If you’ve ever had to research about heavy-duty industrial equipment, then you may have come across industrial microscopes before: they’re the bigger and more advanced counterparts to the common microscope that we usually see in school or laboratory settings.
Industrial microscopes are among the most important components of any manufacturing or scientific organization’s arsenal of high-precision tools. They perform a function that no other tool can: the precise, close-up examination and visualization of objects that are too small to be seen or examined properly by the naked eye. As such, this makes industrial microscopes invaluable for measuring, quality control, inspection, and specimen observation—key aspects in any manufacturing or scientific research process.
This value increases when they are augmented with sophisticated motion solutions such as microscopy linear stages, allowing them to zoom into the specimen or object with a higher degree of precision and repeatability. Besides this, linear stages also help in ensuring that the specimen is firmly affixed in place, further minimizing any minute changes in its position which could then result in erroneous results.
Without industrial microscopes, the industries that rely heavily upon them for their manufacturing or research processes will obviously cease to exist, as it is impossible for these industries to function any further without the precision and guidance that such technology affords them. We can also say that without these highly precise tools, most of the technological advancements that have made us healthier and have made our lives more convenient would not have taken place at all.
With the importance of industrial microscopes in mind, let’s talk about some of their different types and what they’re used for.
The Gemological Microscope
This industrial microscope is specifically designed and outfitted to be used by jewelers, gemologists, and stone-setters in the performance of their occupational tasks, such as the valuation of certain jewels and rare minerals. With the market value of gems, jewels, and other minerals being inherently based on their quality and the amount of minute imperfections on them—both of which are only visible under industrial-strength microscopy—a gemological microscope is essential for anyone who works with these commodities.
Gemological microscopes often come with a darkfield condenser: a microscope component that only allows a pinprick of light to hit the gem or sample. This illuminates the gem from within, allowing the jeweler or gemologist to see all the fractures, inclusions, and other elements that can affect the market value of the gem itself. Besides this, gemological microscopes also come with tweezers affixed to its base, enabling a user to hold the gemstone or sample in place during examination.
The Stereoscopic Microscope
The Stereoscopic or “stereo” microscope is a type of industrial microscope designed to provide a magnified 3D visualization of a sample. This is achieved by the microscope providing two different viewing angles of the sample itself, one for each eye, as opposed to the usual microscope setup where both eyes are supplied with the same image for the purposes of comfort and ease of use.
This ability to show a 3D representation of the specimen makes the stereoscopic microscope perfect for studying the surface detail of the sample itself, or to carry out tasks that require close-up precision. As such. stereoscopic microscopes are heavily used for the following purposes:
- Forensic engineering
The electronics industry also makes heavy use of stereoscopic microphones in the manufacturing, inspection, and quality control of their smaller and more delicate components, such as microchips or semiconductors.
One notable variant of the stereoscopic microphone is the stereo zoom microscope. They are functionally the same as their regular counterparts, except they offer the ability to zoom in further into the subject rather than just trapped in one single level of magnification. This offers a lot more visual clarity and detail as needed for smaller but opaque specimens.
The Metallurgical Microscope
This type of industrial microscope is mainly used for the inspection of metallurgical materials, such as metals and ceramics, for the purposes of detecting flaws, cracks, and other anomaly in the material itself. As such, they are specifically designed to provide magnification for flat, polished, and reflective samples. This particular task is something that traditional microscopes may have issues with, as the light reflecting off these samples may obscure the examiner’s sight or even cause eye injury.
The ability of metallurgical microscopes to provide enhanced visualization to a reflective specimen is achieved through the usage of technologies other than simple optical magnification, such as HD camera equipment, acoustic imaging, and ultrasonic imaging. The latter two are especially common in many metallurgical microscope variants. Those that are specialized towards a certain type of metallurgical sample also utilize microwave, atomic force, or laser imaging technologies.
Metallurgical microscopes are heavily used in the electronics industry, mainly for product quality assurance and inspection roles.
The Polarized Microscope
Last but not least is the polarized microscope. This industrial microscope type uses polarized light to better investigate the visual properties of various specimens, specifically those made of solid and opaque materials. This is done by enhancing the contrast of the material’s imaging, allowing researchers to evaluate the composition and structure of anisotropic specimens, i.e. specimens that can refract or reflect light in many different ways, depending on how the light hits them. First finding use mainly in geology-related fields, polarized microscopes have also become quite popular in the medical and biological research fields as well.
A polarized microscope works by modifying the light it uses to visualize the specimen. Normal light—the kind that’s visible to the human eye—is omnidirectional, and vibrates out at an angle perpendicular from its source. The polarized microscope forces the light to stop vibrating and only move in one direction, specifically towards the specimen itself. This is called polarization.
As the light is focused on just one direct path, it illuminates certain areas of the specimen while darkening others, highlighting those areas and allowing researchers to find attributes that may have otherwise been missed had the light remained unpolarized. By rotating the specimen, this selective illumination spreads to other areas of the specimen while also darkening others.
As stated earlier, polarized microscopes got their start in the geological field, but they have been adopted in the medical and biological research industries as well. Some biological materials that are commonly and best evaluated by polarized light include muscles, teeth, urine and gout crystals, and bone.
Industrial microscopes have contributed a lot to science and technology, allowing research and manufacturing industries to discover the modern breakthroughs that have made our lives easier and more convenient today. Those looking to get into the industries that have benefitted massively from these heavy-duty devices must recognize their importance and train themselves properly in their proper usage.