Typical high-temperature thin-film deposition techniques are not suitable for certain substrates such as polymers and thermally-sensitive steels. In this work, ion beam assisted deposition (IBAD) was used to deposit ceramic and metallic films at temperatures below 150°C with nanocrystalline (< 100Å diameter) grain size. Nanoindentation studies of these films have shown hardnesses 50 to 100% greater than larger-grained films and, in some cases, fracture toughness approaching that of Si3N4.
By combining chromium evaporation with nitrogen beam bombardment, hard, adherent CrN films without any porosity have been produced at low temperatures with a N/Cr arrival ratio of about 1. The grain size is typically smaller than 100Å and hardness is typically higher than 25 GPa. For a N/Cr arrival ratio slightly less than 1, we observed possible grain boundary porosity. However, even with porosity, hardness is typically 20 to 24 GPa for grain sizes smaller than 100Å. For a N/Cr arrival ratio of 1/4 we deposited elemental Cr with a grain size of 300 to 500Å and a hardness greater than that of silicon (12 GPa). Using Ar ions and a N backfill, we produced elemental Cr containing a mixture of coarse (120 to 150Å) and fine (25 to 30Å) grains. For high-temperature deposition of CrN, the grain size increases (200 to 600Å) with a noticeable decrease in hardness. Mechanical properties of CrN are greatly influenced by impurities, as well as by surface conditioning of the substrate.
TiN films having gold color and grain sizes from 50 to 1000Å have been produced at low temperatures. Nanoindentation measurements of hardness and fracture toughness indicate that impurity-free TiN (with grains smaller than 100Å) has a hardness higher than 25 GPa and a fracture toughness close to that of Si3N4, but with higher wear resistance. Mechanical properties of our TiN films are greatly influenced by impurities, particularly oxygen, although it does not influence the gold color of TiN.