Why use thin films to create functional coatings?

Since civilization started to create tools, we learned that in many cases, having different properties on the surface compared to the bulk of the tool resulted in the ideal solution. A well-documented example is the development of the steel sword. Early warriors learned that a very hard/sharp steel without some flexibility resulted in a very fragile, easy-to-break sword.

To treat the material in a way that was internally “flexible” but externally hard and sharp required many processes. In today’s demanding world, there are many situations in which product manufacturers want to change the external/surface properties of the object/tool without modifying the internal characteristics. In many cases, these intended surface properties are related to friction and wear.

One practical example is the cutting tools used in machining. These tools are required to withstand significant impact during operation, and that is why metals, usually tougher than ceramics, are used. However, metal–even treated metal–may not have the cutting and/or wear resistance characteristics needed for the job, and that is why thin-film of coatings are the ideal solution. Processes such as low-temperature PVD provide very hard ceramic-like finishes that adhere well to the metal. Because they are very thin, these coatings do not affect tight manufacturing tolerances.

Why is tribology critical to manufacturing?

Back in the 1960s, a group of UK scholars set out to understand how to improve the efficiency of industrial manufacturing. The group, led by P. Jost (1966, 1976), found out that the UK could save approximately 500 million British pounds per annum by reducing friction and wear. Dr. Jost pointed out the need for a better understanding of this complex problem. He coined the word “Tribology” for the science that would combine the knowledge of physics, chemistry, material science, and mechanical engineering to better understand this phenomenon. Since then, every time that a company must solve complex wear and/or friction problems, it has entered the world of tribology! This specialized discipline has expanded and grown to the point that many companies, universities, and research institutes have developed tribology laboratories. There are even established and well-known societies around the world studying this field. One of the largest is the Society of Tribology and Lubrication Engineers (STLE). Tribology has so many applications in such diverse industries that specializations around the problem have been developing.

Thin-film and tribological coatings

Thin films can modify the superficial properties without affecting the basic bulk material characteristics. These functional coatings usually change both the hardness and toughness of the surface. They can also be tailored such that its durability, friction, and/or wear characteristics are dramatically improved. Since these thin films include many types, they can be selected accordingly to the application. Tribology knowledge and the ability to test the performance of these coatings are critical for successfully developing the ideal solution for any specific application.

Why VaporTech?

At Vapor Technologies, Inc. (VaporTech), we have extensive knowledge about the deposition of thin and durable films, experienced professionals who have work solving tribological problems in many industries, and the testing and characterization tools that allow the development of specialized films for many industries. Every system we sell comes with custom coating development unique to your product, improving part performance without design impact. Put simply, we make your great products even better. Contact us today for more information!

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