The effects of changing deposition conditions on the similarity of sputter-deposited fluorocarbon thin films to bulk PTFE

Zandona, Philip
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University of Delaware
Solid lubrication of space-borne mechanical components is essential to their survival and the continued human exploration of space. Recent discoveries have shown that PTFE when blended with alumina nanofillers exhibits greatly improved physical performance properties, with wear rates being reduced by several orders of magnitude. The bulk processes used to produce the PTFE-alumina blends are limiting. Co-sputter deposition of PTFE and a filler material overcomes several of these limitations by enabling the reduction of particle size to the atomic level and also by allowing for the even coating of the solid lubricant on relatively large areas and components. The goal of this study was to establish a baseline performance of the sputtered PTFE films as compared to the bulk material, and to establish deposition conditions that would result in the most bulk-like film possible. In order to coax change in the structure of the sputtered films, sputtering power and deposition temperature were increased independently. Further, post-deposition annealing was applied to half of the deposited film in an attempt to affect change in the film structure. Complications in the characterization process due to increasing film thickness were also examined. Bulk-like metrics for characterization processes the included Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR), X-ray spectroscopy (XPS), nanoindentation via atomic force microscopy, and contact angle of water on surface measurements were established. The results of the study revealed that increasing sputtering power and deposition temperature resulted in an increase in the similarity between the fluorocarbon films and the bulk PTFE, at a cost of affecting the potential of the film thicknesses, either by affecting the deposition process directly, or by decreasing the longevity of the sputtering targets.