EDS and WDS: the changing microanalysis market.
The largest competitors in the EDS and WDS microanalysis market are Oxford Instruments, EDAX, which was acquired by Ametek last year (see IBO 7/15/02), and Thermo Electron's Thermo Noran business unit. A number of smaller companies participate with specialized product offerings, applications and accessories, and OEM agreements. Among these companies are EVEX Analytical, 4pi Analysis, Princeton Gamma Tech and Rontec.
The semiconductor slump and increasing technical demands have imputed sales in the last two years, increasing competition and the demand for product differentiation. "With the downturn of industry in general, the competition has got a lot steeper," says Del Redfern, EDAX product manager for Material Characterization Tools, who also thinks this has generated pressure on prices. "We're looking at more of the higher end systems to differentiate ... to be able to maintain our prices." Oxford Instruments Analytical's Marketing Director Dan Varnam tells IBO that the slowdown in the semiconductor industry has clearly affected the microanalysis business. However, sales of EDS and WDS microanalysis have seen growth in the US and Japan.
Competition has also come in the form of the electron microscope suppliers themselves. FEI, Hitachi, JEOL and LEO offer scanning electron microscope and transmission electron microscope models equipped with their own brand EDS instruments. Only JEOL manufactures its own EDS for its models. Although most of these such offerings are the offspring of OEM agreements with EDS manufacturers, with the exception of JEOL, they nonetheless result in more units in the marketplace.
Driving the latest technical developments for EDS and WDS are resolution, throughput and ease of use. How EDS and WDS vendors meet current technical challenges and market them will decide their fate in the marketplace. With the increasing usage of low voltage SEM (below 5keV) for lighter elements and more thorough analyses, EDS techniques have had to evolve to provide greater resolution. "One of the focuses in the last 12 months has been to develop tools to look at low voltage EDS and x-ray analysis," says Mr. Redfern. According to Mr. Varnam, working at lower accelerating voltages, notably in semiconductors, is one of the main technical challenges for EDS currently. At low voltages, especially among elements used in combination for semiconductors, identification of elements, particularly when overlapped, is challenging.
For both Oxford Instruments and EDAX, redesigned detectors, electronics and software have increased higher resolution for low voltage analysis. For Oxford Instruments, says Mr. Varnum, its new INCAx-sight detector and pulse processor provide guaranteed resolution at 2,500 counts per second for light elements (fluorine, carbon) as well as for the traditional benchmark of manganese. This higher count rate technology also provides stable output across the range of count rates obviating the need to recalibrate at each count rate. For low energy analysis, EDAX offers its Polaris microcalorimeter EDS detector. It is "an energy dispersive system that uses transition edge sensors as the detectors. These sensors are operated at superconductive temperatures," says Mr. Redfern, who adds that on certain designed detectors, resolutions of 3-4 eV are possible.
Another answer to improving resolution for low voltage analysis is WDS. While WDS provides higher resolution, it only measures one wavelength at a time, making it too slow and narrowly focused for many traditional EDS applications. But EDS in combination with WDS, as well as modifications of WDS have opened up applications. In July, EDAX signed an exclusive agreement with Parallax Research to sell its low energy WDS instrument, the LEXS (low energy x-ray spectrometer), for low energy microanalysis. According to Parallax Research, its low energy WDS produces higher count rates, can scan for a particular resolution or element, and is capable of faster peak scan and background scans. For improved resolution using WDS, Oxford Instruments offers the INCA Energy+, a combined EDS and WDS platform. Thermo Noran employs its parallel beam spectrometer for low voltage analyses in its Ibex WDS and its MAXray WDS.
Also increasing the competitive landscape are the latest advances in detectors. The growing demand for liquid nitrogen free detectors has increased product offerings in this area, as well as competition. Nitrogen free detectors provide a safer, easier and cleaner alternative to regular detectors. Recent product releases includes Rontec's X Flash detectors, which are cooled using an integrated single stage thermo-electric cooling system, Princeton Gamma Tech's Sahara silicon drift detector, and Horiba's latest model introduced in August. Waiting in the wings as the next step forward for the detector market are silicon drift detectors. "I think one big thing we'll see over the next few years, maybe five years, is the development of the silicon drift detector," says Mr. Redfern. Mr. Varnam says, "The arrival of commercially acceptable silicon drift detectors is finally happening. While its performance is far too low to attract most users, this is a clear direction for the future."
Driven by the needs of the semiconductor industry, improvements in resolution and throughput for EDS and WDS have rapidly progressed. They have also opened up new applications in areas such as forensics, steel, magnetic media and environmental filters. But key to the advancement of such industrial applications as well as academic needs has been software.
Software has become an important way to differentiate products for EDS and WDS manufacturers. Mr. Redfern, EDAX' product manager for Material Characterization Tools, tells IBO, "we change our software at least every six months." Joe Carr, Oxford Instruments' vice president of North American Sales, also says software is key to making the technique accessible and flexible and is necessary for the multiple user labs that have become common place. "Our software was developed not only for ease of use but was developed to make it easy for us to customize different products that meet the demand of our different OEM customers," he adds.
The latest generation of software for EDS and WDS microanalysis emphasize simple interface, sophisticated mapping and imaging choices, advanced correction techniques, and greater user customization. EDAX' GENESIS 2.5 software adds electronic signature and audit trial features. Oxford Instruments' new INCA Feature application for particle analysis emphasizes customization, image acquisition and productivity with new software features.
Software has also opened up the WDS market, says Mr. Carr. "In the past, wavelength dispersive was seen as difficult to use; it was a much more complicated detector mechanism. With the software now, we essentially treat an ED and WD detector the same in terms of how the customer interfaces with that detector. The software is essentially transparent."
The INCA Feature also exemplifies the move toward application packages for EDS and WDS that the demand for ease of use have necessitated. "What's going to happen in the short term is that companies like ourselves will offer solutions to particular problems ... we can develop applications designed around one particular problem that the customer has," says Mr. Redfern, citing EDAX' particle analysis package. The new approach is also embodied in Thermo NORAN's latest microanalysis offering, the NORAN System SIX X-ray microanalysis package. It features a unified, single software program, an intuitive interface, more automatic features and the new COMPASS statistical analysis package.
While the lull in the semiconductor market may have impacted sales for EDS and WDS microanalysis instruments, technical developments continue to advance, increasing competition in an already tight market and extending product applications. For EDS and WDS, the future lies not only in the return of the semiconductor market but in easy-to-use systems fitting the latest applications, such as gunshot residue, and markets, such as nanotechnology (see page 8). In addition, the ability to overcome technical limitations, competition from other techniques, and the direction of the SEM and TEM market will continue to play a role in the future.