Investigation and growth of nickel coatings for electrical contact applications
Nickel based coatings were deposited on copper substrates by two different sputtering techniques from a nickel alloy based target. The substrates used were commercially available copper based substrates for low duty electrical contacts. The coatings were analyzed and evaluated as copper diffusion barriers for electrical contact applications. In addition two types of commercially available electroplated nickel coatings (referred to as type A electroplated coatings and type B electroplated coatings) were characterized for comparison. The Technique I sputtered coatings were deposited using three different substrate bias voltages and two different working gas pressures. The Technique II coatings were deposited using two different substrate bias voltages and two different working gas pressures. All sputtered coatings were deposited at a temperature of 200° C. The quality of the barriers was investigated by analyzing their composition, microstructure, stress, mechanical properties , and surface roughness. The results show that sputtered coatings have polycrystalline structures while the two plated films had (200) orientation and (111) orientation. Both plated coatings contained impurities that originate from chemicals used in the plating baths. The surface of the sputtered coatings reflects the substrate surface, while the electroplated samples on the same substrate (type A coatings) show a smooth mirror like surface and the type B electroplated coatings show a rough surface.
Technique II sputtered coatings showed the highest hardness in the amount of 13 GPa, followed by electroplated type A coatings with a hardness of about 9 GPa while the Technique I coatings showed hardness of 6-8 GPa. All sputtered coatings exhibited compressive stress while the electroplated type A coatings exhibited tensile stress of almost twice the magnitude.
In this study it is shown that sputtered nickel based coatings sputtered nickel based coatings are a promising more environmental friendly alternative to electroplated nickel coatings.
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