Breakthrough research at the University of Canterbury has created an industrial process that applies a protective ceramic coating to metal machine parts, which could be used by NASA.
Researchers at the Advanced Energy and Materials Systems Lab (AEMSLab) have demonstrated the new technology, described as a "holy grail" of modern industry, for the first time applying a uniform, robust and adherent ceramic coating to a complex shaped metal part, opening the door to the development of a fully fledged industrial process.
The enabling technology for this breakthrough is called Pulsed-Pressure Metal-organic Chemical Vapor Deposition (PP-MOCVD), and was invented by Associate Professor Susan Krumdieck (Mechanical Engineering) during her PhD thesis research in 1999.
It has since been developed into a platform technology with potential applications in industries such as dairy, industrial manufacturing, medical and mining. NASA and international companies such as Teledyne, have already expressed interest in the product by contacting Professor Krumdieck.
“Aerospace applications are quite exciting but it’s really the ability to add value and extend the utility of every-day products that is a true sign of success,” she says.
“This is something industry has always dreamed about. Metal is of course the ideal material to make machines out of, but then the surface is susceptible to corrosion and wear. It’s like the holy grail of modern industry.”
Professor Krumdieck says 15 years ago her supervisor gave her the “nearly impossible” research project of coming up with a low-cost process for vapor-depositing, or “growing” oxide ceramic coatings on metal parts.
Dr Krumdieck has spent the past 12 years undertaking scientific research and “thinking outside the box,” to design coating machines for industry using the PP-MOCVD process.
UC’s mechanical engineering PhD student Darryl Lee has designed and built the first industrial-scale coating machine.
The research has also involved four other PhDs, six masters and more than 20 undergraduate students, in addition to six UC staff and three post-doctoral researchers. The team has also collaborated with researchers in the USA, Germany, Australia and Taiwan.
Professor Krumdieck says the secret to the PP-MOCVD process is that it eliminates the “carrier gas” that had always been used in conventional chemical vapor deposition and meant only flat objects could be coated.
“Now, any shaped surface can be coated. This is very important to industrial customers for whom wear and tear is a major contributor to cost and where a hard ceramic coating could provide significant cost savings,” she says.
“I always knew it would work some day but it has been great to actually see the research being applied in an industrial context. It is exciting that we have been able to apply the research to that extent, but it is only the beginning for where this technology could go.”