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UK’s first research platform for digitalisation of PVD processes at industrial scale

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06 December 2022

UK’s first research platform for digitalisation of PVD processes at industrial scale

Sheffield Hallam University is set to deliver world class research and innovation capability to drive next generation physical vapour deposition (PVD) processing following major investment in full digitisation of equipment and technology

Press contact: Jo Beattie | j.beattie@shu.ac.uk

Photo of HIPIMS team in the lab

Building on over 27 years of leading innovation and research in the field of PVD and plasma science, the University has made a major investment in capital infrastructure at the National HIPIMS Technology Centre to radically upgraded its Hauzer 1000/4 PVD system with the latest generation of control and communications hardware to enable digitalisation of the process. 

High Power Impulse Magnetron Sputtering (HIPIMS) is used to produce advanced coatings across multiple applications including cutting tools, mobile phones, satellite systems, electronics, and biomedical implants - and the advanced capability in digitisation will help to deliver higher quality coatings with more efficient processing.  

The first activities on digitalising the PVD process at the National HIPIMS Technology Centre started in 2018 when the team were awarded an Innovate UK project to develop strategies for real time monitoring and control of PVD processes towards creating a digital twin of the process. 

Led by Professor Arutiun Ehiasarian, Head of the National HIPIMS Technology Centre, the University teamed up with Ionbond UK to conduct experiments and validate the main digitalisation algorithms in an industrial environment.  

The approach achieved significant improvements in the efficiency of all critical steps in the deposition process which resulted in enhanced productivity, reproducibility, quality, and cost savings.  The work has been highlighted by IUK for its innovative use of a single technology to monitor and control sputter deposition - eliminating inefficient modes of operation and reduced product wastage by enabling preventative maintenance and better reproducibility. 

To achieve this, the University used non-invasive sensors compatible with the production environment including optical emission spectroscopy and electrical parameters of the plasma process.  Strategies were developed to monitor and control all aspects of the coating position process including pumping, heating, substrate cleaning, coating thickness, coating composition, coating microstructure, crystallographic texture, as well as the chamber condition.

The University investment into this enhanced capability ensures that the National HIPIMS Technology Centre can continue to deliver world leading research and innovation in partnership with industry and research facilities around the globe. The centre will operate an open-door policy to allow access to the new research platform to all PVD companies striving to find digital solutions to their manufacturing problems.

Dr Chris Constable, MD Ionbond UK said:Ionbond is a leading provider to industry of functional thin film coatings. The digitalisation of PVD processes is an area of great interest and importance to our company as this provides a powerful tool for optimising resource and energy efficiency, which are crucial in maintaining competitiveness and plant viability. The research platform for digitalisation of PVD processes at the National HIPIMS Technology Centre will undoubtingly act as an accessible for industry playground for testing and materialising these new ideas.”

Professor Andy Alderson, Director of the Industry & Innovation Research Institute at Sheffield Hallam University, commented: “This important development from the collaboration between the National HIPIMS Technology Centre and Ionbond UK is an example of where our combined expertise in PVD coatings technology and digitalisation methods are providing improved industrial processes to maintain competitive advantage. This aligns strongly with our university vision to transform lives through applied research and is an example of how the work we do in the Industry & Innovation Research Institute is delivering research excellence meeting the development needs of industry.”

Dave Elliott, CEO of the Surface Engineering Association, UK noted: “High Power Impulse Magnetron Sputtering (HIPIMS) is the latest innovation in the PVD sector now recognised as a strategic plasma-based manufacturing technology in UK. Digitalisation of this novel technology will undoubtedly further advance its reliability and effectiveness where the new research platform for digitalisation of PVD processes developed at Sheffield Hallam University will play a decisive role in its industrialisation”.

 

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