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The Show Must Go On! SVC Chicago: Personal Connections and Key Technology

Author: David Sanchez, Materion

What a difference a few months make, especially when we were expecting to still be buzzing after another thrilling SVC TechCon 2020, this time to be held at the Hilton Chicago. This annual event is put on by the Society of Vacuum Coaters, a truly global organization billed as the main “source for learning, applying and advancing vacuum coating, service engineering and related technologies.” Due to the ongoing pandemic, the leadership and board cancelled the annual event and worked to not only secure a solid plan for 2021, but echoed the concerns, warnings and knowledge from their Asian members and partners. This swift action is no surprise and certainly no departure from the clear mind and concern I was first introduced to in 1996, as a new Thin Film Engineer at OCLI (Optical Coating Laboratory Inc.), now Viavi Solutions. Having served in the Armed Forces and being at the beginning of my career, I was immediately struck by the prowess of the Society and how important communication, and connection is to the Thin Film Industry.

When thinking of all the years I attended and exhibited at the TechCon, as it moved around the country and adding up the hours spent as Technical Advisory Committee, Board of Directors and active Materion exhibitor, as well as SVC member, I again marvel at the diversity of professionals and extensive experience found at each event. For my own small speaking contribution this year, I had planned to share key challenges and innovations at the Technical Forum Breakfasts, Breaks and Networking events, such as the exciting SVC Foundation Casino Night. Instead of those relaxed yet invigorating exchanges with friends, coworkers, and customers, I too have retreated to relative isolation, but remain ready to share market and corporate advances during this historic time.

It is true that technical thin films are central to Energy Efficiency, Storage and Sensing markets; it is also true that COVID-19 has amplified the supply chain uncertainty unearthed by trade tensions. While each metal has its own story, the special marriage of international and local technology necessary for metals has catapulted Materion’s core investment in Precious Metals Lifecycle Management, with Gold and Silver as complete solutions for customers. The combination of lower overall cost of ownership and shortened exposure to market pressures means the approach is an increasingly likely model for additional rare, or seemingly ubiquitous elements and compounds. While this capability is central to wireless communications and renewable energy, it is a strong feature available to all our customers globally, in almost any industry. In its simplest form, spent targets and components such as shields, film, wafers and scrap wire or forms can be stripped, and the Gold or Silver buildup can be recovered, refined and refabricated in-house, with great precision and speed. This unique recycling and reclamation process saves our customers time and money, as well as strengthens the green movement weaved throughout their supply chain. It may go without saying, but that these are three precious resources cannot be overstated, especially at this time. Materion offers customized Metals Management programs tailored to meet our customers’ unique financial objectives.

SVC TechCon 2020

The chemical process is efficient and can be enhanced with cleaning and even texturing (specifically for shields) to increase metal collection and reduce debris from inside the tools. Materion maintains multiple stripping and manufacturing centers in North America, Europe and Asia for its Precious Metals and minimizes the need to inject new high purity metal into the overall process, thereby reducing risk and cost to the customer. A more esoteric advantage of this system is that Materion retains the flexibility to scale and meet new challenges brought by the market. If we take a proverbial lesson from Solar Selective Glazing, as the technology advanced from single to efficient designs (using silver) for Low Emissivity, (Low E) windows, there was a point when the limitations of planar targets (adding length to the line) or limitations of manufacture (rotary format targets) would be key pinch points for cost, throughput and even logistics.

Materion leveraged its core casting technology and integrated custom spray technologies, resulting in highly efficient reclamation, purification and fabrication in a more holistic cradle-to-cradle manner (minimizing loss and enhancing reclamation). In addition to expanding this capability in Europe and recently Asia, the capability was recently tested to expedite the move from planar to rotary format for thin film electronics. In this emerging market, devices often need to be made on customized substrates or devices, thus smaller, planar target systems dominate the landscape at the cost of initial metal, time, and low utilization. With our first successful spray of dense, high purity Gold onto a substrate tube, we intend to lower that total cost of ownership and enable higher utilization offered in other rotary target cases. I was hoping to share that news as new applications need the higher performance of gold as a contact or surface over copper, or copper alloys more common for decorative applications.  With the success of our complete Silver target deployment and leveraging our Gold refine and fabrication framework for this initial Rotary Prototype we are optimistic, and I hope to report on our progress at a future TechCon event.

In optical materials and microelectronics, not every metal or compound exists in all formats, nor is it refined to the level needed by many applications. I am grateful Materion continues to develop key products with this example leveraging gold capability, as it did with silver. Other key examples include Aluminum Scandium for communications, Hafnium Chloride for Atomic Layer Deposition (ALD), and Lithium Fluoride for Displays. These are all key products that had one or more seemingly ubiquitous components combined with a very challenging reason why the other element or higher purity was a challenge to overcome. Even in these cases, Materion works to complete the big picture and enable high utilization and availability in emerging applications.

For 2021, the SVC Board and Leadership have enticed me with a new Symposium “Thin Film Solutions for a Sustainable Future.” In addition to my typical PV and Coatings for Energy Conversion tracks, I am anxious to attend sessions brought forward from the 2020 Symposium for Communications and the three new TACs – Sensors, Additive Manufacturing, and Thin Film Superconductors in 2021. Efficiency, sustainability, cost and risk are critical to Energy Efficiency, Storage and Sensing market maturation. 

While tradeshows and group meetings continue to be in flux, what remains important is that we all work together and find ways to meet industry demands safely, productively and diligently. I truly missed seeing all of you this past April, but know the SVC is charting an exciting new course for 2021. I certainly hope you reach out to me for more detail on the insight I’ve shared during these historic times, or just to say hello. In addition to this article, please check out our Coating Materials News for more background and efforts to support the Thin Film Industry.