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Home > Nanotechnology Columns > NanotechnologyKTN > Thin-film coatings - CEMMNT and NanoKTN event review

Fiona Brewer

Thin films and coatings technologies are helping to bring new performance advantages to existing products. The nanoscale manufacture, finishing and patterning of surfaces is also of interest to many sectors including the biotechnology industry so in late 2010 the NanoKTN, in conjunction with CEMMNT, organised a seminar in London to highlight the very best technologies that are currently available in the UK.

March 14th, 2011

Thin-film coatings - CEMMNT and NanoKTN event review

The development of today's innovative products requires manufacturing processes that are ever more robust and reliable. Many products now require the use of performance and functional films to improve cost reduction and increase service lifetimes, whilst reducing the environmental burden. The integrity of such thin films and coatings is absolutely crucial to ensure the best possible performance characteristics and business sustainability. By reducing manufacturing defects and investigating the mechanics and structures at the most fundamental level in the micro and nano regimes, it ensures that an enhanced level of engineering control be achieved and hence the value added of products can be increased substantially.

A report, entitled 2005 Revisited - The UK Surface Engineering Industry to 2010 concluded that the UK market for surface engineering in 1995 was about 10bn. By 2005 the market had grown to 21.3bn with resulting manufactured products worth over 143bn. The prediction for 2010 indicated an increase in the market to 33bn with the value of products increasing to 181bn. The number of products critically affected by surface engineering has increased by value from 67% in 1995, to 71% in 2005. This is primarily due to the high usage of coatings in the electronics industry but also the increasing usage of coatings within the engineering and healthcare sectors.

On 30th November 2010, the NanoKTN and CEMMNT (the Centre of Excellence for Micro and Nano Technologies) hosted an event highlighting the key issues in the surface engineering of high performance thin film coatings. The main aim of the one-day seminar and workshop, entitled High Performance Thin-Film Coatings - Ensuring Nanoscale Manufacturing Integrity was to bring together innovators in both advanced thin-film manufacture and measurement in order to share knowledge and encourage collaborations.

Many sectors of manufacturing and measurement are affected by these new advanced micro and nanoscale processes and the day's presentations heard from the very best innovators in the UK.

Manufacturing Technologies

Production of Nanoparticle Coatings for High Performance Structural Applications
Dr Alastair Kean, Chief Technical Officer, Mantis Deposition
The market in areas such as energy and medicine is becoming increasingly dependent on solutions provided at the nanoscale. These solutions include materials which are engineered using biological, chemical or physical methods. Some applications require a bulk solution such as structural composites or plastics. Kean looked at the increasing requirement to add to the functionality of surfaces by working with materials that enhance the performance systems.

Thin Film Photovoltaics
Prof. Mike Walls, Loughborough University
Walls presentation introduced the thin-film deposition techniques available and the metrology tools used to characterise optical performance, as well as uniformity and roughness. Prof. Walls provided an overview of the photovoltaic sector and how much it is rapidly expanding globally due to the renewed interest in green energy technologies. He predicted that 2010 would be the fastest growth rate yet of around 100%. He went on to give an overview of what his research group is doing in this area with the development of a new large area magnetron sputter unit which is capable of producing well defined thin films of material onto glass windows.

Thin Films for Micro/Nano-fabrication of Hard Disk Read/Write Heads
Rob Bowman, ANSIN/Seagate research centre
Bowman provided an introduction and overview of ANSIN, a new advanced materials coating and metrology facility at Queen's University Belfast. ANSIN was established through the support of founding partner Seagate Technology (Ireland) with a mission to undertake collaborative research between the University and Seagate and to also act as a hub to engage in new collaborative and precompetitive research in advanced materials and coatings. The presentation looked at some examples of how the ANSIN facility can provide value and how we can now provide a bridge between the capabilities of a well found University research environment and the needs of advanced coatings manufacturing.

High Quality Thin Films Deposited at Low Temperatures by Plasma Enhanced ALD and CVD
Dr Robert Gunn, Oxford Instruments plc
Low temperature deposition of thin films is becoming increasingly important with a growing range of low thermal budget materials being used in device research. The rapid development and predicted future market for plastic electronics has resulted in a greatly increased focus on thin film depositions below 150C. Gunn's presentation addressed the challenges of low temperature deposition in the context of some example applications including; depositing directly onto photo-resist for lift-off, Si3N4 MIM capacitor technology for MMIC and RF-MEMs and Al2O3 moisture permeation barriers for polymer based devices such as flexible OLEDs.

Measurement and Characterisation Services

Characterisation of Diamond Thin Films by Electron Microscopy
Dr Alison Crossley, BegbrokeNano
BegbrokeNano is one of the UK MNT Facilities and it offers a wide range of measurement capability including electron microscopy and advanced surface analysis fields along with SPM and NanoSIMS. The focus of the presentation was on the characterisation of nano-diamond like films on macro sized components and how the use of analysis can show how films can be improved by the production of smaller nano-diamond domains. An example could be found in gear wheels for wrist watch applications.

Recent Advances in Metrology for Mechanical Testing of Thin Films
Prof. Mark Gee, National Physical Laboratory
The National Physical Laboratory is the National Measurement Institute (NMI) for the UK and is actively involved with innovating measurement techniques for the micro and nanoscale. Prof. Gee outlined a selection of old and new techniques for evaluating mechanical properties, including nano-indentation, Surface Acoustic Wave Spectroscopy, Scanned Probe Microscopy and scratch testing. Many of these techniques are now enhanced with modulated temporal methodologies e.g. repeating wear tracks to gauge wear characteristics of coatings in real life or modulated indentation methods to measure visco-elastic effects.

The Structure and Integrity of Ceramic Coatings using X-ray Tomography and Mechanical Testing
Ian Shapiro, Mosley Imaging Centre, Manchester University
The goal of mapping a 3D dimensional object without cutting or cross sectioning is very appealing to the manufacturing community so the development of new x-ray tomography techniques is of special interest. The presentation from Ian Shapiro outlined moves to improve the resolution into the nanoscale of 3D tomographic analyses. With such improvements, the large datasets generated need to be managed and computed. This is now starting to be a reality and so very fine 3D structure is starting to be revealed on a many different types of materials samples not just coatings but bulk objects as well.

Digital Holographic Microscopy for Real Time 3D Surface Analysis
Dr David Morgan, Applications Manager, Windsor Scientific Ltd
A new technique that has developed recently is the use of holographic imaging. This technique can be used to image surfaces in parallel rather than in raster fashion for interferometric methods which takes longer to acquire the data. This advance coupled multi wavelength laser system acquisition can mean that step heights or normal samples can be measured properly without metrological artefacts dominating images which can lead to false height estimations.

Breakout Session

In the afternoon, a breakout session was opened by Paul Newbatt of CEMMNT and joined by speakers, Keith Harrison from Materials KTN, Alan Pidduck from Qinetiq, James Johnstone from the NanoKTN and Alison Crossley from BegbrokeNano on the panel.

Discussions between delegates suggested that the step before manufacturing is important when developing new products - the challenge is to reproduce the expectations of the customer - i.e. market demand is driver/customer.

It is important to marry the testing of a component to application development i.e. let the product be driven by customer and then use measurement techniques to fine tune what you already have. The measurement needs are different for each application.

Overall, UK SMEs were disappointed by the lack of suitable measurement turnaround times by Universities who sometimes have different priorities for their equipment. The question of how manufacturers identify who can do what measurements was central to discussions. Some suggested by going through brokers who can signpost options for manufacturers. The MNT facilities tried to tackle this issue through the MNT Capital programme however with decreasing resources there is a need to carry on an active network rather than a list of facilities. This also raised the issue of highlighting what the larger and more specialised UK facilities can offer like the Diamond Light Source and the Surrey Ion Beam Centre. Delegates were in agreement that measurement case studies are important, most companies look on the web for answers and if they can't find something similar then they can stop. This may be an action for instrument providers and knowledge networks like the NanoKTN to generate and disseminate.

Of course, the lack of professional skills and training are still issues due to the high expertise level required to operate and get the best out of the more advanced analytical equipment that is around on the market today. Overseas labour is required as the indigenous population's skill levels are not adequate. Nanoscale metrology is particularly fraught with problems with measurement error.


In its review Advanced Materials -Key Technology Areas 2008-2011, the Technology Strategy Board identified three challenge areas, where high value-added products and processes strongly underpinned by, advanced materials technology can be exploited in strong UK markets.

The conclusions from discussions are that more effort needs to be paid to identifying and making available measurement case studies to the community and to help in assisting those who are in completely different business sectors gaining cross over knowledge in measurement. There was also a need to be able to train equipment and instrument operators to be able to drive analytical equipment to utilise capital spending.

As well as covering a large number of crucial issues within the industry, the conference provided an area for industry professionals and academic institutions to network, creating links in the supply chain and generating new discussions surrounding nanotechnology for engineering.

By bringing together people at events like these, the NanoKTN aims to find solutions to issues faced by the market, in order to forge a competitive industry in the UK. By uniting those who work within this developing industry, the NanoKTN wants to develop programmes to advance R&D and identify gaps in the UK supply chain.

This article gives only a snapshot of the developments in this market and only a summary of the issues discussed at the event. To stay up-to-date with group developments and events in this area and to read presentations in full, please visit or email enquiries to .

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