Sample preparation

How to Get a Good Answer in a Timely Manner

Shawn Wallace, Applications Engineer, EDAX

One of the joys of my job is troubleshooting issues and ensuring you acquire the best results to advance your research. Sometimes, it requires additional education to help users understand a concept. Other times, it requires an exchange of numerous emails. At the end of the day, our goal is not just to help you, but to ensure you get the right information in a timely manner.

For any sort of EDS related question, we almost always want to look at a spectrum file. Why? There is so much information hidden in the spectrum that we can quickly point out any possible issues. With a single spectrum, we can quickly see if something was charging, tilted, or shadowed (Figure 1). We can even see weird things like beam deceleration caused by a certain imaging mode (Figure 2). With most of these kinds of issues, it is common to run into major quant related problems. Any quant problems should always start with a spectrum.

Figure 1. The teal spectrum shows a strange background versus what a normal spectrum (red) should look like for a material.

Figure 1. The teal spectrum shows a strange background versus what a normal spectrum (red) should look like for a material.

This background information tells us that the sample was most likely shadowed and that rotating the sample to face towards the detector may give better results.

Figure 2. Many microscopes can decelerate the beam to help with imaging. This deceleration is great for imaging but can cause EDS quant issues. Therefore, we recommend reviewing the spectrum up front to reduce the number of emails to troubleshoot this issue.

Figure 2. Many microscopes can decelerate the beam to help with imaging. This deceleration is great for imaging but can cause EDS quant issues. Therefore, we recommend reviewing the spectrum up front to reduce the number of emails to troubleshoot this issue.

To save the spectrum, right-click in the spectrum window, then click on Save (Figure 3). From there, save the file with a descriptive name, and send it off to the applications group. These spectrum files also include other metadata, such as amp time, working distance, and parameters that give us so many clues to get to the bottom of possible issues.

Figure 3. Saving a spectrum in APEX™ is intuitive. Right-click in the area and a pop-up menu will allow you to save the spectrum wherever you want quickly.

Figure 3. Saving a spectrum in APEX™ is intuitive. Right-click in the area and a pop-up menu will allow you to save the spectrum wherever you want quickly.

For information on EDS backgrounds and the information they hold, I suggest watching Dr. Jens Rafaelsen’s Background Modeling and Non-Ideal Sample Analysis webinar.

The actual image file can also help us confirm most of the above.

Troubleshooting EBSD can be tricky since the issue could be from sample prep, indexing, or other issues. To begin, it’s important to rule out any variances associated with sample preparation. Useful information to share includes a description of the sample, as well as the step-by-step instructions used to prepare the sample. This includes things like the length of time, pressure, cloth material, polishing compound material, and even the direction of travel. The more details, the better!

Now, how do I know it is a sample prep problem? If the pattern quality is low at long exposure times (Figure 4) or the sample looks very rough, it is probably related to sample preparation (Figure 4). That being said, there could be non-sample prep related issues too.

Figure 4. This pattern is probably not indexable on its own. Better preparation of the sample surface is necessary to index and map this sample correctly.

Figure 4. This pattern is probably not indexable on its own. Better preparation of the sample surface is necessary to index and map this sample correctly.

For general sample prep guidelines, I would highly suggest Matt Nowell’s Learn How I Prepare Samples for EBSD Analysis webinar.

Indexing problems can be challenging to troubleshoot without a full data set. How do I know my main issues could be related to indexing? If indexing is the source, a map often appears to be very speckled or just black due to no indexing results. For this kind of issue, full data sets are the way to go. By full, I mean patterns and OSC files. These files can be exported out of TEAM™/APEX™. They are often quite large, but there are ways available to move the data quickly.

For the basics of indexing knowledge, I suggest checking out my latest webinar, Understanding and Troubleshooting the EDAX Indexing Routine and the Hough Parameters. During this webinar, we highlight attributes that indicate there is an issue with the data set, then dive into the best practices for troubleshooting them.

As for camera set up, this is a dance between the microscope settings, operator’s requirements, and the camera settings. In general, more electrons (higher current) allow the experiment to go faster and cover more area. With older CCD based cameras, understanding this interaction was key to good results. With the newer Velocity™ cameras based on CMOS technology, the dance is much simpler. If you are having difficulty while trying to optimize an older camera, the Understanding and Optimizing EBSD Camera Settings webinar can help.

So how do you get your questions answered fast? Bury us with information. More information lets us dive deeper into the data to find the root cause in the first email, and avoids a lengthy back and forth exchange of emails. If possible, educate yourself using the resources we have made available, be it webinars or training courses. And always, feel free to reach out to my colleagues and me at edax.applications@ametek.com!

Seeing is Believing?

Dr. René de Kloe, Applications Specialist, EDAX

A few weeks ago, I participated in a joint SEM – in-situ analysis workshop in Fuveau, France with Tescan electron microscopes and Newtec (supplier of the heating-tensile stage). One of the activities during this workshop was to perform a live in-situ tensile experiment with simultaneous EBSD data collection to illustrate the capabilities of all the systems involved. In-situ measurements are a great way to track material changes during the course of an experiment, but of course in order to be able to show what happens during such an example deformation experiment you need a suitable sample. For the workshop we decided to use a “simple” 304L austenitic stainless-steel material (figure 1) that would nicely show the effects of the stretching.

Figure 1. Laser cut 304L stainless steel tensile test specimen provided by Newtec.

I received several samples a few weeks before the meeting in order to verify the surface quality for the EBSD measurements. And that is where the trouble started …

I was hoping to get a recrystallized microstructure with large grains and clear twin lamellae such that any deformation structures that would develop would be clearly visible. What I got was a sample that appeared heavily deformed even after careful polishing (figure 2).

Figure 2. BSE image after initial mechanical polishing.

This was worrying as the existing deformation structures could obscure the results from the in-situ stretching. Also, I was not entirely sure that this structure was really showing the true microstructure of the austenitic sample as it showed a clear vertical alignment that extended over grain boundaries.
And this is where I contacted long-time EDAX EBSD user Katja Angenendt at the MPIE in Düsseldorf for advice. Katja works in the Department of Microstructure Physics and Alloy Design and has extensive experience in preparing many different metals and alloys for EBSD analysis. From the images that I sent, Katja agreed that the visible structure was most likely introduced by the grinding and polishing that I did and she made some suggestions to remove this damaged layer. Armed with that knowledge and new hope I started fresh and polished the samples once more. And I had some success! Now there were grains visible without internal deformation and some nice clean twin lamellae (figure 3). But not everywhere. I still had lots of areas with a deformed structure and whatever I tried I could not get rid of those.

Figure 3. BSE image after optimized mechanical polishing.

Back to Katja. When I discussed my remaining polishing problems she helpfully proposed to give it a try herself using a combination of mechanical polishing and chemical etching. But even after several polishing attempts starting from scratch and deliberately introducing scratches to verify that enough material was removed we could not completely get rid of the deformed areas. Now we slowly started to accept that this deformation was perhaps a true part of the microstructure. But how could that be if this is supposed to be a recrystallised austenitic 304L stainless steel?

Table 1. 304/304L stainless steel composition.

Let’s take a look at the composition. In table 1 a typical composition of 304 stainless steel is given. The spectrum below (figure 4) shows the composition of my samples.

Figure 4. EDS spectrum with quantification results collected with an Octane Elite Plus detector.

All elements are in the expected range except for Ni which is a bit low and that could bring the composition right at the edge of the austenite stability field. So perhaps the deformed areas are not austenite, but ferrite or martensite? This is quickly verified with an EBSD map and indeed the phase map below confirms the presence of a bcc phase (figure 5).

Figure 5. EBSD map results of the sample before the tensile test, IQ, IPF, and phase maps.

Having this composition right at the edge of the austenite stability field actually added some interesting additional information to the tensile tests during the workshop. Because if the internal deformation in the austenite grains got high enough, we might just trigger a phase transformation to ferrite (or martensite) with ongoing deformation.

Figure 6. Phase maps (upper row) and Grain Reference Orientation Deviation (GROD) maps (lower row) for a sequence of maps collected during the tensile test.

And that is exactly what we have observed (figure 6). At the start of the experiments the ferrite fraction in the analysis field is 7.8% and with increasing deformation the ferrite fraction goes up to 11.9% at 14% strain.

So, after a tough start the 304L stainless steel samples made the measurements collected during the workshop even more interesting by adding a phase transformation to the deformation. If you are regularly working with these alloys this is probably not unexpected behavior. But if you are working with many different materials you have to be aware that different types of specimen treatment, either during preparation or during experimentation, may have a large influence on your characterization results. Always be careful that you do not only see what you believe, but ensure that you can believe what you see.

Finally I want to thank the people of Tescan and Newtec for their assistance in the data collection during the workshop in Fuveau and especially a big thank you to Katja Angenendt at the Max Planck Institute for Iron Research in Düsseldorf for helpful discussions and help in preparing the sample.

Avoid a Distorted View

Dr. Stuart Wright, Senior Scientist EBSD, EDAX

In the world of “fake news” and “alternative facts”, it is important that we dig a little deeper than the headlines to understand the world around us and to avoid a distorted view those in power often want to give us. Ironically, the same is true at the microscale. I recently ran into some work concerning the effects of sample prep on x-ray measurements. It made me reflect on some early work we did to explore the effects of sample prep on EBSD results.

In order to prepare EBSD samples properly it is important to understand that surface finish is not the whole story. It is important that the layer of material sampled by EBSD be distortion free. Charts shown in many metals preparation handbooks clearly show that there can be significant deformation imparted into the sub-surface of a material during preparation. Consider the following chart adapted from a figure in a classic EBSD sample preparation paper: D. Katrakova & F. Mücklich (2001) “Specimen preparation for electron Backscatter Diffraction. Part I: Metals” Praktische Metallographie. 8:547-65. This plot clearly shows why sample prep for EBSD needs to be meticulous.

My longtime colleague, Matt Nowell, did a nice study comparing by grinding two samples, one ground to 240 grit and one to 1200 grit. He then cross-sectioned these samples and carefully prepared the cross-sectioned surfaces. Matt then did OIM scans on the two surfaces. Using a Kernel Average Misorientation (KAM) map, the degree of deformation in the 240 grit sample is clearly more pronounced that in the 1200 grit sample. Matt and I have always wanted to repeat this measurement for more grits and materials but have never found the time to pursue it again.

Many times, students who have asked me “which grinding and/or polishing steps can I skip?” Or, “how many times can I really use a grinding paper?” (I remember as a student we got one paper for each grit for the semester and we would hang them from a wire with clothes pins in the sample prep lab!). Or, “can’t I just do the final grinding step for a longer time and skip the coarser grinding steps?” One thing we’ve learned on our own and in conversations with the sample prep vendors is that the recipes developed with several steps for what intuitively may feel like short times really are the steps that lead to the best results -basically confirming the plot shown above.

The improvement in cameras, image processing and particularly NPAR™ should not be used as an excuse to take shortcuts in sample prep. While it may be possible to get patterns and reasonable maps, are you really looking at the representative microstructure of interest or a distorted version resulting from deformation induced by sample prep?

I believe EBSD has had a positive impact on the metallography community. EBSD has forced us to be more careful in sample preparation over that typically done for light microscopy or even scanning electron microscopy. Hopefully that extra care has resulted in more representative microstructural characterization.