Many of today’s new products are built around polymer substrates. The light weight and sometimes flexible products have advantages over more traditional glass and metal. However to make them truly useful and robust, coatings have to be applied to the polymers.
Today’s modern manufacturing sector, from electronics to automotive to biomedical devices, use physical vapour deposition to create coatings. This process gives the manufacturer control over the coating properties at a speed appropriate for mass production of products. In the past decades manufacturers have been increasingly looking to polymers as their substrate of choice. But when polymer substrates are used, rather than glass or metal, the link between process and properties is not so clear.
Many research groups across the globe are now trying to understand the fundamental science behind how coatings deposit and grow on polymers. One team from the University of South Australia’s Future Industries Institute is advancing the fundamental understanding to engage manufacturers in all new product development. An example being, the world’s first plastic automotive rear-view mirror.
In their review article, Evans and co-workers from the Future Industries Institute discuss the key global research that is unlocking the secrets to coatings on polymer substrates. These investigations have for example revealed complex interactions between the coating and polymer. Because polymers are very different from glass and metals, their interaction with the depositing coating leads to very exotic outcomes. Such outcomes that were once seen as undesirable issues, are being transformed into new functionality to create products not achievable using other substrates.