Low-pressure plasma

Plasma treatment in the low-pressure range

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Low-pressure plasma offers a wide range of options for surface modification, for example fine-cleaning of contaminated components, plasma activation of plastic parts, etching of PTFE or silicon, and coating of plastic parts with PTFE-like layers. This means that low-pressure plasma is used in a great variety of industries when it comes to combining materials or changing the surface characteristics in a directly targeted manner.

Materials cleaning

Plasma technology offers solutions for any type of contamination, for any substrate and any post-treatment. In the process, molecular contamination residues are decomposed as well.

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Activation of materials

Good wettability is a prerequisite for the adhesion of binding partners in painting, gluing, printing or bonding.

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Etching materials

Plasma technology allows for anisotropic and isotropic etching. Isotropic etching is done by chemical etching and anisotropic etching by physical etching.

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Coating of materials

With low-pressure plasmas, components can be tempered with various coats. This is done by supplying gaseous and liquid starting substances into the vacuum chamber.

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Low-pressure plasma systems

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What is the design and functionality of low-pressure plasma systems?

In the low-pressure plasma technology, gas is excited in a vacuum by supply of energy. This results in energetic ions and electrons, as well as other reactive particles which constitute the plasma. It can be used to effectively alter surfaces. Three plasma effects are differentiated:

Micro-sandblasting

The surface is stripped by the ion bombardment.

Chemical reaction

The ionised gas reacts chemically with the surface.

UV radiation

UV radiation breaks down long-chain carbon compounds.

The mode of operation of the plasma is changed by varying the process parameters such as pressure, power, process time, gas flow and gas composition. Thus, several effects can be achieved in a single process step.

Plasma removes release agents (also silicones and oils) from the surface. They are chemically attacked for example by oxygen and converted into volatile compounds. Under-pressure and surface heating cause the release agents or their residues to evaporate in part. The high-energy particles in the plasma disintegrate the molecules of the release agent into smaller molecule fragments which can now be extracted. Furthermore, a "micro-blasting effect" is generated on the atomic level. UV radiation can disintegrate release agents.

Usually, invisible deposits such as greases, oils, silicones, moisture or oxidation layers are found on freshly produced as well as stored products. To ensure perfect coating of these surfaces, they must be PWIS-free (PWIS = contaminated with Paint Wetting Impairment Substances), which can be achieved with plasma cleaning.

Example for a typical process parameter

Flow rate: 500 Watt, process chamber volume: 100 litre, process gas: air or oxygen, pressure: 0.2 - 0.6 mbar, duration: 1 – 5 minutes

A  wide range of process gases (e.g. air, oxygen, argon, argon-hydrogen, tetrafluormethane-oxygen) and chemicals (e.g. hexamethydisiloxane, vinyl acetate, acetone, fluorinated chemicals) are available.

However, there is the following basic rule: The process know-how is the decisive factor. The plasma must match the material so that all desired effects can be achieved in a directly targeted manner.

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