Harrick Plasma, a leading supplier of plasma equipment to the research community, speaks to AZoM.com about the company, their products and what the future has in store for them.
Could you please provide a brief introduction to the industry that Harrick Plasma works within and outline the key drivers?
Harrick Plasma manufactures benchtop plasma surface treatment instruments for university, government, and industrial research labs. Although originally conceived for surface cleaning in optical spectroscopy and general optics almost 30 years ago (under Harrick Scientific), our plasma instruments are now used in a wide variety of processing applications and in numerous technical fields, including materials science, biomedical engineering and biomaterials research, microscopy, surface science research and optics.
Because our instruments are used in a wide variety of technical fields, mostly for R&D purposes, we do not serve a specific technical industry but rather fall under the more general category of laboratory and scientific equipment.
The lab equipment industry very much depends on the availability of government, university, and corporate funding for basic and applied research, especially, for our company, in areas related to materials and nanotechnology research.
How do Harrick Plasma’s plasma cleaners differ from conventional surface cleaning/preparation techniques? In particular, how are they unique and what are their major advantages?
Unlike many wet cleaning processes, plasma cleaning leaves no organic residue. Plasma treatment frequently eliminates the need for solvents, along with their ongoing purchase, storage, and disposal costs.
The plasma generated in our instruments is isotropic (in all directions) and can treat all surfaces exposed to the plasma. Thus, our plasma cleaners may be used to treat both two-dimensional surfaces as well as surfaces with complex geometries.
Our plasma cleaners allow for removal of nanoscale and residual contamination as well as activation of surfaces without altering bulk material properties. Plasma treatment occurs at near-ambient temperature, minimizing the risk of damage to heat-sensitive materials. Plasma can be applied to a wide variety of materials, including glass, semiconductor, polymers, metals, and oxides. As such, plasma can also treat assemblies made of different materials.
Given the versatility of our plasma instruments, our products have been heavily used in the research community for over 30 years and have been cited in nearly 2,300 published papers, patents, and theses in more than a dozen research and application areas. Our technical staff have graduate degrees in materials science and physics, and are familiar with the academic research environment and research interests of our customers. Oftentimes, we can point to relevant publications to assist customers in determining whether our products can meet their processing needs. Customers greatly appreciate this kind of third-party validation of our products.
What are the primary applications of your plasma products?
Our plasma products are used for nanoscale surface cleaning, surface activation, and surface chemistry modification of substrates and device surfaces in preparation for subsequent processing. Depending on process gas chemistry and usage configuration, plasma treatment can be used to remove nanoscale organic contamination, increase surface hydrophilicity (with oxygen-containing gases) or increase surface hydrophobicity (with fluorine-containing gases) and, in a few cases, for applying polymer coatings through plasma polymerization.
Some examples of specific plasma applications include increasing surface wettability to promote adhesion and enhance bonding to other surfaces, as employed, for instance, in microfluidic device fabrication; altering biomaterials surface chemistry to enhance cell adhesion, coverage, and proliferation on tissue scaffolds; cleaning optical components used in spectroscopic measurements; etching thin polymer films (10’s of nm thick) to create patterned surfaces for device fabrication; activating surfaces prior to plasma polymerization or deposition of coatings.
What industries primarily benefit from them?
All fields that require preparing surfaces to pristine cleanliness or with modified surface chemistry can benefit from plasma treatment. Our plasma instruments are primarily used in research and development but in a wide range of technical fields, including all areas of materials science, integrated circuit fabrication, biological and biomedical research, microscopy and spectroscopy, and optics.
Where do you currently supply to? Are there plans to expand operations in the near future?
Half of our customers are within the U.S. while the other half are international, mostly from Europe and Asia. Our customers are primarily researchers from university, government or corporate research labs. In quite a few cases, newly-hired professors or researchers request our products to build up their start-up lab.
They had often worked with our plasma devices in another lab or as graduate students, and find our products beneficial for their continuing research. Our instruments are also purchased by multi-user materials processing facilities on university campuses. We are also looking to promote our plasma products in countries that are investing in new research institutions and universities.
How do you see the plasma equipment sector progressing over the next decade?
Our plasma cleaners were initially used for optics cleaning in spectroscopic measurements and, later, for surface preparation in semiconductor and integrated circuit processing. We are now seeing greater use of plasma treatment for biological research and biomedical applications. As more science funding is being invested into these research areas, we expect to see our core customers being dominated by those in the life science and medical fields.
How will Harrick Plasma be a part of this change?
We will further enhance the versatility of our products so that plasma treatment can be used for atomic level surface modification as well as patterning and removal of thicker films. We will continue to redesign our existing products to further improve ease of use and robustness, and meet the plasma treatment needs of our evolving customer base. In addition, we will continually review technical literature to identify new areas of materials research and develop new products to be applied to these emerging fields.
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