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Optimizing Physical Vapour Deposition (PVD) for High Volume Manufacturing

Mustang Vacuum Systems' innovative PVD systems have taken the world by storm, with over 300 new systems installed into existing production lines over the past 10 years. AZoM spoke to Dan Downey, of Mustang Vac, about how they have optimized the PVD process, the benefits it delivers to manufacturers and how simple it is to integrate into existing production lines..  

Firstly, please could you briefly describe the technique of physical vapour deposition (PVD) to our readers?

PVD is an environmentally friendly method of depositing metallic thin films coatings on to a substrate.  The coating is vaporized in a vacuum and is then deposited on the substrates surface to form a thin protective and or decorative layer.    

Mustang Vacuum Systems have several different options for vaporizing the coating material, designed for industrial, automotive, medical and specialty markets.

The first of these is magnetron sputtering which involves ionizing the coating material, which we call the ‘target’, in such a way that is ejected as a plasma over the substrate to form a film layer. We have our own unique designs for magnetron sputtering sources at Mustang Vac which provides a superior finish and control over the features of the coating.

Our second area of expertise is the technique of cathodic arc deposition. This method involves vaporizing the cathode of a circuit using an electric arc, the vapor is then deposited on the substrate. Cathodic arc deposition tends to result in a denser film quality making it the preferable method for applications in which corrosion and wear could be an issue.

Evaporative processes, such as PVD, are an efficient and environmentally friendly way of coating a surface with a thin metal film. PVD is used widely in the automotive industry where the metallization of many small components is a nessecity.

Evaporative processes, such as PVD, are an efficient and environmentally friendly way of coating a surface with a thin metal film. PVD is used widely in the automotive industry where the metallization of many small components is a nessecity. |  Demeshko Alexandr

Why is PVD, amongst other evaporative processes, the chosen method for producing the LED lights found in the headlights of cars?

It comes down to three main things; speed, throughput and consistency.

PVD supplies the ability to rapidly coat a quality thin film onto substrates, including plastics, without damaging the material, in a very controlled, very predictable fashion. This ability is the reason most LED component manufacturers have adopted PVD as their preferred method as opposed to the traditional methods of plating on plastic (POP) or using polymer films.

LED manufacturers have seen the benefit of PVD as it allows them to control the color and reflectivity of a very thin film using a relatively rapid process. Also, there are no environmental issues; no hazardous materials are involved in the process and there is no waste water to treat. PVD is a system that can be engaged in almost any facility that has power, water and air.

How do Mustang Vac optimize the PVD process?

The principal way that we optimize optimise PVD is through our unique approach to the hardware and also the software that manages the process itself. We deploy fast cycle design/build features that are unique to the Mustang Vacuum technology.

We design for a high uptime and high volume. We configure our equipment with class A hardware and we don’t scrimp on any of the controls or power/pumping features. Our PVD systems are designed to run 24/7, as required. The architecture of the systems are also designed with high throughput in mind. We’ve made sure that all of the individual components are easy to access and the connections between them are ‘quick-fit’ so repairs and troubleshooting take a minimal amount of time, meaning the uptime is optimized.

We also add an in-chamber topcoat, Plascoat™, which reduces oxidation of the coating and provides protection from condensation and ultraviolet light for the substrate. Plascoat is added as part of the PVD process meaning it does not require a secondary operation which assists in providing the throughput and consistency required for high volume applications. This secondary coating protects components from the environment, thereby increasing the quality and durability of components that are metallized using the Mustang Vac process.

Mustang Vacuum Systems

Mustang Vacuum Systems' Plascoat™ technology prevents components, such as those found in LED lights, from deteriorating from exposure to environmental moisture and UV light. | Alexandru Nika

Can PVD be used to reduce the wear and corrosion of automotive parts?

It can, however it also depends on the nature of the substrate. If the substrate is vulnerable, a combination film structure may be required. Thin films can be modified, either by alloying their chemistry or managing the structure of the film itself, to provide films that are inherently anti-corrosive and anti-wear. This can be further enhanced by using PVD within a complementary top coat/base coat paint structure in what we call a “paint metal paint” (PMP) approach.

The base coat provides an even surface (levelling)on top of the substrate itself which acts as a good platform for the metal to be deposited by PVD. The topcoat provides protection from the environment and can be either clear or tinted depending on what aesthetic is desired. As you can see for protection PVD works best as part of a paint metal paint system.

What systems do you offer to facilitate PVD processing?

Mustang Vacuum systems offer standalone PVD equipment for self-contained processes. We also offer integration of PVD into broader systems that might include base coat and topcoat technology.

We can integrate PVD into an existing coating system or help design a new system and  design production flow with our integration partners: paint suppliers, material handling companies, robotics, etc.

Mustang Vacuum Systems offer a range of easily integrated coating systems to suit different industries of production line sizes.

Mustang Vacuum Systems offer a range of easily integrated coating systems to suit different industries of production line sizes.  

​What are the advantages of using PVD over traditional coating techniques such as plastic on plastic?

There is a huge environmental benefit to using PVD. Unlike other plating processes, which use hazardous acids and caustic reagents, we do not create hazardous waste so there's no requirement for waste water treatment or air regulation. This allows companies to have greener credentials and it means the collateral cost for environmental compliance is non-existent.

On top of this PVD, because of its low processing costs, is actually becoming more economical than plating over plastic, which is becoming more expensive due to increased environmental regulations and compliance costs.

PVD also has an advantage on a piece price basis because the process is more economical for production-type volumes. In today's environment, the cost to process parts alongside the additional collateral costs mean PVD may be the best choice both economically and environmentally.

There is also a yield advantage for properly configured PVD processes. We don't have the quality anomalies which are normal for most plating processes meaning less defective products are made to be wasted.

How difficult is it to integrate PVD into high-volume manufacturing processes?

It’s a lot easier than you would expect. Mustang provides a self-contained PVD chamber which can be transported whole to a client’s site and integrated into their production line, coating their products, within four hours.

Our experienced team assist in the initial installation of the equipment and supervise the initial production. Following this we have a system trainer stay with the client for five days to teach the operators the Mustang process. Once the recipes for successful PVD coatings has been optimized for the client, they are embedded into the system to give a push button process.

Troubleshooting is made easy as our systems have internet connectivity allowing us to troubleshoot and provide technical support in real time on a 24/7 basis. This allows us to fix issues or help load a different PVD recipe, and of course this is all supervised by the client to ensure no changes are made to their system without their approval.  

All of these benefits are available to our customers on a global scale. We have more than 300 systems installed worldwide. We have a dedicated support network across North America, Asia, Europe and Latin America.

Has this functionality resulted in PVD becoming the popular option for industrial plating?

Certainly, PVD is being used regularly today across many industries. There’s been an extremely strong uptake of PVD in the automotive space and decorative commercial products space. I don't think there is a single major plumbing fixture company which hasn’t integrated PVD into their processes.

There are markets where PVD is the dominant approach. Automotive lighting is typical, forward and rear lighting, decorative plumbing, and high-end cosmetic packaging. These are large industries that adopted PVD for economic and environmental reasons as either their standard or the complementary go-to process.

Evaporative technologies are quickly becoming the go-to method for decorative finishing for a wide variety of applications ranging from jewelry to plumbing.

Evaporative technologies are quickly becoming the go-to method for decorative finishing for a wide variety of applications ranging from jewelry to plumbing. | Ensuper

​Where can our readers find out more about Mustang Vacuum Systems and your PVD systems?

The best place to start would be our website (, which contains information on how broad our technology is, its applications, the products, our support organization and how to contact us.

If you want to know anything else about PVD and the systems we offer please get in touch. We’re headquartered in Sarasota, Florida and you can call us on +1 941-377-1440 and we’ll be more than happy to help.

Dan DowneyAbout Dan Downey

Dan Downey ([email protected]) is a market manager at Mustang Vacuum Systems for their tribological division which includes markets such as automotive, aviation, commercial and medical.

Dan has worked for Mustang Vacuum Systems for the past two years but has a strong background in industrial finishing, with a wide area of expertise ranging from powder coating and e-coating to general plastic coating.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily represent the views of Limited (T/A) AZoNetwork, the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and Conditions of use of this website.

Jake Wilkinson

Written by

Jake Wilkinson

Jake graduated from the University of Manchester with an integrated masters in Chemistry with honours. Due to his two left hands the practical side of science never appealed to him, instead he focused his studies on the field of science communication. His degree, combined with his previous experience in the promotion and marketing of events, meant a career in science marketing was a no-brainer. In his spare time Jake enjoys keeping up with new music, reading anything he can get his hands on and going on the occasional run.


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