Dan Haspel giving a demonstration of the new FIB-SEM’s capabilities

Dr Dan Haspel giving a demonstration of the new FIB-SEM’s capabilities

Businesses have spoken of the benefits of using electron microscopy at an event designed to showcase the cutting edge technology available to industry at the University of Plymouth.

The day, part of the Industrial Solutions 2018-20 series hosted by Plymouth Electron Microscopy Centre (PEMC), started with an introduction to the recent developments and the investment in new equipment within PEMC.

It also featured demonstrations of the state of the art focused ion beam-scanning electron microscope (FIB-SEM), which brings 3D imaging and analysis at the nano-scale to the region.

Led by Dr Natasha Stephen, Director of PEMC, and Claire Pearce, Manager of the centre’s Plymouth Materials Characterisation Project (PMCP), the event was attended by business managers, support providers and academics from the University.

Launched in February 2018, PMCP is funded by a £1.7m grant from the European Regional Development Fund and its aim is to enable more than 40 Devon businesses to collaborate with PEMC for free by mid-2020. 

Claire Pearce said:

“We were delighted to have such a good turnout at our first Industrial Solutions event. Our speakers were to the point and engaging and really brought to life what access to the FIB-SEM has done for their businesses already.”

James Bradbury (left) with Dr Dan Haspel operating the new FIB-SEM
James Bradbury (left) with Dr Dan Haspel operating the new FIB-SEM

James Bradbury from SW Metal Finishing Ltd, an Exeter-based company supplying the major primes in aerospace and defence, described how the company has developed an R&D team in order to innovate and develop new treatments for present and future customers.

Using the FIB-SEM has helped the company develop a unique surface removal process and apply for a patent with the objective information provided by the analysis. Being able to examine their samples at different stages of the process allowed SW Metal Finishing to modify the process and get a smoother, enhanced finish.

He said:

“The results from PMCP have aided SWMF in developing a better understanding of the process aided by experts and access to specialist equipment. This has enabled SWMF to achieve its original objectives, by submitting the patent, marketing activities and technical discussions with customers.”

Steve Cooper talks about applications for the Ramerfoam® Technology
Steve Cooper talks about applications for the Ramerfoam® Technology

Steve Cooper, from Ramer Ltd, described how the company used the analysis of their sponge product’s micro-structure to gain valuable insights to how their Ramerfoam® PVA sponge matrix works and where it holds moisture, helping to identify what gives the product its competitive edge.

As a result of this enhanced product knowledge, Ramer is now exploring new markets, with trials underway in South Africa, the US and Europe – both as a new product in existing markets, but also brand new applications for the Ramerfoam® Technology.

He said: 

"We have observed that Ramerfoam® exhibits a very high capacity for holding water within its cells walls, and has excellent non-particulating properties. In essence, we know Ramer sponges have superior absorbency –now we understand ‘why and ‘how’. As a result of this analysis, we feel confident in exploiting these advantages to target Ramerfoam® grades for new markets.”

Guests during the presentation
The PEMC team (from left): Dr
Yang Liu (Technical Specialist), Claire Pearce (PMCP Manager), Dr Natasha
Stephen (PEMC Director), Dr Dan Haspel (Technical Specialist), Glenn Harper
(Senior Technician), Dr Alex Strachan (Technical Specialist)

There were also presentations from Josie Gough, South West Regional Manager for Innovate UK, about the four main mechanisms through which companies can access funding to grow their company, and Jenny Milligan, who closed the event by describing how the University makes its research facilities and academic expertise available to industry.

The Industrial Solutions 2018-20 series is supported by Innovate UK, UKRI, ZEISS, and the University’s own Research and Innovation team.

It will focus specifically on sectors identified within the UK government’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, and priority areas for the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership, practically demonstrating how electron microscopy has already been used by companies in that sector.

Sectors include engineering and aerospace, photonics and microelectronics, healthy ageing and biomedical, marine technology, new energy and renewables, and geoscience.

Plymouth Electron Microscopy Centre

The Plymouth Electron Microscopy Centre offers expert and specialist support to students, researchers, academics and industry. We have a comprehensive range of light microscopes, electron microscopes, imaging processing and analysis software providing support to a range of disciplines within the University, external research organisations and industry clients.

Find out more about the centre

SEI 5kV WD9mm SS30 x1,000 10µm

Plymouth Materials Characterisation Project (PMCP)

Your products analysed at the nano-scale

We're offering 40 SMEs in Devon the chance to work with technical specialists and state-of-the-art technology, to provide insight into product samples and offer real solutions to real business problems - free of charge.

The project will use the brand new focused ion-beam, scanning electron microscope (FIB-SEM) to analyse your samples and initiate new product development, leaving a lasting impact on your business.

Interested? Take a look at the project, eligibility criteria, and next steps here.

Close up of a sponge