Date of Award

Winter 2003

Project Type


Program or Major

Engineering: Mechanical

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

James Krzanowski


Future generations of mechanical systems will place new demands on the tribological performance of interacting surfaces. Vapor-deposited surface coatings can provide extended lifetimes, increased efficiencies and energy savings for mechanical components and tools. These benefits can also be extended to space mechanisms and satellites with the use of vacuum solid lubricants. The material properties of surface coatings such as hardness, friction, and wear resistance in a particular environment are influenced by the characteristics of the coating microstructure which include density, grain size, grain boundary chemistry, porosity, and grain orientation.

In this research effort bias sputter deposition, co-sputtering, and magnetron sputtering-pulsed laser deposition are used to deposit and control the formation of composite coating architectures. The developed microstructures were studied by x-ray diffraction (XRD), scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and transmission electron microscopy (TEM). Mechanical and tribological tests included nanoindentation and pin-on-disk. Results were analyzed in relation to the coatings' chemical composition and microstructure with the objective of establishing structure-property relations for these films.

Hard coatings presented in this thesis include carbides that form a solid solution (Ti-Hf-C) as well as carbides that form composite microstructures (WC-SiC, HfC-SiC). Hardness measurements on these films indicated the potential of transition metal carbide-silicon carbide composites to be utilized as protective coatings. With the use of a substrate bias potential, a hardness of over 35 GPa was achieved for some HfC-SiC samples.

By co-depositing from carbide and silver targets, composite tribological coatings (e.g. SiC-Ag, WC-Ag, TiC-Ag, HfC-Ag) were developed. These systems revealed how critical materials selection can be in the determination of a coating's architecture, and how carbide-silver films can be used to provide low friction and high wear resistance in vacuum applications. For instance, a titanium carbide-silver film (15% Ag) obtained by the MS-PLD technique yielded a vacuum friction coefficient of 0.21. This is lower than the 0.25 friction coefficient observed for a pure silver coating, and with half the wear. These results demonstrate that multi-component films of transition metal carbides and silver can be co-deposited with the individual phases can be retained.