Arcing during sputtering is a significant cause of defect generation during sputter deposition of thin films. We studied the effect of dielectric inclusion size on the propensity for arcing while sputtering aluminum targets in argon at power densities ranging from 8 to near 60 W/cm2. We found that there is a critical inclusion size required for arcing to occur. The critical size for an Al2O3 inclusion in an aluminum-sputtering target in an argon plasma is 440±160 μm. Inclusions with sizes above this critical value readily induce arcing and macroparticle ejection during sputtering. Inclusions below this critical size do not cause arcing or macroparticle ejection. We also found that the inclusion critical size was not sensitive to the sputtering power density. When the inclusion size exceeds the critical value the plasma boundary over the inclusion is deformed by the charge accumulating on the dielectric inclusion and the plasma positive column diffuses toward the target leading to a bipolar arc. Inclusions below the critical size do not distort the dark space to an extent great enough to permit bipolar arc formation. Our proposed model predicts that the critical inclusion size depends upon the sheath thickness, which ranged between 300 and 600 μm for the experimental conditions used in this study.

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