Research Focus of the Research Group for Applied Surface and Coating Technology
The Applied Surface Technology department deals with the development and research of new types of coating materials that are to be used to protect and functionalize highly stressed precision components.
In detail, new, more environmentally friendly surface solutions for highly stressed components are sought, which are to be used in particular in aviation and transport as well as in the field of energy production. Prominent examples are turbine components used in gas turbines or stationary heat engines, but also components from the field of renewable energies.
The special challenge lies in the fact that the use of these layer materials (manufactured using the PVD process) – which are only a few micrometers thick – is intended to improve performance and efficiency. Illustrative examples are thermal or erosion-resistant protective layers, but also alternative systems to existing layer materials, which are limited (especially in the area of H2-based technologies) or questionable in their use (e.g. bans in the area of chromium electroplating). The basic idea is to design layered materials from the atomic level down to the application in order to achieve ideal results. For this ambitious goal, our industrial partners Plansee, Oerlikon Surface Solutions AG and MTU Aero Engines play an important role as a link between science and the real world of application.
Especially for precision components in the aerospace industry and power generation, coating materials enable new design and operational possibilities, and are therefore an important component to meet future goals in terms of efficiency and performance.
Applied surface technology is part of the research field of materials science and represents a sub-discipline. In order to be able to specifically improve or functionalize the properties of a base material through coatings, not only a basic understanding of materials science is essential, but also detailed knowledge of coating technology and high-resolution characterization methods Meaning. The layered materials, which are only a few micrometers thick, require design at the atomic level, since the smallest adjustments result in large changes in properties.
The targeted improvement of material properties through surface technology is extremely important in a wide variety of industrial sectors (mobility, aviation technology, energy production, microelectronics or medical technology). A key technology here is physical vapor deposition (PVD), which has a wide range of design options in terms of layer materials and architectures. This finds enormous application in various industrial sectors, such as for wear protection layers in the automotive sector, coatings for tools in the machining industry, or in the production of microchips.
A steadily increasing trend is the coating of highly stressed precision components - such as components in turbine construction, energy generation but also storage - to greatly improve efficiency and usability. In these areas in particular, important scientific questions meet the fundamental needs of industry. This is also reflected in lively research activity in the international scientific world. Another important factor is the "time-to-market ratio", which is significantly shorter for coating materials than for the structural components to be coated.
There is a fundamentally high level of innovation in the experimental exploration of new layer materials, since these materials are often only understood and described to a limited extent. Compared to "state of the art" systems - such as TiN or TiAlN motivated by the needs of machining technology or microelectronics - new systems such as borides or carbides experience a very wide range of applications. Most of these systems are known for their thermal stability or high hardness, but through consistent research they reveal new properties such as ductility, extreme chemical resistance or even superconductivity.
Our scientific unique selling point is that novel layered materials are designed in detail, from the application problem to the synthesis to the atomic structure. These layered materials, which are just a few micrometers thick, can often achieve great effects. Even small increases in efficiency, for example through thermally stable anti-erosion layers, are of great importance, especially in large industrial environments such as power generation or the aviation industry. Another innovative aspect in the use of new coating materials lies in the fundamental extension of the service life of highly stressed components, which are usually energy- and raw material-intensive in their production.
In order to transport novel coating materials from the laboratory scale to industry, various factors play a major role, from target production (raw material for a PVD coating), to the coating process itself, to adaptation to the base material to be coated. Here, too, we start and try to design layered materials from the atomic level to the application, taking all these aspects into account.