Electron microscope in SEAT factory is used to verify the quality of the materials. Image credit: SEATElectron microscope in SEAT factory is used to verify the quality of the materials. Image credit: SEATPowerful electron microscopes are extremely valuable in science laboratories. However, they are used elsewhere as well. For example, SEAT, a Spanish automotive manufacturer, decided to show how this powerful tool is used in the automotive industry.

SEAT has a professional high-quality electron microscope in its quality department and uses it to certify the quality and durability of materials. This machine is capable of achieving 100,000 times the magnification, which means that it can see tiny details of every piece of material that is used in car construction. The idea is that every part of the car has to be made using the right materials that combine the lightness, cost-effectiveness and rigidity needed to accomplish the specific task. For example, structural pieces need to be strong and rigid, while the interior has to be crafted from soft and resilient materials.

The electron microscope can be used to analyze all of kinds of materials—metals, fabrics, plastics and paint. Engineers are looking for impurities that are impossible to detect with the naked eye. Even small defects can make a huge difference over the lifespan of the part. For example, some impurities in the paint may make the color dull prematurely. The car’s paintjob has to be very durable too because it is constantly attacked by little pieces of the road surface. That is why the engineers operating the microscope analyze the different coats of paint on the car (each less than 0.12 millimeters) to ensure that the body does not flake when hit by loose gravel.

Another part of the paint analysis is ensuring that colors will look as promised. Engineers have to make sure that all body panels, bumpers, mirror covers and such are going to match. It is not easy, as these elements are made from different materials. Therefore, they take paint differently, which could potentially make them differ in shade. Additionally, the Mediterranean sun is a bit different than everywhere else in Europe. Different lighting has a huge effect on the overall look of the color, so engineers have to make sure SEAT cars are going to look as great in Finland as they do in Spain.

Automotive companies are not what they used to be. It is not just a bunch of men with hammers walking around with sheet metal pieces. Now, it's all about science and engineering perfection.

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