and a desktop model. Remember, a floor model SEM will most likely have higher specifications than a desktop SEM, but is often overqualified for the samples that you need to evaluate.

To see an overview of our system comparison, download our free schematic here:


If you’re in the process of purchasing a desktop SEM
but still haven’t received a quotation, we’d be more than happy to provide you one.

About the author

Karl Kersten is head of the Thermo Scientific Phenom Desktop SEM Application Team at Thermo Fisher Scientific. He is passionate about the Phenom Desktop SEM product and likes converting customer requirements into product or feature specifications so customers can achieve their goals.

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