Thin Coatings Require An Impressive Collection Of Equipment And Know-How

Let’s be honest — not too many of us have a need to deposit nanometer-thick films onto substrates in a controlled manner. But if you do find yourself in such a situation, you could do worse than following [Jeroen Vleggaar]’s lead as he builds out a physical vapor deposition apparatus to do just that.

Thankfully, [Jeroen] has particular expertise in this area, and is willing to share it. PVD is used to apply an exceedingly thin layer of metal or organic material to a substrate — think lens coatings or mirror silvering, as well as semiconductor manufacturing. The method involves heating the coating material in a vacuum such that it vaporizes and accumulates on a substrate in a controlled fashion. Sounds simple, but the equipment and know-how needed to actually accomplish it are daunting. [Jeroen]’s shopping list included high-current power supplies to heat the coating material, turbomolecular pumps to evacuate the coating chamber, and instruments to monitor the conditions inside the chamber. Most of the chamber itself was homemade, a gutsy move for a novice TIG welder. Highlights from the build are in the video below, which also shows the PVD setup coating a glass disc with a thin layer of silver.

This build is chock full of nice details; we especially liked the technique of monitoring deposition progress by measuring the frequency change of an oscillator connected to a crystal inside the chamber as it accumulates costing material. We’re not sure where [Jeroen] is going with this, but we suspect it has something to do with some hints he dropped while talking about his experiments with optical logic gates. We’re looking forward to seeing if that’s true.

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Titanium Coating Is Actually Pretty Straightforward

[Justin] enjoys tinkering in his home lab, working on a wide variety of experiments. Recently, he’d found much success in coating objects with thin layers of various metals with the help of a DC sputtering magnetron. However, titanium simply wouldn’t work with this setup. Instead, [Justin] found another way.

As it turns out, coating with titanium is quite achievable for even the garage operative. Simply run current through a titanium wire, heating it above 900 degrees in a vacuum. This will create a shower of titanium atoms that will coat virtually anything else in the chamber. [Justin] was able to achieve this with little more than some parts from Home Depot, a vacuum pump, and a cheap glass jar. He was able to produce a nice titanium oxide finish on a knife blade, giving that classic rainbow look. Coating crystals was less straightforward, but the jet black finish achieved was impressive nonetheless.

[Justin] plans to upgrade his vacuum rig further, and with better process control, we’d expect even better results. The earlier work is also very relevant if you’re interested in creating fine coatings of other materials. Video after the break. Continue reading “Titanium Coating Is Actually Pretty Straightforward”

3D Printering: Print Smoothing Tests With UV Resin

Smoothing the layer lines out of filament-based 3D prints is a common desire, and there are various methods for doing it. Besides good old sanding, another method is to apply a liquid coating of some kind that fills in irregularities and creates a smooth surface. There’s even a product specifically for this purpose:¬†XTC-3D by Smooth-on. However, I happened to have access to the syrup-thick UV resin from an SLA printer and it occurred to me to see whether I could smooth a 3D print by brushing the resin on, then curing it. I didn’t see any reason it shouldn’t work, and it might even bring its own advantages. Filament printers and resin-based printers don’t normally have anything to do with one another, but since I had access to both I decided to cross the streams a little.

The UV-curable resin I tested is Clear Standard resin from a Formlabs printer. Other UV resins should work similarly from what I understand, but I haven’t tested them.

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Coating Technique Makes Glass You Can’t See

Some of the deep thinkers over at MIT have come up with an interesting hack for ordinary glass. If you coat it in a special way it becomes nearly invisible. This is only one of the effects of the coating, but brings images of people walking through glass walls to our minds.

Joking aside, this is really very useful. The images above show a microscopic view of the cones that are applied during the coating process. They prevent the surface tension on a drop of water from being broken, and you can see the clip of water actually bouncing right off the glass in the video after the break. This also means it acts as a non-stick coating for dirt, grime, and even fog. Anyone who’s taken a tropical vacation will know that taking a picture outside with a camera that’s been in an air-conditioned room results only in a snapshot of a foggy lens. This coating could change that. But it’s also got a lot of potential with the glass panes covering solar cells. If they can’t get dirty, and there’s virtually no glare, you should see a performance boost. It’ll be interesting to see how long this takes to come to market and what the first products to use it might be.

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