Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Ultimate Deposition Source?

Important film properties including hardness, density and stoichiometry depend on the energy of the depositing species. Recent PVD advancements have involved increasing this energy through augmented process ionization. For example, unbalanced magnetron PVD increases the ionization of the sputtering gas through a special arrangement of the magnets - the source material isn't ionized, but the reactivity of the process is enhanced. If the the source material is fully ionized, the energy of virtually every particle impinging the growing film can be precisely controlled through substrate biasing to optimize film growth energetic conditions. This is especially important when depositing diamond like carbon films where high sp3 diamond is synthesized only in a narrow window of carbon ion energy around 100 eV. Cathodic arc PVD, offering high source material ionization, has long been where other PVD technologies strive to go, but suffers from macroparticles (MPs). Filtered cathodic arc (FCA) eliminates MPs and generates a fully ionized metal or carbon plasma (ionizing some of the process gas as well) but typically suffers from low rates, complexity, large size and high cost. FCA holds great promise as a versatile PVD source for producing the highest performing thin films, but these limitations must first be overcome.

A new kind of FCA has been developed by Fluxion (fluxion-inc.com). The Radial Arc source (shown above with a carbon plasma) may allow FCA technology to achieve on the coating center floor the success that it has so far achieved mainly in the laboratory. It accomplishes this by using a novel filter geometry that lends itself to uniform high rate deposition, compact size, simplicity and low cost (less than a magnetron, including power supplies). According to Fluxion's website, the geometry of the Radial Arc FCA can be visualized by imagining a ninety degree bent-tube filter rotated around one of its two ends where the axis of rotation is the large radius (the radius of the ninety degree bend), intersecting that end of the tube (see animation at http://fluxion-inc.com/index_OurTechnology.htm). The ions travel in a radial direction out from the cathode and are carried around curved trajectories through the large open area of the filter by strong magnetic and electric fields, then directed to the substrate in a uniform distribution. The much increased open area through the filter compared to a curvilinear filter, allows for greater ion throughput (and greater resulting deposition rate). The unique geometry of the Radial Arc also provides for strong magnetic fields in a compact design, also adding to ion transport efficiency. This visualization also indicates how MPs are filtered out by eliminating line-of-sight between the cathode and the substrate. In fact, the large and abrupt angle that MPs have to navigate to escape the filter further decreases the likelihood that MPs will reach the substrate.

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