Film Technology – The short answer: It’s a highly efficient and cost-effective way to improve the surface properties of solids. This trait becomes helpful in enhancing reflection, transmission, hardness, abrasion resistance, and hardness.
For example, thin film technology makes it possible for people to have access to affordable solar panels. It also has a use in nanotechnology and several other exciting applications.
In addition, it enables manufacturers to create increasingly complex multilayered electronic products like microchips. This is because each successive thin layer acts to protect the sensitive components it encapsulates.
Read on to learn more fascinating facts about this helpful technology.
Table of Contents
An Introduction to Thin Film Technology
Thin film technology refers to the application of a layer of material onto the surface of a component. When encapsulated within glass protective coatings, the technology allows manufacturers to change the surface properties of a material to add more functionality.
Why is thin film technology so important in today’s world? To adequately explain this, we must understand the potential applications.
Electronic Components and Displays
Thin film plays a vital role in creating the complex microchips we use today. A metal oxide transistor circuit in the 1960s required about five layers to complete. Circuits today contain at least six layers of metal and need more than 20 masking layers.
Without thin film technology, it would not be possible to build such sophisticated devices, putting a new spin on how crucial thin film is.
Coatings to cut glare and reflections and act as interference filters merely represent two optical coatings that benefit from this technology.
Magnetic Films for Data Storage
Many commercial data storage products use magnetic films with a glass, plastic, or metal substrate.
Optical Storage Devices
Thin film technology makes it easy for firms to safely store optical data on compact disks.
Antistatic coatings provide valuable protection from discharges of static electricity.
The Thin Film Deposition Process
Thin films can range from subnanometer to microns in thickness and impart qualities like conductivity. Gold-plating represents the most ancient form of this technology, although today, we can achieve results at an atomic level.
There are several deposition techniques:
- Physical Vapor Deposition: With this process, manufacturers vaporise the material in a low-pressure environment to create a highly durable, non-oxidative coating.
- Chemical Vapor Deposition: With this technique, the manufacturer bonds the layer using a chemical reaction. This more sophisticated process allows for more advanced procedures like ion etching.
- Thermal Evaporation: During this process, the target material remains under a pressure of 10(-6) to 10(-5). It releases particles as it heats, creating vapour pressure. Deposition occurs due to a combination of heat, pressure, and high current.
- Magnetron Sputtering: For sputtering to succeed, the manufacturer must remove the air using a vacuum pump. Then, they bombard the target material with energetic particles.
- Molecular Beam Epitaxy: As one of the most sophisticated methods, this technology works well within the nanotech industry. It remains one of the few techniques that allow you to create a clean polycrystalline film with high accuracy.
The method you choose for film creation will depend on the following:
- The application
- Target material
- Level of uniformity you require
For example, sputtering pairs better with optical coatings than chemical vapour deposition. Therefore, choosing the suitable method of application for the materials is imperative to achieving long-lasting results.
The Applications of Thin Films
Researchers asking, “Why is thin film technology so important in today’s world?” find the answer in the number of potential applications. Let’s look at the primary reasons that we use thin films today.
AR/HR Antireflective or High-Reflectivity Coatings:
Such coatings change the optical properties of lenses and screens to make them more effective in handling light. They work by either filtering out the visible light on the spectrum or deflecting it.
You will see this technology in output mirrors, electronic displays, and low optical thickness lenses.
You may also see this technology in place to conserve energy. For example, coating a window pane with the film improves your HVAC’s ability to control the internal temperature by reflecting light and heat.
TCO Transparent Conductive Oxide Coatings
These thin film coatings conduct electricity. You will find them on your smartphone’s touchscreen, photovoltaic cells, and LCDs. Anyone still wondering, “Why is thin film technology so important in today’s world?” should imagine a world without touchscreens and smartphones.
TCO films also prove helpful in several other areas. Take, for example, the typical microchip. If you wish to build greater functionality, applying TCO coatings could allow you to create a smaller chip without causing ion interference between layers.
DCL Diamond-Like Carbon Films
Some coatings extend the lifespan of the underlying material. In such cases, DCL films come into play. You will typically find them in highly sophisticated medical equipment, microelectronics, and sensors, but many other potential applications exist.
DCL films might also be helpful in diverse fields such as mining and space travel. As they reinforce the materials they coat, the potential is mind-boggling.
Biocompatible Hard Coatings
If you wish to talk about a life-saving effect, consider thin film coatings the hero when it comes to implants, artificial limbs, and biosensors. These films improve the lifespan of the underlying device and reduce the chances of the body rejecting them.
Thanks to these films with titanium reinforcement, implants such as pacemakers last longer. So do artificial limbs. The result ensures that the patient spends less time maintaining these devices and more time adjusting to them.
Importance of Thin Films Today
To truly understand the importance of thin films today, consider a world without them. You would not have any touchscreen devices or anti-glare coating on your glasses. In addition, you would need to replace sensors and other medical devices more regularly.
Is it difficult to imagine such a world? The statistics show that the thin film market continues to rank as one that is impossible to ignore. Valued at USD 11.6 billion in 2021, experts expect it to grow by 4.2% by the end of 2029.
By that stage, the market will be valued at around USD 16.12 billion, making more people stand up and take notice. Are these estimates accurate? Considering the importance of this sector, they might even be a little too conservative.
With the current pace at which technology continues to advance, it’s not inconceivable that the next ten years will be interesting for the industry. However, with the vast number of potential applications, it’s difficult to tell what the future holds.
However, thin film coatings will clearly increase in importance over that period, and that industry will continue to find new uses for the technology.
Final Thoughts and Further Reading
Learning more about thin film coatings is bound to spark more interesting questions in your mind. Now that the answer to “Why is thin film technology so important in today’s world?” is so clear, it’s time to learn more about its potential applications.
Korvus Technology posted a really helpful article at https://korvustech.com/thin-film-applications/ for those who wish to learn as much as possible. What other ideas can you come up with for utilising this innovative technology?