Author Topic: Instrument parts failure survey  (Read 812 times)


  • Professor
  • ****
  • Posts: 42
Instrument parts failure survey
« on: August 13, 2018, 02:52:40 am »
Hi All,

I'm curious about the sequence in which instrument components and peripherals fail and has to be replaced during the lifetime of an instrument. Any managers want to share their experience with us? Although details will differ between labs, generalizations drawn from experiences could be useful for long term budgeting.

JEOL 8230 (2011/2012):

-The spectrometer wires (+ tension belts) need replacement about every 2-3 years.
-EDIT: I forgot about the UPS batteries. They have also requires replacement about every 3 years (but we went through a phase of regular city-wide power interruptions, so I don't know if that has played a role)
-The SIP lasted about 5 yrs before needing to be refurbished.
-The PCD was replaced after 6yrs.
-After 6 years, in order for us to continue receiving JEOL software updates, our software and PC system needs an upgrade (at a price) from XP to a Windows 7/10-compatible setup. [EDIT: After reading below about the computer hassles, I have to add that while one would think this upgrade of the probe from XP to 7/10 is trivial, it is not. The service engineer is running into all sorts of problems.]


« Last Edit: August 14, 2018, 01:16:40 am by D. »


  • Professor
  • ****
  • Posts: 51
Re: Instrument parts failure survey
« Reply #1 on: August 13, 2018, 07:01:14 am »
This is an important topic and I suspect will become more troublesome as we go forward. When I retired at the end of 2017, my lab had three older instruments: a workhorse SEM (Hitachi 4100) with many users, a FEI 420 Dual-Beam FIB with an EDAX Genesis EDS, and our newest instrument was a FEI Sirion purchased in 2004 with an Oxford AZtec EDS system purchased in 2013. Keeping these running was a challenge. Throughout my 36 year career we had kept our electron beam instruments under service contract. There was the expected management push to reduce costs. During a brief trial of 3rd party service when it looked like we would be on the hook for a TEM high tension tank (> $100K) we were able to convince senior management that a vendor service contract was actually the lowest cost option (immediate shipment of parts, no administration time to get POs, and priority of service engineer visits). We didn't produce revenue for the lab when the instrument was down...

My biggest problem was availability of parts for older instruments.

Let's first consider vacuum pumps. Our Sirion was originally capable of low vacuum operation (useful for charge reduction but a pain to use.) It also used a non-standard turbo pump. When faced with a 3 month lead time for a new pump, we switched to a standard pump and gave up the low vacuum capabilities. Turbo pumps tended to develop vibrations that limited resolution after 2 to 4 years. Mechanical vacuum pumps would develop noise and vibrations that were both annoying and reduced resolution. We would have preferred to have them outside of the room but the hose runs were often too long for the instrument's vacuum needs (often timing issues). We had boxes with noise isolation and ventilation. Pumps needed to be reconditioned every couple of years, even with changing the oil every six months. Our Sirion had dry scroll pumps. These needed seal changes every year or so. The seal changes were covered under contract and we would schedule them for routines.

A bigger problem was the availability of electronic components as the instruments aged. This vintage of instruments used many components such as graphics boards and interface cards that became hard to get. The vendors did what they could to stockpile these parts, but at the end of my career, both we and the vendors were searching Ebay for parts.

A still bigger problem was old operating systems that ran the instruments. There simply were not reasonably priced upgrades to let us use modern operating systems that our IT folks required to be on the network (to get the files off...) Our typical workaround was to add a second network card to a PC suitable to the IT folks and place that between the instrument PC and our corporate network. This had the added benefit of letting us not have anti-virus software on the instrument PC. Even our newest Oxford AZtec system worked best this way, especially when collecting maps. The downside of older computers is the need to keep your own supply of spares. Also do not forget to clone your working hard drive, test the cloned version, and keep it in a safe place. This saved my bacon many times... I rebuilt more than one computer for EDAX Genesis before learning this lesson...

Let's not forget the more expected repairs: FEG tips needed to be replaced every 2 to 3 years... We had our systems on UPS backup systems and batteries needed to be replaced every 2 to 3 years...

In the end, if I were to do it again and was able to get a new instrument, I would seriously consider leasing. Build the price of the instrument, the service contract and all the headaches into the price and negotiate the best price up front, especially if you can consider more than one vendor. I say this because instrument model changes became much more frequent and the length of time we could get vendor service at a reasonable price was getting shorter. When all is said and done, we all do what we have to do to keep the lab running. Given the choice or running our analyses or servicing our systems, we would all choose the former if we could...


  • Emeritus
  • *****
  • Posts: 1947
  • Never sleeps...
    • John Donovan
Re: Instrument parts failure survey
« Reply #2 on: August 13, 2018, 01:52:28 pm »
I agree with John Minter that this is a very important thing to understand.  I agree with all his comments and just add some emphasis:

There's instrument hardware support issues because parts become obsolete, power supplies need replacing.

There's computer hardware support issues. One thing we've seen is that the cheaper consumer grade computers are simply not rated for continuous power on and the little capacitors on the mother board always fail after 5 or 8 years of continuous power on.  This is why I always buy Dell Precision Workstations as they utilize tantalum capacitors on the mother board which will run for 20 years or more without fail.

I also concur on the the hard drive cloning. Hard drives have become much more reliable in the last 10 years but they still occasionally fail and you don't want to have to re-create everything "from scratch".  We use Norton Ghost but you'll need a new version for Windows 10.

Operating system updates are becoming an issue as most IT departments are insisting that XP computers get replaced or upgraded to Windows 7 at least and they prefer Windows 10.  This is not an issue for Probe for EPMA and Probe Image as they are very compatible and updates are always free. And because PFE and PI don't require any specific hardware support other than a network connection updating the operating system won't affect your installation. But I believe that Cameca and JEOL OEM software require updates that may or may not be free for the newer operating systems, but I can't say for sure.

The biggest problems in my lab were the thin film computer running STRATAGem because the old software dongle using the parallel port stopped working after updating to Windows 7 and we had to buy an upgrade with a new dongle, and the computer running the Leica camera microscope software and Nikon slide scanner which doesn't support 64 bit operating systems.    I might have to update that computer to a 32 bit Windows 7 to avoid hardware driver issues.
The only stupid question is the one not asked!


  • Professor
  • ****
  • Posts: 51
Re: Instrument parts failure survey
« Reply #3 on: August 13, 2018, 03:28:41 pm »
Thank you for the kind words, John.

I had one additional thought. I made a "site book document" for each instrument. I stored it on one of our corporate network file shares (with controlled access) under version control (git.) Since I am very comfortable with R/RStudio/Rmarkdown(free...), I used that.  You could use Word, HTML, or something similar. Using software that lets you link to other areas in the document is very helpful.

This was designed to be a "one stop source" for everything that I (and my successor) needed to keep the instrument running at peak performance.  I would store part numbers and procedures in appropriate sections. I stored all the passwords required to access key instrument modes (it was a limited access file share...) and instructions on how to use them. One of my #rstats friends put it like this: "Your closest collaborator is you six months from now and you don't respond to email..."

Because I was a very experienced user and had long time relationships with my vendor service engineers, they freely shared key tips on how to diagnose many problems. I recorded these in the site book for the instrument. Having these in a single location made me much more productive and made my interactions with my service engineers better for both parties.