Sputter Deposition 101

Summary: Sputtering helps change the properties of a substrate to be more in line with other materials.

Sputtering is a process that allows manufacturers to deposit precise amounts of one material onto the surface of another. The process is most commonly used in the preparation of heavy-duty equipment for industrial or medical use. You’ll see sputter deposition at work in airplane parts, joint replacements and even objects around the house. This process is very simple, but it involves precise measurements that make it difficult to do without the assistance of machinery designed for the process. Here is how sputtering works.

What Sputtering Does

When you need to change the properties of one object, you can use another material to add qualities to it. For example, plastic can conduct electricity if it is metalized. However, metalizing something requires intense amounts of heat. Sputtering allows that metallization to take place in a controlled environment. A magnetron sputtering system, for instance, keeps the surface area of the substrate hot, even using magnets to bounce particles around a vacuum sealed chamber.

The Sputtering Process

The process works like graffiti at the microscopic level. A small nozzle “spits” or “sputters” metal onto the face of the substrate. Some of those particles will stick to the substrate, others will bounce around the chamber. The chamber itself ensures that the substrate receives a precise amount of material, so that the substrate is not damaged or unnecessarily altered during the process.

Applications of Sputter Deposition

Vacuum deposition systems are used to make many of the objects we use around the house. The process is used to make the semiconductors that go into our computers and microwaves. It also helps to metalize parts used in cars and trains.

Related Story: Explaining Diamond Like Carbon

Related Story: Growing Thin Films in the UHV Sputtering System