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Automated Counting of Particles To Quantify Cleanliness

A machine vision system, similar to systems used in microbiological laboratories to count cultured microbes, has been proposed for quantifying the cleanliness of nominally precisely cleaned hardware by counting residual contaminant particles. The system would include a microscope equipped with an electronic camera and circuitry to digitize the camera output, a personal computer programmed with machine-vision and interface software, and digital storage media.

A filter pad, through which had been aspirated solvent from rinsing the hardware in question, would be placed on the microscope stage. A high-resolution image of the filter pad would be recorded. The computer would analyze the image and present a histogram of sizes of particles on the filter. On the basis of the histogram and a measure of the desired level of cleanliness, the hardware would be accepted or rejected. If the hardware were accepted, the image would be saved, along with other information, as a quality record. If the hardware were rejected, the histogram and ancillary information would be recorded for analysis of trends. The software would perceive particles that are too large or too numerous to meet a specified particle-distribution profile. Anomalous particles or fibrous material would be flagged for inspection.

This work was done by James Rhodes of Lockheed Martin Corp. for Johnson Space Center. For further information, contact the Johnson Technology Transfer Office at (281) 483-3809. MSC-23836