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Vacuum Deposition and Coating Options
Dr. Carl Lampert, Technical Director , Society of Vacuum Coaters
The product finisher is facing many challenges as the overall coating industry is changing with increased regulations, competition and performance requirements. This overview takes a look at vacuum deposition technologies as processes that may be used to create coatings that can be substituted for or enhances the properties of electroplated coatings. Initially, this work discusses trends in metal finishing and environmental regulation. It covers some recent rulings on the use of hexavalent chromium, which is driving the electroplating industry to look at new chemistries and new processes like vacuum coating. This study provides an overview of a range of physical vapor deposition (PVD) and some chemical vapor deposition (CVD) coating technologies. Some notable finishing companies such as Kohler have embraced vacuum coating as a technique to make a better product.
Many finishers are looking at new coating processes that may be more environmentally friendly or more economical. New processes called “dry” processes such as vacuum deposition are being seriously considered since they involve no aqueous component of the deposition process. Another trend is the move away from metals to non-metallic surfaces, such as plastics and composites to be coated. The industry sees strong trends towards non-metallics in the automotive, aerospace and electronics industries. Some finishers have even moved processing out of the US to facilities in Mexico and Asia where environmental constraints are less stringent. Fig. 1 shows the results of a National Metal Finishing Resource Center (NMFRC) survey showing the 9 top industry trends and how they are driven by a combination of regulatory, technology and economic drivers.In many cases the Return on Investment (ROI) is the controlling factor in the adoption of a new technology. Historically for metal finishers, ROIs have been of the order of 6 months to 3 years with an average of about 2 years. Vacuum processes tend to require greater initial capital investment, so the ROI times are generally longer.
Other issues in selecting a new technology lie in the coater’s experience with “wet” processes and the availability of new and more efficient pollution-free chemical options. These include “greener” chemistries, with improved process monitoring, control and better energy efficiency that are attractive for the short term. But over the longer term, 5-20 years, many finishers are predicted to invest in “dry” or PVD processes, according to an industry survey [Chalmer, 2008].