The field of precision research has expanded exponentially over the past century. With that expansion has come a high degree of specialization among researchers. Scientists now can spend years probing one very specific question within a particular niche of their field. Due to this high degree of specificity, researchers will often need to design and build their own instruments which will allow them to answer the questions they seek to answer.
The range of unique, custom, and homemade instruments is incredibly diverse, spanning many fields of research and analytical techniques. Here are some of the more common types of unique instrumentation:
DATA STORAGE IMPLEMENTATION
Creating new data storage capabilities requires a special set of tools. The fundamental research and development requires an array of heavily customized standard instruments (like AFMs, SEMs, and profilers), niche market instruments designed for specifically for data storage applications, and instrumentation that is totally designed and built by the end users themselves.
Testing and production of the data storage products requires another set of tools. These tools must be capable of testing the storage media, head gimbal assemblies (HGA), head stack assemblies, and other components. The Guzik spinstand is a great example of a tool that is native and indispensable to the data storage industry. There’s also a long list of process equipment such as oil tanks and deposition equipment, which must operate at a high level of precision. Using vibration measurement equipment can help determine noise and vibration levels in a given location.
Optics is the study of light and its properties. There are many standard instruments which utilize optics to analyze materials, such as microscopes and interferometers. Carrying out primary optical research often requires designing and integrating one’s own optical configuration. These configurations are usually assembled on a grid of drilled holes and incorporate lasers, lenses, mirrors, and mounting systems. Many researchers will spend years optimizing their optical instrumentation to probe one very specific question.
Optical cavity, also known as a laser cavity or optical resonator, consists of an arrangement of mirrors in a configuration that creates a standing wave cavity resonator. Optical cavities are incorporated into larger systems, such as highly stable lasers and interferometers. They are also used independently as highly specialized research instruments which can probe questions of fundamental physics, time and frequency, and metrology. In order to maintain the stability of the light waves inside the cavity, these systems require isolation from acoustic noise, vibrations, and thermal fluctuation.
When researchers are investigating highly specific materials, such as industrial coatings or cellular structures, oftentimes there is not a commercially available instrument which provides the analytical capability necessary for their particular niche. In these cases, the researchers will have to dramatically modify existing instruments or build new instrumentation to get the data they need. These systems will often resemble hardness testers, tensile testers, probe stations, or thermogravimetric analyzers in their function; they will often be hybrids of several different techniques.
- Data Storage
- Industrial Research and Development
- Materials Science
- Time and Frequency
Many of these custom instruments are designed to operate at very high levels of precision and researchers are usually operating them at or near their maximum level of performance. As such, these instruments can often require high levels of stability. Since these instruments are not commercially developed, the scientist will focus on the analytical capabilities of the instrument and not spend time or resources maximizing the mechanical stability of the system. Thus, it is often necessary to provide a custom instrument with a supplementary isolation system.
The process of isolating a unique instrument can be more complicated than a standard off-the-shelf instrument. Commercial instrument makers will usually characterize the noise sensitivities of their tools and have a list of recommended isolation systems which their customers can refer to. Researchers using custom instrumentation often do not have this luxury.
For example, spinstands for HGA testing (data storage) frequently require vibration isolation systems that are built around the system’s geometry. Isolating these instruments can be a process of trial and error, in which case it is ideal to arrange an on-site demo of the isolation system prior to purchase. Furthermore, because of the unique needs of custom instruments, it will often be necessary to design and build a custom isolation system which incorporates isolation from a variety of noise sources – acoustic, vibration, EMI, and thermal fluctuation. Custom systems can be designed to accomodate the unique size and form factor of the instrumentation.