This project proposed a new innovative system for the production of hard coatings such as TiN, TiNC, TiC and DLC ('diamond like carbon') etc., which does not exist on the market today. The objective was to design and build a pilot version of a high performance, cost effective, flexible, compact and automated coating facility involving magnetron sputtering techniques (and if necessary arc evaporation) in combination with high current ion bombardment which can be used by manufacturing SME's as an in-house production line coater to enhance the quality of their products. The project also aimed to demonstrate the economical feasibility and gain detailed knowledge on different applications of the technology by carrying out market investigations. Based on these findings, a market strategy for exploitation of the production line coater was evolved.
The 'production line coater', comprises a vacuum chamber and equipment which provides for:
- a vacuum interlock system which will shorten the coating cycle from about 3-6 hours in existing devices to about 20-30 minutes in a production line coater,
- electromagnetic and HF-based devices for improved coating quality,
- fully automated use by non-expert staff,
- integrated cleaning and heating processes,
- minimum service maintenance and
- high flexibility to allow for changes in coating materials.
It is of interest to SMEs who wish to introduce hard coating but currently rely on professional coaters, the production line coater will open up the possibilities to enter new applications. In addition, it will be easier for SMEs and research organisations to test their own coating applications that might be regarded as confidential, in-house. The machine has been tested with a small number of pilot users.
Through the introduction of the production line coater, the competitiveness of European SMEs in this field will be increased, thus gaining advantages on the world market. It will also raise the awareness among European companies of the benefits from this coating technology. Other down-stream benefits will be to users of coated materials and products who will have had their supply options strengthened. Social benefits are also likely to derive from applications in medical implants with improved quality of life from prostheses such as better hip-joints, heart-valves, dental implants.