Multi-modal plasma focused ion beam serial section tomography of an organic paint coating

Zhong Xiangli, M. Grace Burke, Philip J. Withers, Zhang Xun, Zhou Xiaorong, Timothy L. Burnett, Liu Yanwen, Stuart B. Lyon, Simon R.Gibbon

Pigment distributions have a critical role in the corrosion protection properties of organic paint coatings, but they are difficult to image in 3D over statistically significant volumes and at sufficiently high spatial resolutions required for detailed analysis. Here we report, for the first time, large volume analytical serial sectioning tomography of an organic composite coating using a xenon Plasma Focused Ion Beam (PFIB) combined with secondary electron imaging, energy dispersive X-ray (EDX) spectrum imaging (SI) and electron backscattered diffraction (EBSD). Together these techniques provide a comprehensive quantitative description of the physical orientation and distribution of the pigments within a model marine ballast tank coating, as well as their crystallographic and elemental characterisation. Polymers and organic materials are challenging because of their propensity for ion beam damage and possible beam heating effects. Our novel, optimised block preparation technique permits automated data acquisition with minimal operator intervention, and can have significant applications for the structural and chemical characterisation of a wide range of organic materials. Our results revealed that the paint contained 7.5 vol% aluminium flakes and 25 vol% quartz particles. The aluminium flakes were oriented parallel to the substrate surface, which is beneficial in terms of the corrosion protection capability of the coating.