FBH research: 12.12.2012

New spin-off at FBH: Thin film coating at atmospheric pressure

Plasma source
Fig. 1: Plasma source at atmospheric pressure
Set-up sxputtering
Fig. 2: Experimental set-up for sputter coating at atmospheric pressure
gold layer
Fig. 3: Deposited gold layer

Many of the commodities we use every day, such as computers, flat-panel displays, mobile phones, eye glasses, and architectural glasses contain thin films deposited by cathode evaporation (sputtering). Up to now, this requires bulky and costly vacuum coaters. Researchers at FBH successfully transferred this process to atmospheric pressure. This promises substantial cost reductions by eliminating expensive vacuum technology. Also, it opens up new coating applications not feasible today due to the needs of vacuum environment. The technology is to be commercialized in near future by founding a spin-off company.

The technology is based on an atmospheric plasma source developed for medical treatments during a BMBF-funded project (fig. 1). An experimental set-up (fig. 2) combines the plasma source with a sputter target and an additional sputtering power supply. This allows sputter deposition of thin films at atmospheric pressure (fig. 3). Combining the microwave plasma with a dc current for ion extraction leads to a stable operation and thus enables the desired thin-film deposition. International patents are pending.  

The technology was presented to the community for the first time in October 2012 on the 13th International Conference on Plasma Surface Engineering in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, and raised a lively discussion. Up to now, this process was considered to be impossible, even by experts. The great market oportunities of this invention led employees of the FBH to go for the foundation of a spin-off in order to commercialize the technology. An EXIST research transfer project proposal was submitted and successfully passed the review.


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J. Liebmann, J. Scherer, N. Bibinov, P. Rajasekaran, R. Kovacs, R. Gesche, P. Awakowicz, V. Kolb-Bachofen, "Biological effects of nitric oxide generated by an atmospheric pressure gas-plasma on human skin cells", Nitric Oxide, vol. 24, no. 1, pp. 8-16 (2011).