Robot Field Service Engineers from Space

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Well, not really.

COVID-19 pandemic related travel restrictions have made it much more difficult to perform field service maintenance on scientific equipment such as XPS X-ray photoelectron spectrometers.

RBD Instruments currently offers technical support, where an RBD engineer works over the phone and internet with on-site technicians to troubleshoot and repair problems with older PHI surface analysis instrumentation. But technical support can be a slow and tedious process because the customer’s on-site technician needs to describe the system components and performance as part of the trouble-shooting process.

RBD also normally offers on-site field service repair services, where an RBD engineer travels to the customer’s site. But with the COVID-19 travel restrictions, all field service is currently on hold.

The next best thing to actually having an RBD engineer on-site would be to have a remote-controlled camera so that the RBD engineer can see the instrument in real time. Consider this to be enhanced technical support or virtual field service.

Remote controlled virtual robots are very cool (think Big Bang Theory Sheldon’s virtual presence episode) and would allow the RBD engineer to be in the lab virtually.  But the telepresence robots are expensive and also might not be able to move around safely in a lab environment.

A much less expensive option would be a remote-controlled wireless camera with speakers. For only $50.00, this option would still give the RBD engineer more control over the camera than what is possible with cell phones and Skype. When the RBD engineer can see the equipment in real time more easily, the better the technical support result will be.

Until COVID-19 travel restrictions are eased, virtual field service is one possibility for repairing and maintaining scientific instruments such as XPS surface analysis systems and components. And going forward once COVID-19 is no longer an issue (hopefully in the not too distant future), virtual field service may become more common just for the cost savings compared to traditional field service.

Contact RBD Instruments for more information.

Putting Together a Compact UHV (Ultra-high Vacuum) Chamber for Spectroscopy

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Small, inexpensive UHV chambers have been the backbone of many commercial labs and universities for decades. The cost of larger, feature-rich systems has gone up dramatically in recent years, making compact, DIY chambers even more cost-effective for specialized applications and education.

RBD has a range of products available to add value to your compact chamber, and in fact built our own recently to develop and test our microCMA compact Auger analyzer.

RBD Kimball Chamber
Kimball Physics chamber with RBD miniZ, IG2, and microCMA compact Auger analyzer

The Chamber

We started with an 8 inch spherical octagon chamber from Kimball Physics. This chamber has two 8.00″ CF and eight 2.75″ CF mounts, with an internal volume of  106.6 cu. in. (1,747 cc):

Kimball Physics Chamber
Kimball Physics 8.0″ Spherical Octagon – Vacuum Chamber

The vacuum chamber was fitted with an ion pump from Gamma Vacuum, and valves and windows from MDC. Affordable turbo pumps can be sourced from Pfeiffer (HiCube 80 Eco) and Edwards (nEXT85).

Rough vacuum gauges are available from a number of companies including Digivac.

Rough Vacuum Gauge
Rough vacuum gauge

Ion gauges and ion gauge controllers are available from a number of companies including Stanford Research Systems

Ion Gauge Controller
Ion gauge controller


To assist with water vapor desorption, the chamber is fitted with RBD’s miniZ. The mini-Z uses UVC radiation to desorb water from the chamber walls, resulting in faster pump-down times and lower ultimate vacuum.

RBD miniZ
RBD miniZ water vapor desorption system

This chamber is also fitted with RBD’s IG2 2 kV low cost sputter ion gun for specimen cleaning:


The ultimate purpose of this system was to house RBD’s microCMA compact Auger analyzer (shown below with the Z translator attached):

RBD microCMA
RBD’s microCMA compact Auger Analyzer

For applications that require elemental analysis, this chamber, with the addition of a PC and CMapp AES acquisition and data massage software, is now a complete system providing quantitative, surface-sensitive Auger electron spectroscopy. At around $50,000 for all the components listed here, this is one example of a budget-sensitive spectroscopy system that can be assembled, repaired and upgraded without costly field service visits.

50-096 X-ray source control DLL using Windows 10

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50-096 X-ray source DLL installation and setup for Windows 10


The 50-096 X-ray source control uses a RS232 serial port to communicate with the PC.    AugerScan talks to a Phi 50-096 DLL that in turn communicates with the 50-096.    This DLL was originally written for old 32 bit XP PCs and there are some tricks involved with getting it to install and operate correctly on a Windows 10 machine.

Note that the RS232 cable needs to be a straight rough type. Most newer PCs do not have a RS232 port so you will need to get a USB to RS232 adaptor.

The steps involved are as follows:

  1. Copy the 50-096 DLL to the windows/SysWOW64 folder
  2. Register the 50-096 DLL
  3. Set up the Com port

Step 1.  Copy the 50-096 DLL to the PC.    You can copy it anywhere on the PC, but initially copy it to the AugerScan directory.

Step 2.  Register the 50-096 DLL.  

  1. Right click on the Start icon and select Command Prompt (Admin).   Or if that does not work, search for Command Prompt and Run as Admin
  2. Type cd\Windows\SysWOW64 then press enter
  3. Type regSvr32 Model_50_096.dll and press enter

You should get a message that indicates that the Model_50_096.dll was registered.  

Step 3.  Set up the com port.

  1. Type Registry Editor in the search box and then run the registry editor as Admin
  3. Add a new string (which will add a new key)
  4. Name the new key ComPort
  5. Verify the type of key is REG_SZ
  6. Put in the com port number that you are connecting to the 50-096.  It needs to be COM (all caps) plus the com port number.  So for example, COM3.
  7. The 50-096 operates at 9600 baud with no parity and 8 data bits.

The 50-096 in now ready to operate with AugerScan.

Note: When first turned on, the Model 50-096 X-ray source power supply needs to be programmed to operate at 15 keV. To do this, perform the following steps:

1. Press the Local button under Control Select.

2. Press the Start button for the Water Pump.

3. Press the High Voltage button above the keypad.

4. Press the Display/Enter Setpoints button above the keypad. (LED should light.)

5. Press 1 – 5 – 0 – # on the keypad.

6. Press the remote button under Control Select. The 50-096 will retain the 15 keV setting until it is manually turned off or there is a power interruption.

Once this is set up AugerScan will automatically turn the 50-096 source on and off during and after acquisitions.  

Tip:   If you program in 12 or 13kV then that is what will be used when the 50-096 is turned on.