Effect of dcMS and HPPMS in a hybrid dcMS/HPPMS process on plasma and coating properties (2023)

Thin solid films

Volume 620,

December 1, 2016

, Pages 188-196

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Into the naturalvapor deposition(PVD) high power pulsemagnetron sputtering(HPPMS) or high-power pulsed magnetron sputtering (HiPIMS) is a technology that has been frequently studied in recent years. HPPMS offers the possibility to produce coatings with lower roughness, denser microstructure and bettermechanical propertiescompared to direct current magnetron scattering (dcMS). However, HPPMS is known to have a much lower deposition rate due to its low duty cycle compared to dcMS. Therefore, from an economic point of view, dcMS is more efficient compared to HPMS technology. One approach to overcome this problem is hybrid dcMS/HPPMS technology, whereby dcMS and HPPMS cathodes are used simultaneously to combine the benefits of both technologies. In hybrid processes, the effect of dcMS and HPPMS on plasma and coating properties is of critical interest. Therefore, in the present work measurements forplasma propertiesas well as coating properties using dcMS, hybrid dcMS/HPPMS, and HPPMS (Cr,Al)N processes were performed. The (Cr,Al)N coating system as well as the steel substrates used were chosen to address the application in plastics processing. In the first step of this work plasmas of the dcMS, hybrid dcMS/HPPMS and HPPMS processes were analyzed. Dependences of plasma properties on the type of process as well as on pulse parameters such as pulse length tonand frequency f were investigated. The most significant effect was found depending on the type of procedure. In the second step (Cr,Al)N coatings are produced using the same process parameters. Similar behavior to the plasma properties was observed for the coating properties. In the third step the plasma and coating properties measurements were correlated. It has been shown that changes in plasma and coating properties are significantly correlated. Therefore, coating development can be simplified by predicting the properties of the most effective coatingplasma diagnostics.


High power pulsed magnetron sputtering (HPPMS) or high power pulsed magnetron sputtering (HiPIMS) is a new technological variant of physical vapor deposition (PVD) [1], [2], [3]. It is known as an advance of direct current (dc) and medium frequency (mf) magnetro sputtering (MS). For example, compared to dcMS plasma which has an ionization rate of about 1%, HPPMS technology provides much higher ionization up to 90%, depending on the target material and process parameters [4], [5], [6] , [7], [8]. Several studies discuss the effect of higher ionization on coating properties [9], [10], [11], [12]. According to their results, HPPMS technology offers excellent advantages in terms of adhesion, hardness and dense morphology. The effect of HPMS pulse parameters on (Cr,Al)N coatings has been investigated previously [13], [14]. It was reported that decreasing the pulse length tonat constant frequency f affects the mechanical properties as well as the microstructure [13] and the chemical composition of the coatings [14]. HPMS plasma has also been the subject of plasma diagnostic experiments. Investigations of coating processes by optical emission spectroscopy (OES) have shown a significant increase in the ion/neutral ratio from HPPMS plasmas compared to conventional dcMS [15]. In addition, an increase in Cr ion content with respect to a shorter pulse length tonobserved via a time-resolved OES [16]. The positive effect of the HPMS pulse length tonin plasma properties has also been found [17], [18]. In these works the ion energy distribution function (IEDF) was analyzed by means of a retardation field energy analyzer (RFEA). E ion energy increaseIobserved with reduced pulse length tonand thus reduced duty cycle. However, the reduced duty cycle causes a lower deposition rate for HPMS compared to dcMS [19], [20]. Therefore, from an economic point of view dcMS is more efficient compared to HPMS technology. One approach to overcome this issue is to use hybrid dcMS/HPPMS technology, whereby dcMS and HPPMS cathodes are used simultaneously to combine the benefits of both technologies [21], [22]. In hybrid processes, the effect of dcMS and HPPMS on plasma and coating properties is crucial. First approaches are reported where the effect of the Al/Cr ratio in the target on the properties of (Cr,Al)N coatings was tested [4], [23]. It could be shown that the coating properties can be classified among the coating properties of (Cr,Al)N synthesized via dcMS and HPMS processes [4], [23].

To the best of our knowledge, a study of (Cr,Al)N coatings deposited via hybrid dcMS, HPPMS, and dcMS/HPPMS processes, including coating and plasma properties, has not yet been reported. In the present work, measurements of plasma properties as well as coating properties deposited using dcMS, dcMS/HPPMS hybrid and HPMS (Cr,Al)N processes with varying pulse parameters are presented. The (Cr,Al)N coating system was chosen due to its mechanical properties [24], which are beneficial for the addressed application of this work, the coating of tools for the plastics processing industry. Changes in plasma composition during (Cr,Al)N processes were investigated by OES. The IEDF was determined by the RFEA. The coatings were analyzed for microstructure by scanning electron microscopy (SEM) as well as global hardness and indentation modulus with nanodentations. In addition, the chemical composition of the coatings was analyzed by energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (EDS). Finally, the measured plasma and coating properties were compared and correlated with the dcMS and HPPMS ratio in the hybrid dcMS/HPPMS processes and the HPMS pulse parameters.

Unit Excerpts

Coating unit configuration and process parameters

The investigations presented were carried out using an industrial-scale PVD coating unit, CC800/9 Custom, CemeCon AG, Würselen, Germany. The coating chamber has dimensions of 1000mm×1000mm×1000mm. The coating unit has two cathodes, one equipped with a dcMS power supply and one with an HPMS power supply. The angle between the cathodes and the wall is about 45° (Fig. 1). The dcMS as well as the cathode HPMS were used for the presented investigations. On both cathodes a chrome target

Evaluation of plasma parameters

In the first step the described dcMS, dcMS/HPPMS hybrid and HPPMS (Cr,Al)N processes were investigated about the plasma near the dcMS and HPPMS cathodes by means of OES. Representative spectra for each type of process are shown in Fig. 2. The OES spectra were normalized with respect to the wavelength λ of the excited Ar atoms λArI=357.86 nm. Since the plasma of the hybrid dcMS/HPPMS process could only be analyzed in the cathode dcMS and HPPMS separately, an arithmetic average of the two normalized


In this work the effect of hybrid dcMS, dcMS/HPPMS and HPMS (Cr,Al)N reactive processes with varying plasma pulse parameters and coating properties was studied. Correlations between plasma properties and process type as well as pulse parameters such as pulse length tonand the frequency f could be found. The most significant influence could be identified depending on the type of procedure. Furthermore, it was shown that the dependence of Al I/Cr I and

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The authors gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the German Research Foundation,German Research Foundation(DFG) (TRR 87/2 2014), within the framework of the interregional collaborative research center TRR87/2 (SFB-TR 87) of subprojects A4 and C6.

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