Month: April 2014

The problem is not the problem

Steve Sopko, Customer Service Manager

“The problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude about the problem. Do you understand?” – Captain Jack Sparrow

The first week of April 2014 saw the first worldwide service meeting for EDAX, Inc. Service representatives from China, Japan, Europe and the United States joined together for training, product updates, business updates, innovation presentations, and team building. It was a very exciting and productive week.

Worldwide, we have a common theme and common challenge. That being, providing solutions for the customers we serve, both internal and external. The methods of service delivery may differ around the world, however, at the end of the day, when you boil it all down, “Service” exists to solve problems and to add value.

Do the problems differ in different parts of the world? Not really. A customer has a system that is not fully functional. That customer is losing valuable research time or production output. Time is always the main issue.

Teamwork. The Field Service Engineer (FSE) may respond first with a phone call, to define and diagnose the issue. Many times issues are resolved in this manner. At times our Support teams are involved as a first line service, from technical support to applications, engineering, and production. Team Viewer sessions are very useful and save a great amount of time, as this allows EDAX to look inside of the system with the user to see the issue and collect needed data for determining a next step. When these groups need hands on help from the site, the FSE is sent.

Traveling for the FSE does present its challenges. In the USA, the engineer will travel state to state, not in a vehicle from block to block, but airport to airport. Effective planning and time utilization is key to reduce the time it takes to provide the solution. The USA FSEs are now an internal Customer. He relies on the engineering drawing to be on site, or that needed part, software application or newly released version that solves the current issue for the customer. The internal customer shifts, the feedback the FSE provides is crucial for continuous improvement. This feedback can lead to engineering changes, applications solutions, and quality improvements in production. It can also contribute to future innovation EDAX develops in order to meet its customers’ needs not of today, but in the future.

The FSEs from Europe, China, and Japan travel internationally. Borders must be crossed requiring passports, import/export issues, communication and language challenges, and of course time. The opportunity to provide solutions is the same all over the world. Only the method used to deliver that service differs and has different challenges.

The Field Service Group solves problems. It’s why we exist. We also add value and provide information the improves quality on all of our products based on the user experience. The testing and findings we document improve our support documentation and methods or processes used. We communicate valuable customer feedback, which contributes to meeting the customers’ needs with product offerings of today, with a thought as to what their needs will be tomorrow.

It was refreshing to be part of a group, coming together from all over the world with a common mindset of simply solving problems. One group’s needs are not greater than the others, but a common mindset, to solve problems together for ourselves and our customers.

The tooth, the whole tooth and nothing but the tooth….

 Tara Nylese, Global Applications Manager

Tooth enamel is the hardest material in the human body. While it is easy to think biological materials are not a very interesting target for x-ray microanalysis, there are often unknowns lurking in the small and difficult to reach places. This is the case with a cavity just forming in a tooth.

When my 10 year old daughter lost her tooth last year, I was intrigued by the ‘small’ brown spot that I noticed at the base of the crown of the tooth. Since small is a relative term in the world of microscopy and microanalysis and there’s always a hunt for new and interesting samples, I traded with the tooth fairy and gained a new sample.

Despite the irregular shape of this premolar, I was easily able to mount it on a holder with carbon tape and I then brought it into the SEM under low vac mode to help conduct away the electron beam charge from the insulating material. Working at low vac is important for biological materials since introducing carbon coating for charge reduction creates confusion in native carbon distribution, and heavier metal coatings absorb the more delicate low energy x-rays which must escape the tissue. I was quickly able to see morphological differences in the suspected cavity area, with fine cracks and a sunken in appearance that wasn’t visible to the eye. I then used one of the primary tools in a microanalyst’s toolkit, BSE imaging, to see atomic number contrast in the image, indicating gross changes in the chemical makeup around the sunken area.

Image showing morphological differences and atomic number contrast

Within seconds of collecting the image, I gathered a spectrum from an area of less than one millimeter across.  At moderate beam current, which the sample handled easily, the overall chemistry was immediately apparent with the clearly recognizable O, P and Ca peaks, even before the EXpert ID kicked in five seconds later.

Spectrum showing O, P and Ca peaks

As anticipated, this is consistent with this being hydroxyapatite (HA), which is the main mineral component of tooth enamel and bones.

The main reason for the formation of dental cavities is the erosion of the enamel by acid from eating sugars; erosion then permits bacterial invasion within this area.  After the first spectrum collection, it was just a matter of tracking the chemical distribution around the cracks and with a few survey spectra, the carbon content was found to be highest in the darker areas of the BSE image.  The presence of carbon indicates organic matter in the form of a bacterial biofilm within the eroded area.

Since visual distribution is the surest way to understand the material, the next step was to collect an x-ray map.  During the collection I selected the major constituents and dynamically overlaid them to understand how the chemistry matched up with the morphology, Ca and C shown here.

Ca and C overlay map

The cracks and holes are confirmed with the unique CPS map, which shows variations of x-ray intensities and lends a better understanding of not only elemental intensities, but also the impact of topography on the appearance of those elements.

Unique counts per second (CPS) map confirms cracks and holes

Along with this function there is a normalization routine, which is applied to make up for the reduction of counts in the cracks and holes particularly for elements that are truly present throughout, such as can be seen with the Oxygen map before and after maps here.

Oxygen map before normalization routine  Oxygen map after normalization routine 

A final note here is that, interestingly, it is not directly the amount of sugar at one time that leads to the enamel loss but extended exposure throughout the course of the day.  Better to eat one’s Easter basket in one sitting than making it last throughout the day to avoid cavities!