Magnetron sputtering is an advanced technique of plating or coating that gives an extremely high quality of. The process has been adopted in the engineering industry across the world because it provides a high level of adhesion and can give good results with a variety of objects. Almost any type of alloy, solid object, and compounds can be plated with the use of magnetron sputtering. It is the most flexible in the plating industry.
The process of magnetron sputtering is not as simple as vacuum metalizing. Considerable amount of pre-cleaning and jigging is needed before the object can be placed in a chamber made of stainless steel. Advanced air pumps are used to maintain a vacuum in the steel chamber. Additionally, rotation machines and coating magnetrons are required.
Creating the vacuum
The vacuum in the steel chamber has to be created meticulously as it would impact the process of metalizing. Usually, 30 minutes of air pumping are required to achieve the perfect environment inside the vacuum chamber. The pressure in the vacuum chamber has to be less than one of ten millionth of atmospheric pressure. A gas that is inert like argon is used to control the process of creating the vacuum in the steel chamber. Argon helps to bring the pressure to the exact required for using the magnetrons This entire process has to be monitored very carefully as the change in pressure would render the process useless. The advantage of this process is that there is no use of hazardous chemicals and the process is clean to handle.
Applying the magnetrons
The application of magnetrons is a complex process. The metal plate to be used for coating is identified as ‘the target’. Powerful magnets are placed behind this plate. Argon is pumped into the chamber and power is supplied to the magnetron machine. The metal plate received a negative voltage. The strength of this voltage is usually -300V. The argon ions are attracted to the surface of the target at a high speed because of the negative current and the placement of the magnets. Two specific processes take place when the current is applied:
- The environment thus created with the electric current, argon, and magnets forces uncharged atoms out of the target. This process is called sputtering. These atoms are sucked by the magnetic shell behind the plate to eventually form the coating required.
- Negatively-charged sub-atomic particles are also released and kept in the magnet shell to make more argon ions. This process replenishes the supply of ions continuously.
A special cooling channel is also required because sputtering produces heat.
Cleaning of ions
An important post-sputtering process is the cleaning of ions. The objects have to placed in an environment where there is low power thus allowing ionization of atoms with very little sputtering of the metal being used for coating. A high voltage like -500V attracts the argon ions and removes even the most microscopic molecular contamination that could have occurred on the surface of the plate. After the cleaning process, the deposition can be controlled as required for the plating process.
Magnetron sputtering has become popular across the world because of several key features. It provides highly adhesive coating with very high hardness. The plating obtained with magnetron sputtering is extremely resistant to wearing and durable.
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