Creating the World’s Strongest Aluminum and More on Industrial Magnetron Sputtering

Aluminum has thousands of possible applications. It’s flexible, lightweight, and inexpensive to produce. But what aluminum typically is not – at least, until now – is strong.

However, researchers at Purdue University have found a way to  .

The high-strength, lightweight aluminum allow has the potential to revolutionize and automobile and aerospace industries. It could be used as a corrosion-resistant coating for electronic devices and vehicles, along with many other possible applications. Researchers are only beginning to test the limits of this new technology.

What is Magnetron Sputtering?

Although used to produce many common technologies, including touch screens, many people aren’t aware of what this technology can do. So, what is the magnetron sputtering system?

Magnetron sputtering is an industrial manufacturing technique that uses magnetic fields to coat the surface of a material with a thin metal coating. It uses closed magnetic fields in a vaccum chamber to spread a conductive or non-conductive metallic material over the surface of the substrate using plasma vapour deposition, or PVD. When positively-charged ions accelerate and contact the metal, ions fly from the target to the substrate and coat it with a consistent layer of molecules.

In this case, the Purdue University researchers used magnetron sputtering to alter the microsctructure of aluminum in order to make it stronger. Like all metals, aluminum is made up of layers and layers of crystal atoms stacked atop each other. When there are two missing layers called “nanotwins”, it can make the metal stronger. The same can occur when the fault creates a structure that repeats over nine layers, called a 9R phase.

Xingham Zhang, an author on the study, describes the new material. “The formation of the 9R phase in aluminum is even more difficult because of its high stacking fault energy. You want to introduce both nanotwins and 9R phase in nanograined aluminum to increase strength and ductility and improve thermal stability.”

The researchers demonstrate the outcome in this video.