Surface treatment by ion implantation (hardion™)

Lifetime of mechanical parts can be significantly increased thanks to hardion™ by idonus, an innovative technology that performs surface treatment by ion implantation. Our process enables the hardening of parts, it can also significantly improve metal resistance to corrosion, decrease friction losses, or tune the hydrophilicity of glass, to give only a few benefits. Countless applications can now be envisioned at a competitive cost for a wide range of materials. Our technology and installation are perfectly suited for the treatment of small and medium-sized parts like those found in mechanical wristwatches or in medical implants.
 

 

   God created the bulk, and the devil its surface.*

— Wolfgang Pauli
[Nobel Prize in Physics 1945]

* Gott schuf das Volumen, der Teufel die Oberfläche.

The nature and characteristics of an object surface are of equal importance with respect to its bulk properties. This statement becomes obvious when one thinks, for instance, of wear or corrosion. Whether for functional or for esthetic purpose, surface treatment is of prior concern and a crucial step in the fabrication of industrial parts.

Ion nitriding of sapphire highly enhances optical transmissivity. For demonstration purpose, only the right side of the sample was treated with hardion™ technology.
 

 

Features and benefits

Surface modification based on ion implantation, hardion™, is a disruptive technology that enhances the physical and chemical properties of solid parts. Ion implantation is a cold process, where the underlying phenomena take place at the atomic scale and involve a wide variety of effects (e.g., nano-hammering, nano-structuring, densification, texturing, re-alloying, amorphization, reticulation, …).

To give some examples among the most sought-after effects, ion implantation can be used to increase surface hardness, reduce friction losses, limit wear, improve corrosion resistance, or modify the optical characteristics of materials.

  • Applications: tribology (wear, friction), corrosion, electronics (conductivity enhancement), biomedical (biocompatible implants), optics, decorative coloring, …
  • Processable parts:
    • Applicable for most materials – particularly suitable for metals (titanium alloys, tungsten carbide, steel, stainless steel, aluminum, gold, brass and other copper alloys, …) polymers/elastomers (PTFE, PEEK, PMMA, Viton®, …), silicon, glass and sapphire
    • 2D or 3D – Plates or three-dimensional objects are mounted on a motorized stage
    • Miniature or medium-sized components (e.g., wristwatch parts, machining cutting tools)
  • Implantation gases: We work with safe and environment-friendly gases. Namely, implanted atomic species are nitrogen (N), oxygen (O), carbon (C), hydrogen (H), helium (He), and argon (Ar).

Case study: Ion implantation is particularly suitable for the hardening of sharp edges, and can be envisioned either as a subsitute or in combination with conventional coating. Hardion™ nitriding of tungsten carbide significantly increases wear resistance of cutting tools. The benefits go beyond the extended lifetime of treated tools, since resulting productivity gains can become substantial.

 

Our offer

We propose two types of solutions depending on your production needs:

  • Subcontracting services for surface treatment of semi-finished parts for small series production. Our technical services include processing, process optimization, material characterization, ….
  • Equipment design and manufacturing: We develop customized and industrialized turnkey machine. Our team will adapt the associated fabrication processes to your needs, perform on-site installation, and train your team.
ion implantation equipment
idonus' hardion™ implantation equipment. This hardion™ implantation machine is a prototype installed in our workshop (Hauterive, Switzerland). It is dedicated to R&D projects and to subcontracting services.
 

 

 

Technology in a nutshell

The substrate subjected to an ion beam is modified internally – Unlike coatings, which consist in depositing a thin layer of material on top of a surface, ion implantation modifies the treated parts beneath their surface thanks to atomic rearrangement of material.

implantation vs coating

 

 

The CERN in small – We use an Electron Cyclotron Resonance (ECR) ion source to produce a positively charged ion beam. The ECR ion source was invented in the '70s by Richard Geller at CEA (Commissariat à l'Energie Atomique, France). The technolgy has since undergone tremendous improvements and ECR ion sources are now known to be the most efficient for producing multi-charged ion beams. At CERN, LINAC3 (3rd generation linear accelerator) is the starting point for ions used in physics experiments. In this cutting edge installation, one can find an ECR ion source which is used to accelerate heavy lead ions. Our ECR ion source is a miniaturized version of that system, but its working principle is identical.

Treatment process – The parts to be processed are mounted on a motorized stage, inside a high vacuum chamber, in direct line of sight of the ion beam. Using active cooling, we ensure that the parts remain below 100°C during the entire process. With energy levels of the order of hundred keV, positively charged ions are accelerated towards the parts and penetrate through their surface. The penetration depth is typically in the range of micrometer (1 μm), while its effects extend far beyond the implantation depth.

ECR ion implantation
This diagram shows the working principle of ion implantation. Our surface treatment equipment is based on Electron Cyclotron Resonance (ECR) technology. Positively charged ions with multiple energy levels penetrate inside the treated parts and modify their physical and chemical properties.
 

Hardion™ is a technology trademark for surface treatment by ion implantation.
idonus has acquired the licenses from Quertech Ingénierie SA to use, promote, and develop hardion™ technology.