The importance of precious metal sputter targets in thin-film deposition

Sputter targets are used to produce thin-films in deposition processes, such as evaporation, Ion Beam Sputtering (IBS), Physical Vapor Deposition (PVD), and High Target Utilization Sputtering (HiTus). These techniques are used in the field of optics or to manufacture semiconductors and medical devices. This article focuses on the significance of high-quality precious metal sputter targets in enhancing a multitude of deposition processes and end-products.

Thin-film deposition

During thin-film deposition processes, sputter targets are bombarded with ions to eject atoms, creating a vapor that coats the substrate with a thin film of the target material. The choice of target material is critical, affecting the thin film’s quality, adherence, and properties. High-quality precious metal targets like gold, silver, rhodium, and platinum are often used due to their unique physical and chemical properties.

The success of the deposition process and the end result, depends on the purity and quality of the target material. For instance, using high-quality pure gold targets can improve the electrical conductivity and corrosion resistance of the deposited thin films. On the other hand, pure silver targets offer excellent thermal and electrical conductivity. Rhodium and platinum targets provide high melting points, excellent corrosion resistance, and robust mechanical properties.

Precious metal sputter targets and specific deposition techniques

Evaporation:

Evaporation techniques involve heating a solid material to its vaporization temperature, allowing the atoms to condense and form a thin film on a substrate. Precious metal targets are ideal for evaporation processes, as they exhibit high purity levels and excellent thermal stability, enabling precise control over film thickness and composition.

IBS and PVD:

Ion beam sputtering (IBS) and physical vapor deposition (PVD) techniques are commonly used for depositing high-quality films with tailored properties. Precious metal targets serve as the raw material in these processes, offering exceptional chemical purity and uniformity, resulting in films with superior characteristics. IBS is used in the Healthcare and Biomedical industries, for precise control over the thickness and uniformity of the coatings, ensuring the safety and longevity of medical devices and implants.

HiTus and Reactive Sputtering:

HiTus (High-Temperature Sputtering) and reactive sputtering methods are employed to deposit films with specific properties, such as improved hardness, wear resistance, or chemical reactivity. Precious metal targets, when combined with reactive gasses, allow researchers to achieve controlled film composition and precise deposition rates. This technique is widely used in Electronics and Semiconductors.

High Power Impulse Magnetron Sputtering (HIPIMS)

High Power Impulse Magnetron Sputtering (HIPIMS) enhances conventional magnetron sputtering by applying high-power pulsed DC voltage to the target. This results in increased ionization, improved film properties, enhanced target erosion, and precise control over film composition. HIPIMS is used in Aerospace and Defense industries enabling the deposition of high-quality films with tailored properties.

The use of precious metal sputter targets in various industries

Electronics and semiconductors

In the world of electronics, precious metal sputtering targets are indispensable. They are utilized to deposit thin layers of metals such as gold, platinum, or silver onto semiconductors, enhancing their electrical conductivity and improving device performance. This methodology is crucial to the manufacture of the miniaturized, high-speed electronic devices that are so prevalent today, from smartphones and computers to advanced sensor systems. Deposition techniques commonly used in this industry are HiTus and Reactive Sputtering.

Consumer electronics

The vibrant, high-resolution displays of modern devices owe much to precious metal sputtering targets. Used in the creation of thin-film transistors for LCD and OLED screens, these targets facilitate high-quality, energy-efficient displays. In particular, silver targets are commonly used in the production of touch screens and flexible displays due to their excellent conductivity and flexibility.

Photovoltaics

The renewable energy sector, especially photovoltaics, makes extensive use of sputtering targets. In thin-film solar cells, a layer of precious metal is deposited onto the cell’s surface, improving light absorption and thereby increasing energy conversion efficiency. This technology is enabling lighter, more flexible, and efficient solar panels.

Automotive industry

With the rise of electric vehicles, the automotive industry has also embraced the use of precious metal sputtering targets. Critical components such as batteries and sensors are enhanced with thin layers of precious metals, boosting performance, and longevity.

Healthcare and biomedical

Healthcare is another field where the value of precious metal sputtering targets is evident. In the production of medical devices and implants, precious metals like platinum and gold, known for their biocompatibility and corrosion resistance, are preferred. Sputtering targets are used to coat these devices via IBS and PVD, enhancing their safety and durability.

Aerospace and defense

In the aerospace and defense sectors, High Power Impulse Magnetron Sputtering (HIPIMS) is used to create high-performance coatings for various applications, including corrosion resistance, thermal protection, and electromagnetic shielding. Precious metal targets’ properties ensure these coatings can withstand the extreme conditions encountered in these industries.

High-quality precious metal targets from IAM Drijfhout

At IAM Drijfhout, we are committed to providing high-quality precious metal targets that meet stringent purity requirements and deliver exceptional performance. Please contact us to request a quotatation.

We also recycle used targets. Learn more about that on our recycling page.