Fundamentals of High Power Impulse Magnetron Sputtering (HIPIMS) - Plasma Studies and Materials Synthesis

Lead Research Organisation: Sheffield Hallam University
Department Name: Faculty of Arts Computing Eng and Sci


To be effective, many modern technologies need component parts with very special surface properties. The parts of an F1 engine must be very resistant to wear, medical implants must not corrode inside the human body, and even everyday objects like the surface finish of glasses-frames and mobile phones must be able to survive the knocks and scratches of day-to-day life. Industry very often gets these desirable properties by taking an everyday material such steel and protecting it with a highly specialised surface coating . Our research aims to improve our understanding of an exciting new technology for producing coatings.The new method is called HIPIMS (which stands for High Power Impulse Magnetron Sputtering) and is a very recent addition to a family of plasma techniques, in which the coating is produced by bombarding the surface you want to coat with carefully prepared atoms and ions. HIPIMS was first discovered in 1995, and recent work in our group and elsewhere has already shown that it produces an excellent plasma, with a combination of ion properties which should produce hard wearing, corrosion resistant coatings. We have also made some early trials of the coatings themselves, and they do indeed turn out to be very promising.Because it is so new, there are a number of key features of HIPIMS we don't yet understand. HIPIMS works by making a series of short, very high-power pulses. We know that the plasma achieves unusual conditions during the pulse, but the details are not yet worked out. Similarly, the way the plasma changes during the pulse is not yet clear. Answering these questions would be of interest to scientists who study plasmas, and would help technologists to learn how to apply HIPIMS to create new, better coatings.In the research we will measure properties of HIPIMS plasmas to understand how the composition of the plasma changes with time. We will do this by carefully analysing the electrical properties of the plasma and studying the spectrum of the light it emits. We will feed the data into models of how HIPIMS operates and work to develop a theory which explains the pulse behaviour. We will also make coatings using HIPIMS and measure their properties (for example how hard they are) and examine them under electron microscopes to help our understanding of how the properties relate to the microscopic structure produced by the HIPIMS plasma. This understanding should help industrialists to develop HIPIMS processes which can generate new, better coatings. In a few years our car engines, hip-replacements and mobile phones may all be reliant on components developed using HIPIMS!


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Burcalova K (2008) Ion energy distributions and efficiency of sputtering process in HIPIMS system in Journal of Physics D: Applied Physics

Description Developed fundamental understanding of a new process for deposition of coatings called High Power Impulse Magnetron Sputtering. Understand how plasma is formed in conditions of magnetic confinement and extremely high electrical power. Understand which plasma species are most important for the formation of coatings. Understand how to improve coating performance and microstructure using HIPIMS.
Exploitation Route The findings may be used by companies to develop products with better performance such as longer lifetime for automotive car parts and hip joints, better efficiency of photovoltaic cells, improved performance of semiconductor devices.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Agriculture, Food and Drink,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Electronics,Energy,Healthcare,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Transport

Description The findings have been used by a number of companies. They have been used to develop new systems for coating deposition, new products for the consumer market and new systems for process control
First Year Of Impact 2008
Sector Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Electronics,Energy,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Transport
Impact Types Economic

Description High Efficiency CuInSe2 Photovoltaic Modules Deposited at Low Temperature by High Power Impulse Magnetron Sputtering (HIPIMS)
Amount £400,000 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/J011398/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2012 
End 06/2015
Organisation Hauzer Techno-Coating B.V.
Country Netherlands 
Sector Private 
Start Year 2006
Description IonBond Netherlands BV 
Organisation IonBond Netherlands B.V.
Country Switzerland 
Sector Private 
Start Year 2006
Description Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory 
Organisation Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Country United States 
Sector Public 
Start Year 2006
Description Uni of Illinois at Urbana Champaign 
Organisation University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
Start Year 2006
Title HIPIMS with low magnetic field strength 
Description Method and apparatus for physical vapour deposition (PVD) and in particular high power impulse magnetron sputtering (HIPIMS) deposition. The apparatus and process provide for the creation of a weaker magnetic field in the region of the cathode which reduces the confinement of a significant part of the plasma near the target surface. By weakening the magnetic field strength in the region of the target, the deposition rate of materials at a substrate has been found to increase by a factor of 9 relative to that of conventional HIPIMS processes employing typical magnetic field strengths. The magnetic field strength of a tangential component of the magnetic field applied in the region of the target can be 40mT or less. 
IP Reference GB2437730 
Protection Patent application published
Year Protection Granted 2007
Licensed Yes
Impact Novel approach to the design of high power impulse magnetron sputtering systems, in particular cathodes, for improved efficiency.
Title PVD coating process magnetron cathodic sputtering 
Description PVD process for coating substrates comprises pre-treating a substrate in the vapor produced by pulsed magnetic field-supported cathode sputtering. During the pre-treatment a magnetic field arrangement in the form of a magnetron cathode is used to support the magnetic field. The intensity of the horizontal component in front of the target is 100-1500 Gauss. After the pre-treatment a further coating step takes place using cathode sputtering. The power density of the pulsed discharge during pre-treatment is over 1000<-2>. Preferred Features: The power density is 2000-3000<-2>. The pulse duration is 10-1000, preferably 50 micro-s, and the pulse interval is 0.2 ms to 1000 s, preferably 20 ms. The pre-treatment takes place in an non-reactive atmosphere. e.g. Ne, Ar, Kr, or Se with targets made from Cr, V, Ti, Zr, Mo, W, Nb, or Ta. 
IP Reference EP1260603 
Protection Patent granted
Year Protection Granted 2002
Licensed Yes
Impact It has influenced the way system manufacturers design high power impulse magnetron sputtering machines. It has helped to produce industrial scale commercial grade production-capable systems and achieve sales in the 10s of units / year.
Title Radio frequency glow discharge plasma sputtering 
Description RF plasma glow discharge apparatus and method for pulsed plasma sputtering. The apparatus and method comprise means to pulse the power at a sputter target 102 and an RF antenna 100 so as to create a peak power density at the RF antenna 100 of greater than 50 Wcm-2. A plasma of highly ionised sputtered species is generated with or without a magnetic field. Sputter species include metallic, non-magnetic, ceramic and oxide materials that may be used for substrate etching and deposition. Consideration is also given to plasma and target power supply impedance so as to optimise the intensity of generated plasma species. Synchronisation of the power pulses at the target 107 and RF antenna 108 is also disclosed. 
IP Reference GB2469666 
Protection Patent granted
Year Protection Granted 2010
Licensed No
Impact The initiation of a new plasma source for the deposition of magnetic materials. Enabling innovation in other fields such as the manufacturing of photovoltaics.
Title Thin film coating of blades 
Description The present invention relates to a process for forming a razor blade. The process includes the steps of: a) providing a substrate, b) forming a wedge-shaped sharpened edge on the substrate that has an included angle of less than thirty degrees and a tip radius of less than 1,000 angstroms, c) placing the substrate in a vacuum chamber, d) placing a first solid target in the vacuum chamber, e) providing a gas to be ionized in the vacuum chamber, and f) generating ions from the first solid target by applying a negative voltage to the first solid target in pulses, the ions forming a thin film coating on the wedge-shaped sharpened edge on the substrate. 
IP Reference US2009025512 
Protection Patent granted
Year Protection Granted 2009
Licensed Yes
Impact Innovative technology for coating deposition on blades.
Title Vacuum treatment apparatus with additional voltage supply 
Description A vacuum treatment apparatus 10 for treating at least one substrate 12 comprises a treatment chamber 14 at least one cathode 16, a power supply 18 associated with the cathode for generating ions of a material present in the gas phase in the chamber and/or ions of a material of which the cathode is formed, a substrate carrier 20 and a bias power, supply 32 for applying a negative bias to the substrate carrier and any substrate present thereon. To attract said ions to the substrate, the cathode power supply is adapted to apply relatively high power pulses of relatively short duration to the cathode at intervals resulting in lower average power levels comparable with DC operation, e.g. in the range from ca. 1 KW to 100 KW. The bias power supply is adapted to permit a bias current to flow at a level corresponding generally to the average power level, and an additional voltage supply 60 of relatively low inductive and resistive impedance is associated with the bias power supply for supplying a bias voltage adapted to the power of the relatively high power pulses when said relatively high power pulses are applied to the cathode. 
IP Reference GB2437080 
Protection Patent granted
Year Protection Granted 2007
Licensed Yes
Impact Influenced design of power generators for biasing substrates in a high power impulse magnetron sputtering environment. Enabled business protection for two companies and sales of several units. Enabled commercial exploitation of HIPIMS in the field of hard and functional coatings.