Science is key for product quality and customer service

Quality and service to customers are C&K’s primary concern which is why we are so committed to improving our product quality processes. Throughout the production, comprehensive quality checks using a series of optical observations tools from macro- to micro (see Figure 1) alongside a variety of equipment that measures specific variables, including a low-load microhardness tester, X-ray fluorescence (XRF) electrodeposit thickness measurement suite, compression/traction testing rigs, lifetests in different environments and electrical properties quantification. 

Optical cross-section of stainless steel band AISI301 shaped as a dome and low-load Vickers microhardeness mesurements (Hv) – two phases coexist, one harder than the other

Figure 1: Optical cross-section of stainless steel band AISI301 shaped as a dome and low-load Vickers microhardeness measurements (Hv) – two phases coexist, one harder than the other 

C&K is also committed to supporting our customers during product development towards final usage. Complicated issues related to product integration (e.g. soldering) require in-line investigations with state of the art analytical tools. For example, soldering flux penetration can be characterized using Infrared (IR) microscopy since it provides local structural information on organic-based materials/contaminations. 

Corrosion is another important topic our clients often face which is why C&K is able to perform tests in high-stress environments – including salt spray tests, SO2 and 4 gases – that unveil insights into our products’ behavior. We use in-house optical 3D topographic representations (see Figure 2) and electron microscopy (SEM) coupled to local composition estimation (EDX) technology to fuel our own R&D development so we can pass that knowledge along to our customers. 

3D Optical image of highly corroded silver surface3D Optical image of highly corroded silver surface

Figure 2: 3D Optical image of highly corroded silver surface 

Corrosion resistance improvement starts with complete control of the electrodeposition process that should include the microstructure of the plated layers. Imaging-based Field Ion Beam (FIB) sections have been recognized as a useful tool (see Figure 3), especially when it is coupled with standard topographic observations and X-Ray fluorescence (XRF) thickness estimations. 

FIB section ionic imaging mode of Au/Ni/CuZn33 plating sequence

Figure 3: FIB section ionic imaging mode of Au/Ni/CuZn33 plating sequence 

C&K is continuously working on new concepts and always looks for the best analytical tools associated with common issues such as silver tarnishing in electrical contacts. C&K is working to define the best post-treatment process that can be applied to extend switches’ performances and shelf-life. Rather than accepting limitations from our providers, C&K pushes further and deploys X-ray Photoelectron Spectroscopy (XPS) surface analysis to identify the first nanometer of the metal surface and define the structure of the organic post-treatment layer to battle tarnish.

Finally, non-destructive characterization methods such as computerized X-ray microtomography (µCT) have emerged as a powerful tool to understand the dynamic of the newly developed products. In addition, 3D high-resolution metrology and direct comparison of the final assembly versus CAD files becomes possible; these new virtual concepts can be tested and design-optimized based on 3D data, making faster and more accurate prototyping possible. Figure 4 displays a 3D reconstruction of the metal parts from an ATS switch, including fixed and moveable parts surrounded by the external cage that holds the product together. 

Metal parts and internal contacts from an ATS switch  – 3D reconstruction from µCT analysis

Figure 4: Metal parts and internal contacts from an ATS switch – 3D reconstruction from µCT analysis

By Dr. Christophe Gras July 23, 2018 Engineering