The Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) is currently developing new technologies for depositing thin film coatings as part of a contract awarded by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

Valued at $1.5m, the three-year contract has been awarded as part of the agency’s Local Control of Materials Synthesis (LoCo) programme, which seeks development of new, low-temperature deposition processes and coating-substrate pairings to enhance surface properties of materials used in several defence technologies, including rotor blades, infrared missile domes and photovoltaics.

SwRI Materials engineering department senior research scientist and DARPA project manager Dr Vicky Poenitzsch said the organisation will draw on its expertise in development of novel plasma technologies and thin-film deposition processes for production of the thin-film deposition process component of reactant flux.

”We are developing a novel plasma technology, named high power impulse plasma source or HiPIPS, that will provide a high flux of reactive species to a surface while maintaining an overall low deposition temperature,” Poenitzsch said.

"We are developing a novel plasma technology that will provide a high flux of reactive species to a surface."

During the first year, the company will conduct a proof-of-concept demonstration of its HiPIPS plasma source to address the reactant flux component metrics, and will follow up with its integration with other performer teams’ technologies for surface reactivity and mobility during the second year.

The third year will involve deposition of a challenge film on a substrate and a DARPA-selected challenge film on a US Department of Defense (DoD) component, according to Poenitzsch.

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The LoCo programme specifically aims to reduce dependence on high-thermal energy input through examination of thin-film deposition processes at the molecular component level in reactant flux, surface mobility and reaction energy domains.

Several existing high-temperature deposition processes are deemed unsuitable for use on military vehicles and other equipment as they exceed the temperature limit of the material.

Defence Technology