Quantitative chemical depth profile analysis using secondary ion mass spectroscopy: SIMS

Cameca Quadrupol SIMS for secondary-ion mass spectrometry.
© Fraunhofer IST, Jan Benz
Cameca Quadrupol SIMS for secondary-ion mass spectrometry.

How does dynamic SIMS analysis work and what can the method do?

In secondary ion mass spectrometry (SIMS), the sample surface is ablated layer by layer with an ion beam. A mass spectrometer allows the chemical characterization of the ablated material, resulting in a depth profile of the chemical composition. Technical Information:

  • Detection of all elements (inc. H, Li, Be ...) and even isotopes
  • Depth resolution down to 1 nm
  • Lateral resolution 20 µm
  • Detection of traces <1 ppm
  • Depth range: 5 nm - 50 µm

Quantitative chemical depth information including of technical components

The Fraunhofer IST achieves a high quantification accuracy for secondary ion mass spectrometry (SIMS) by using special procedures. A particular strength is the quantitative depth profile analysis of hydrogen in carbon-based layers.  

Further fields of application are:

  • Damage analysis, coating adhesion problems, corrosion
  • Quantitative concentration-depth profiles from the nano- to the micrometer scale
  • Chemical investigation of interfaces, surfaces and concentration gradients
  • Detection of trace elements
  • Measurement of technical objects such as components and tools

We offer the analysis of various types of layers:

  • Analysis of boric layers
  • Analysis of nitrided layers
  • Analysis of low-E coatings
  • Analysis of DLC layers

Depth profile based on secondary ion mass spectrometry (SIMS) of a wear-protection layer

SIMS depth profile of a wear-resistant coating
© Fraunhofer IST

Wear-protection layer consisting of a Ti adhesion layer, a TiN intermediate layer, a stepped TiNC gradient and a TiCN(H) functional layer.

Depth profile based on secondary ion mass spectrometry (SIMS) of a thermal insulation layer on architectural glass.

SIMS depth profile of a thermal insulation coating on architectural glass
© Fraunhofer IST

Analysis of optical multilayer coatings, e.g. double Ag-Low-E coating systems. The figure shows double Ag-Low-E layer system consisting of different oxide and metallic layers with thicknesses between 3 and 30 nm.

Hydrogen determination in DLC layers

SIMS profile determination of hydrogen in DLC coatings
© Fraunhofer IST

The mechanical and tribological properties of Diamond-Like Carbon (DLC) coatings are determined by the hydrogen content of the carbon top layer. By means of SIMS analysis and DLC layer analysis, this H content can be quantitatively determined.

Analytics and testing technology in the application


Hydrogen analytics

How deeply does hydrogen penetrate surfaces?



Fraunhofer IST in the journals


Kirsten Ingolf Schiffmann

Quantitative SIMS Tiefenprofil Analyse – Grundlagen und Anwendungen in der Dünnschichttechnik. (German)

In: Vakuum in Forschung und Praxis, April 2014, Vol. 26, No. 2, pp. 27-35





Fraunhofer IST in the journals


Kirsten Ingolf Schiffmann

SIMS depth profile analysis of tribological coatings on curved surfaces: Influence of the ion impact angle and take-off angle on the ion yield and on the quantitative analysis of chemical composition.

In: Surface and Interface Analysis (2019), Vol. 51, Nr. 7, p. 703-711