The interest in applying thin films on Si-wafer substrate for microelectromechanical systems devices by using atomic layer deposition (ALD) has raised the demand on reliable mechanical property data of the films. This study aims to find a quick method for obtaining nanoindentation hardness of thin films on silicon with improved reliability. This is achieved by ensuring that the film hardness is determined under the condition that no plastic deformation occurs in the substrate. In the study, ALD Al2O3 films having thickness varying from 10 to 600 nm were deposited on a single-side polished silicon wafer at 300 °C. A sharp cube-corner indenter was used for the nanoindentation measurements. A thorough study on the Si-wafer reference revealed that at a specific contact depth of about 8 nm the wafer deformation in loading transferred from elastic to elastic–plastic state. Furthermore, the occurrence of this transition was associated with a sharp increase of the power-law exponent, m, when the unloading data were fitted to a power-law relation. Since m is only slightly material dependent and should fall between 1.2 and 1.6 for different indenter geometry having elastic contact to common materials, it is proposed that the high m values are the results from the inelastic events during unloading. This inelasticity is linked to phase transformations during pressure releasing, a unique phenomenon widely observed in single crystal silicon. Therefore, it is concluded that m could be used to monitor the mechanical state of the Si substrate when the whole coating system is loaded. A suggested indentation depth range can then be assigned to each film thickness to provide guidelines for obtaining reliable property data. The results show good consistence for films thicker than 20 nm and the nanoindentation hardness is about 11 GPa independent of film thickness.

You do not currently have access to this content.