Herzan is excited to continue its partner profile series, showcasing the incredible work being done by the innovators behind Herzan’s products. This feature highlights Herzan’s newest partner – Spicer Consulting: the leader in magnetic field cancellation systems for electron microscopy.

This partner profile provides customers with an inside look into the history, development, and evolution of its magnetic field cancellation systems. We posed questions to Spicer Consulting’s Lead Engineer John Sackett about the fundamental motivations and history behind developing the SC Series.

1) What is the origin story of Spicer Consulting and how has the company changed over time?

Denis Spicer was a TI Fellow at Texas Instruments, leading the development of their in-house electron beam lithography tools. When TI closed that part of the business in 1988, he set up his own consulting company – Spicer Consulting.

Later John Sackett and Chris Black, also ex-TI, joined Denis as partners. The business grew organically as sales increased and more people were hired. It became a limited company in 2001 and has continued to grow.

In 2009, the Algenuity division was formed with the remit to find ways of harness microalgae for producing chemicals that can be used by the fuel, food, and pharmaceutical industries. In 2020, Algenuity spun off to become a limited company in its own right.

2) Originating from a country rich in history and innovation (England), how has the local culture influenced your approach to product quality, research, and design?

Spicer Consulting has benefitted from the proximity of the many world-class universities, research institutes, and engineering companies, large and small, that are found in England. The UK is also a good environment for entrepreneurs starting new businesses. Spicer Consulting also inherited some American business culture from Texas Instruments.

3) What inspired you to develop the magnetic field cancellation technology within the SC Series?

Denis Spicer saw the need for magnetic field cancelling while working as a consultant in the early 1990’s. He took time out to design the first commercial magnetic field cancelling system (the SC07) and built a clean room in his garage to manufacture them in small quantities, with the help of his son David.

Slider: Before and After Magnetic Field Cancellation with the SC System

4) How has the technology within the SC Series evolved over time?

SC-22 Controller

The first SC07 model was AC only, with large sensors and mechanical switches on the front panel to set it up. But it set the principal of operation that is still in use today. Later Denis introduced a low frequency version of the SC07 and then a DC version with large DC sensors. The SC12 combined AC and DC into one unit. Smaller AC and DC sensors were introduced along with the concept of dual sensors, using an external mixer. The DCMR sensor was introduced. Uniquely using magneto-resistive technology, it senses magnetic fields over a wide bandwidth from DC to 13kHz. The SC20 was next – a more powerful version with a built-in mixer. Based on the SC20, the SC20Fast addressed the emerging problem of 9kHz fields from overhead wafer transports in semiconductor clean rooms.

SC-24 Controller

The SC22 replaced the SC12. It was the first model with an LCD screen and automatic setup. It was deliberately kept simple – AC only and just 3 buttons, making it very easy to install. The SC24 replaced the SC20. It has a touch-screen user interface and built-in mixer, supporting AC and DC sensors. This has become the main workhorse. The SC26 replaced the SC20Fast. It is based on the SC24, but with different sensors and cables to enable cancelling of 9kHz fields.

Along with the changes to major features of the control units, there have been incremental improvements to sensors, amplifiers and cancelling cables over the years. Spicer Consulting also used its magnetic field sensor technology to create the SC11 analysis system for surveys of electron microscope environments. It has been widely adopted by EM tool vendors because of its ease of use and automation features.

5) What are the inherent challenges in developing a magnetic field cancellation system?

The first challenge is to make a magnetic field sensor of the necessary bandwidth with low noise levels, and low drift. The second challenge is to make a control unit that can drive the cables to form a stable negative feedback loop. That system should also be easy to set up, without lots of fiddly adjustments. The third challenge is to design room size cancelling cables that make uniform orthogonal magnetic fields that are practical for use in microscope labs or clean rooms of all shapes and sizes. Alternatively, the design of suitable frames to support cables or techniques for installing them inside existing enclosures.

6) What would you say is unique about the technology found within the SC Series that cannot be found in competing technologies?

High Performance AC/DC Field Sensor

Spicer Consulting magnetic field sensors are compact 3-axis sensors with performance tailored to the application. As such, they are convenient to use and enable fields to be cancelled to the demanding levels required by today’s high-resolution electron microscopes.

Spicer Consulting’s SC22, SC24 and SC26 control units have an intuitive front panel user interface, providing 3-axis plus total magnetic field readings (AC and DC simultaneously for DC models) and a “Field Ok” light to indicate that the system is set up and working correctly.

SC24 Controller LCD Display

They have automatic setup, which provides many helpful error and warning messages. The cancelling systems support a dual-sensor option that creates a virtual sensor where a physical sensor cannot be placed, such as “inside” the EM column.

Spicer Consulting provides a wide variety of different cables for different types of microscope in different types of room. Spicer Consulting and its trained distributors can design and install custom cable configurations to fit in rooms of all shapes and sizes.

7) How do you see magnetic field cancellation technology advancing over the next decade?

I expect to see an increasing demand for this technology over the next few years, following the trend in electron microscopes to become higher in resolution, resulting in more sensitivity to magnetic fields. The technology is now quite mature, but I expect to see demands for better magnetic field sensors, incremental improvements to control units and easier ways to install cancelling cables.

8) What role do you see Spicer Consulting having in the advancement of magnetic field cancellation technology over the next decade?

Spicer Room-Scale System Supporting FEI Titan TEM

Spicer Consulting will remain a leading player in the magnetic field cancelling market, looking to work with EM manufacturers and their distributors and customers, supporting them via Spicer Consulting’s growing network of distributors worldwide.

Spicer Consulting will continue to develop its technology and know-how, enabling it to provide the best solutions to environmental magnetic field problems in a growing area of applications.

Herzan is excited to continue its partner profile series, showcasing the incredible work being done by the innovators behind Herzan’s products. This feature highlights Herzan’s newest partner – Spicer Consulting: the leader in magnetic field cancellation systems for electron microscopy.