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MCCLARENCE 2010-06-21

Research into Plasma
Electrolytic Oxidation
Coating Technologies
aims to broaden its
industrial potential.

Dr  James  A.  Curran  from  the  

department  of  Materials  Science  
and  Metallurgy  at  Cambridge  
University  discusses  new  research  
into  Plasma  Electrolytic  Oxidation  
(PEO)  coating  technologies  with  
the  Abrasives  Hub.    
A  new  research  project  ‘Breakthrough  
Studies  on  the  PEO  Coating  Process,  
starts  in  July  2010.  It  will  involve  
collaboration  between  Cambridge,  
Southampton  and  Sheffield   Fig. 1. An off-road motorbike rear sprocket during the PEO process.
Universities  and  industry.     The surface of the part appears to scintillate as millions of
  microscopic discharges take place.
The  researchers  hope  to  extend  the  
application  of  PEO  in  industry.  The   !
process  is  already  used  for  the  coating  
of  light  alloys:  general  electronics;  MP3   Dr  James  Curran  expresses  the   magnesium  or  aluminium,  into  
players,  laptops,  sunglasses,  bicycles,   need  for  further  knowledge   a  flexible  but  durable  ceramic  
and  in  the  marine,  automotive  and   and  research.  He  is  working   coating.  During  this  process  a  
aerospace  sectors  due  to  its   alongside  Professor  T.  W.  Clyne   controlled  plasma  discharge  is  
advantageous  ability  to  improve  a   who  heads  up  the  project  as   formed  over  the  surface  of  the  
metals  hardness  whilst  maintaining  its   principle  investigator  at   light  alloy  fusing  the  oxides  of  
other  useful  qualities  for  application  in   Cambridge.  Dr  Curran  explains,   the  substrates  into  an  
“Both  application  development   altogether  harder  material.  
and  industrial  processing  know-­‐  
Fig. 2. Dr. J. A. Curran
how  greatly  exceed   Dr  James  Curran  explains,  “The  
understanding  of  the   process  exploits  millions  of  
fundamental  process.  “   microscopic  and  short-­‐lived  
  discharges  on  the  surface  of  a  
How  PEO  works     metal  component  to  chemically  
    and  physically  convert  the  
The  process  of  creating  this   metal  surface  into  more  useful  
coating  involves  passing  a   (e.g.  harder)  compounds.  At  its  
modulated  electrical  current   simplest,  this  is  just  a  very  
through  a  bath  of  electrolyte   advanced  form  of  anodising,  
solution  which  converts  a  light   but  it  exploits  complex  material  
alloys  surface,  such  as   processes,  which  are  as  yet  
only  loosely  understood.”  
E. MCCLARENCE 2010-06-21

!Current  use  of  technology     !  the  company  with  which  the   !

treatment  to  painting  
“Plasma  electrolysis  technology   research  groups  are  collaborating   magnesium  and  aluminium  
has  been  used  industrially  for   offers  a  unique  form  of  PEO   surfaces  and  is  superior  to  the  
several  decades  for  the  wear   technology.  The  use  of  PEO   previously  used  toxic  chromate-­‐
protection  of  aluminium,   coating  is  quickly  growing  in  the   containing  pre-­‐treatment  
magnesium  and  titanium.  Its   automotive  industry  with   solutions.  
initial  development  was   Keronite  International  at  the    
spearheaded  by  the  aerospace   head  and  unsurprisingly  so.  It   Perhaps  most  interestingly  
sector  in  the  former  Soviet  Union   allows  manufacturers  to  meet   Keronite  International  has  
in  the  1980s.  More  recently,   legislative  pressures  to  reduce   applied  their  advancements  to  
companies  such  as  Cambridge-­‐ car  weight  by  improving  the   aerospace.  After  testing  the  
based  Keronite  International   hardiness  of  lightweight  alloys   coatings  resistance  with  a  
have  been  developing  the   and  can  increase  their  melting   Thermal  shock  test,  (immersing  
process  for  customers  as  diverse   point.   It   a lso   works   a s   a n   the  coating  in  boiling  water  and  
as  Formula  1  teams  and  paper-­‐ excellent  base  for  paint.     liquid  nitrogen  alternately)  
cup  manufacturers  (where  it  is     Keronite  has  been  approved  by  
used  for  wear  protection  of   PEO   coatings   p rotect   m etals   the  European  Space  Agency  
aluminium  mould  tools).”   vulnerable  to  corrosion,  which   (ESA)  for  use  on  its  own  satellite  
  makes  it  ideal  for  use  on  marine   hardware.  
Cambridge-­‐based  Keronite   equipment  and  for  the  same      
International  Ltd  set  up  in  2000,     reason  it  is  used  as  a  pre-­‐  

“Only  recently  have  systems   ruby  and  sapphire),  ”  explains  Dr,   carbides  and  borides  can  be  
been  developed  in  Prof  Clyne's   Curran.   formed  by  ion  implantation  
research  group  at  the  University     during  electrolytic  plasma  
of  Cambridge  to  directly  monitor   The  research  will  look  at   processing,  and  that  these  
the  characteristics  of  the  millions   branching  out  into  unknown   processes  can  be  applied  to  
of  little  ‘lightning  bolts’  which  lie   areas  in  order  to  widen  the  use   titanium,  steels  and  superalloys  
at  the  heart  of  the  process.  It  is   of  PEO  coatings  in  industry  and   to  produce  correspondingly  hard  
these  plasma  discharges  that   spread  its  benefits.  Dr.  Curran   or  functional  surface  layers.  
distinguish  the  process  from   continues,  “The  project  aims  to   However,  without  detailed  
more  conventional  anodising.   use  this  new  capability  to   understanding  or  control,  these  
They  help  elements  from  the   optimise  the  existing  coatings  for   wider  processing  capabilities  
electrolyte  and  the  substrate   aluminium,  magnesium  and   remain  in  their  infancy  and  
metal  to  mix  to  form  new   titanium,  but  also  to  explore  the   require  significant  development  
compounds,  but  they  also  inject   wider  potential  of  plasma   before  their  industrial  potential  
energy  to  the  growing  coating,   electrolysis  for  the  surface   can  be  fulfilled,  and  rival  the  
rapidly  heating  and  cooling  it  to   treatment  of  other  metals.   existing  methods  for  nitriding,  
form  such  phases  as  alpha     carburising  and  boriding.    
alumina  (also  known  as  the   As  early  as  the  1950s,  it  was    
mineral  ‘corundum’  which  is  the   shown,  for  instance,  that  
base  for  the  hard  gemstones   compounds  such  as  nitrides,  
E. MCCLARENCE 2010-06-21

It  is  anticipated  that  the  new  
insight,  which  this  project  will  
provide  into  the  mechanisms  and  
control  of  plasma  generation  and  
development,  will  be  transferrable  
from  our  industrial  comfort  zone  
of  aluminium  and  magnesium  to  
these  other  applications.”  
Researching  this  process  means  
tackling  the  entire  PEO  process  
from  start  to  end.  Dr  J.  Curran  
says,  “  Metal  parts  will  be  
immersed  into  a  large  tank  of  
electrolyte,  and  hundreds  of  volts  
applied  between  the  parts  and  an  
immersed  counter-­‐electrode.  The  
carefully  formulated  electrolytes,  
together  with  carefully  developed  
electrical  pulse  shapes  (both   !
outcomes  of  this  research  project)  
will  generate  controlled  plasma  on   Fig. 3. A photograph of an Visit the Engineering and
the  surface  of  the     aluminium racing yacht winch Physical Sciences Research
components.”   drum to which a Keronite
Council (EPSRC) website:-
  PEO coating has been applied
The  collaboration  between  the   in order to make the carefully www.epsrc.ac.uk or visit
three  universities  will  bring   profiled high-friction surface Keronite International’s
together  a  variety  of  needed   more durable.   website:- www.keronite.com
technical  knowledge  and  
resources  in  order  to  further    
investigate  the  way  in  which  PEO  
has  such  great  implications  for  the  
metal  manufacturing  industry.  Dr.  
Curran  indicates  the  scale  of  their  
knowledge.     connections  to  the  University   finally  make  these  processes  
  could  prove  fruitful  as  it  is   Industrially  viable  for  the  
“Professor    Matthews  research     hoped  that  Keronite  will  be  able  
group    in    Sheffield  brings     economic  surface  hardening  
to  rapidly  implement  any   of  complex  components.”  
extensive  background  knowledge    
of  plasma  surface  engineering  and     technical  progress  on  an  
tribology  to  the    project    whilst  Dr.   industrial  scale.                    
Golosnoy  and  Southampton    
University  offer  exceptional   Together,  the  consortium  hopes  
knowledge  of  the    plasma  physics     to  deliver  the  much  needed   For more articles, news and
of    discharges.”   combination  of  industrial  know-­‐ events in the global abrasives
  and surrounding industries
how  and  multidisciplinary  
 Keronite  International’s   visit:- www.abrasiveshub.com
  academic  expertise  that  could