Jari Liimatainen, CEO at Picodeon, talks to AZoM about the benefits, challenges and applications of advanced pulsed laser deposition thin film coating solutions.
How has Picodeon become a key supplier for Advanced Pulsed Laser Deposition (PLD) Thin Film Coating Solutions?
In 2005, entrepreneurs, scientists and inventors created a concept of using Pulsed Laser Deposition within a pico-second range pulse length, ultrafast repetition rate and scanning to create industrial manufacturing technology for a PLD method. It would be an industrially feasible production method for applications using the basic concepts that these first entrepreneurs and inventors created.
What does the process of PLD technology involve?
PLD technology was used for short laser pulses to create plasma from target raw material and then transfer this plasma with certain tailored plasma properties onto a component which we are coating. We use a laser to create plasma, to modify plasma properties, and to transfer the plasma to a substrate surface to create thin films for a variety of applications.
What data is measured using this technology, and how is this data interpreted by the end user?
Well, of course, requirements for the coatings are naturally application dependent. Typically the end-users determine the preferred properties of the requested coating to be produced, such as the coating mechanical, optical, tribological properties.
What would you say are the main benefits of using USPLD Solutions for the market?
There are many features. The first feature is that we can make coatings on practically any material. Sometimes it's more difficult. Some materials are easier, but typically we say that we have a certain degree of freedom. We can transfer material from raw material to coating from almost every material. Another benefit is that we can make coatings on almost every substrate. For example, we can coat heat sensitive materials like polymers, a low melting point material, which you cannot coat with other methods where coating temperatures are higher.
We can also make coatings which have very good adhesion to the substrate. It means that they don't delaminate during or after coating or in the operation. One important feature is that we can make very high quality coatings with minimum amount of defects. Using our technology you can eliminate pinholes, porosity, cracks, and all typical defects in thin films. We can also modify the structure of the coatings. For example, from metal oxide or some other materials, we can make them either fully dense or we can make them porous in a controlled way. In some cases you need a certain porous structure. In some cases you need a fully dense structure. So we can tune the structure and modify the structure of the coating by modifying the parameters in the USPLD technology.
What are the main challenges with a conventional PLD process, and how is Picodeon overcoming these challenges?
In conventional PLD technology, which is also called nanosecond PLD technology, there are quality issues and there are productivity or cost issues. Quality issues are related to droplet formation and particle formation during coating. They also partially relate to coating integrity for the material. Cost issues are related to productivity. You cannot create such production speeds as you can do with our technology. That is one of the key limitations with conventional nanosecond PLD technology where the productivity values are not so good that you can utilize them in a wide variety of applications as you can utilize our Coldab® technology.
Also, one issue is that in conventional PLD technology, you cannot coat at substrate temperatures as low as what is suitable for polymers that we can coat with our technology today. Sufficient quality, productivity and flexibility for the substrates are problems with conventional PLD technology.
What are the main applications for PLD?
One of the applications is buffer layers. Buffer layers can be utilized in batteries and in optical applications, for example. Another area of application is wear parts (i.e. tribological applications for cutting tools, machine parts, drills, and so on). Then there are optical applications like optical systems where we can create coatings with unique combination of properties. There are also several sensor applications, which are increasing very fast at the moment. That's a high growth area for USPLD technology.
Medical applications are also a key area of business for Picodeon. We can make reliable biocompatible coatings which may have, for example, anti-bacteria properties. In some cases fully dense films guarantee that we don't have any problems related to, for example, corrosion induced by the fluids that we have in the body.
Are you planning on making any major changes to your PLD solutions to produce films that have perhaps a superior stoichiometry and uniformity?
Yes, at the moment we are making small improvements all the time as new applications appear by customers. Now, depending on the application, we make small modifications which may be related to improving productivity further or for adding some additional features or removing certain problems in the coatings. These improvements may also be related to improved on-line process control. This is an on-going process.
How do you plan on enhancing your solutions for high quality nanocoating and scalability to large surface areas and lower costs?
We are looking for high-powered lasers, which utilize our high-frequency scanning technology. Laser technology, optical systems manipulation and process control are all issues which further improve the use of our technology in industrial high capacity production systems.
Coldab® Series 4 USPLD Batch Processing Equipment.
You’ve recently installed the Coldab Series 4 product. How will this product meet the customer demands and change production processes?
In terms of quality, we have been very happy with the outcome of the results (e.g. for electronics applications and for metallizing with gold and copper). We are very happy with the results for optical applications and also very happy with the results for battery application. We have seen that we have really great possibilities to create large industrial USPLD systems for almost all of the material that we are now working on. Series 4 has been a clear ramp up in quality and production efficiency. Now we are looking for the next step for even larger production systems.
What would be the next step?
The next step will involve increasing productivity by roughly a factor of five. Production values will be five times bigger than with the Series 4 system, which is at the moment the most productive PLD system in the world.
About Jari Liimatainen
Jari graduated with a Master of Science from the Aalto University, Helsinki, Finland, majoring in materials science and physical metallurgy. Jari followed his academic career with a Doctorate in Material Science from Tampere University of Technology, Finland. He is also an adjunct Professor of Engineering Materials.
Prior to his role at Picodeon, Jari has worked in various technology, business development and sales management positions in Metso Corporation (e.g. as senior vice president [technology and business development]) and Deputy Managing Director for Metso Powdermet Oy, Managing Director for Metso Materials Technology Oy, and Vice President for Metso Minerals. Jari is also a Senior Partner in management consulting company Kerpua. Jari’s is currently the CEO at Picodeon Oy Ltd.
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