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Diamonds combined with ceramics to create super high-wearing material

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May 24, 2010

Dr. Simone Kondruweit, Dr. Lothar Schafer, Dr. Markus Hofer, Markus Armgard of IST where t...

Dr. Simone Kondruweit, Dr. Lothar Schafer, Dr. Markus Hofer, Markus Armgard of IST where the DiaCer coatings and systems were designed (Image: Fraunhofer/Dirk Mahler)

Diamonds aren’t just a girl’s best friend - they also boast outstanding physical properties that makes them an ideal material for industrial applications such as cutting and polishing. It is extraordinarily hard, conducts heat well and is practically inert to chemical substances. Ceramics – particularly high-performance ceramics – are likewise able to demonstrate special qualities. They are robust and withstands high temperatures. Researchers have now created a diamond coated ceramics composite material that combines the best of both materials.

Dubbed DiaCer, the new material offers maximum wear-resistance coupled with low values of friction making it ideal for components and tools that are subjected to heavy strain, such as in pumps or forming and shaping dies. Created by scientists from four Fraunhofer institutes, together with industry partners, the basis of the new material is a modified silicon-nitride or carbide ceramic.

To craft the ceramics so that the diamond coating adheres firmly and evenly to the base body the researchers initially placed the components and tools in a vacuum reactor for the hot wire chemical vapor deposition (CVD) technology applied for the coating process. Next, the researchers add methane and hydrogen. In order for the diamond coating to grow, wires are spread at intervals of just a few centimeters across the objects that were going to be coated. The wires are heated until they reach incandescence. This activates the gases; carbon is deposited on the surface in crystalline diamond form.

“Using our process, we can apply a diamond layer of up to a half square meter in size," says project coordinator Dr. Lothar Schäfer of the Fraunhofer Institute for Surface Engineering and Thin Films IST in Braunschweig. ”There‘s nothing else like it in the world."

DiaCer is already proving its worth in tests. With axial face seals that EagleBurgmann Germany inserted in pumps for critical environments, like the conveyors for oil, sand and gas mixtures, the diamond coating extends the durability for each application by a factor of 4 to 1,000. The test tools, which are used in production at the Elisental wire plant for example, were barely worn after several tons of wire had been produced.

Axial face seals for pumps have since been coated with diamonds by Condias GmbH - a spin-off of the Fraunhofer Institute for Thin Films and Surface Technology - and marketed by EagleBurgmann in a variety of complex applications. The researchers say many other applications are also conceivable. “Ultimately, DiaCer is of interest for all components in machine construction that need strong resistance to wear," summarizes Schäfer.

In recognition of their achievement, the interdisciplinary team responsible fort he new material has been awarded the Stifterverband Award for Science – a 50,000 euro prize awarded for scientific excellence in applied research projects carried out jointly by Fraunhofer Institutes and business enterprises and/or other research organizations.

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag.   All articles by Darren Quick
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5 Comments

I just want a DiaCer coating for my lawnmower blade. What's the ETA on that?

jimbo92107
25th May, 2010 @ 10:26 am PDT

Congratulations to that team! Brilliant achievement and more honours will come their way. The uses for such a material are endless, should it be economically viable d;-)

Jetwax
25th May, 2010 @ 08:45 pm PDT

Vacuum condensation is a 50 years old technology, and combining ceramics with diamonds is not new as well. All was tried in jet turbine, many years ago. And Silicone carbide is old as this planet.

This field is my uni degree, back 25 years ago. Trust me (lol) nothing new here. Just a repetition of what was done before and mixing of the same ingredients.

Vladimir Popov
30th May, 2010 @ 03:40 am PDT

Are we about to enter Neil Stephenson's Diamond Age?

John Weiss
3rd June, 2010 @ 07:35 am PDT

"Just a repetition of what was done before and mixing of the same ingredients." Isn't that the definition of technological progress for many?

TogetherinParis
15th July, 2010 @ 08:54 am PDT
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