Modern applications of refractory ceramic thin films, predominantly as wear-protective coatings on cutting tools and on components utilized in automotive engines, require a combination of excellent mechanical properties, thermal stability, and oxidation resistance. Conventional design approaches for transition metal nitride coatings with improved thermal and chemical stability are based on alloying with Al. It is well known that the solubility of Al in NaCl-structure transition metal nitrides is limited. Hence, the great challenge is to increase the Al concentration substantially while avoiding precipitation of the thermodynamically favored wurtzite-AlN phase, which is detrimental to mechanical properties. Here, we use VAlN as a model system to illustrate a new concept for the synthesis of metastable single-phase NaCl-structure thin films with the Al content far beyond solubility limits obtained with conventional plasma processes. This supersaturation is achieved by separating the film-forming species in time and energy domains through synchronization of the 70-μs-long pulsed substrate bias with intense periodic fluxes of energetic Al+ metal ions during reactive hybrid high power impulse magnetron sputtering of the Al target and direct current magnetron sputtering of the V target in the Ar/N2 gas mixture. Hereby, Al is subplanted into the cubic VN grains formed by the continuous flux of low-energy V neutrals. We show that Al subplantation enables an unprecedented 42% increase in metastable Al solubility limit in V1-xAlxN, from x = 0.52 obtained with the conventional method to 0.75. The elastic modulus is 325 ± 5 GPa, in excellent agreement with density functional theory calculations, and approximately 50% higher than for corresponding films grown by dc magnetron sputtering. The extension of the presented strategy to other Al-ion-assisted vapor deposition methods or materials systems is straightforward, which opens up the way for producing supersaturated single-phase functional ceramic alloy thin films combining excellent mechanical properties with high oxidation resistance.
Unprecedented Al supersaturation in single-phase rock salt structure VAlN films by Al+ subplantation
G. Greczynski, S. Mráz, M. Hans, D. Primetzhofer, J. Lu, L. Hultman, J. M. Schneider; Unprecedented Al supersaturation in single-phase rock salt structure VAlN films by Al+ subplantation. J. Appl. Phys. 7 May 2017; 121 (17): 171907. https://doi.org/10.1063/1.4977813
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