What is Physical Vapor Deposition (PVD) Coating?

December 31, 2020
In this post, you'll read:Physical Vapor Deposition allows you to coat your products with a thin layer of coating. There are a variety of techniques that you can use for Physical Vapor Deposition.

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Physical Vapor Deposition or PVD is now one of the most common coatings for the metal in a variety of applications. PVD coating is almost always suggested for customers buying a premium alloy like stainless steel. Understanding the process and properties of PVD is vital if you are unsure of its value for your project. 

What is Physical Vapor Deposition?

The term Physical Vapor Deposition was coined in 1966, but the actual processes behind it are much older. The history of PVD coating is strongly linked to the development of vacuum technology and gaseous chemistry. Over the years, it has become more and more affordable as production becomes more common and techniques evolve. 

Physical Vapor Deposition or “PVD” coating is a process where a metal vapor adheres to a metal surface. This adherence is achieved by electrically charging the metal’s surface so that the vapor will stick to the surface. 

This is an image of PVD coating machine.
This is an image of PVD coating machine.

How Does Physical Vapor Deposition Work? 

PVD coating occurs in a vacuum tube, which often means that specific, expensive equipment is needed. There are a few subtypes of PVD coatings that are dependent on the equipment and not variance in the result. PVD is the result of atoms binding to the surface of the metal by using electron manipulation. This atomic level of adherence is why PVD lasts so long while only being an incredibly thin layer. 

Other Metal Coating Options

Physical Vapor Deposition is usually one of the best options for protecting metal surfaces from wear and tear, but there are still other options on the market. To understand the differences, one needs a basic understanding of these alternatives. 

Painting is the most common coating for not only metal but all surfaces. It is the oldest way of providing an extra layer of protection or color to surfaces. Painting has evolved beyond liquid paints to include a variety of pigments and dry powder paints. Painting can be cheaper, but it is not as durable as other methods of coating metal. 

This is an image of metal painting.

There are other methods that include intense, messy processes like hot-dipping, anodizing, and electroplating that have been used for a variety of applications over the decades. There are also many high-end coatings that involve chemicals or rare metals and are reserved for specific applications like military camouflage or when other chemicals need to be resisted or contained.

Advantages of PVD Coating Stainless Steel

Physical Vapor Deposition has numerous benefits like being lightweight and high-temperature tolerance, but let’s look at some of the main reasons that nearly every company is scrambling to incorporate PVD in their products or project. 

Environmentally Friendly

The process of applying PVD reduces waste when it is compared to other, older methods for coating metal. Because the vapor is contained in a vacuum, there is minimal waste. PVD is widely considered to be an environmentally friendly process. 

Durability

Adding a coating to stainless steel extends its life by making it more resistant to wear and tear. But, PVD itself is also extremely durable and long-lasting. With proper care, a skilled application of PVD coating can last decades alongside the stainless steel it protects.

This is an image of PVD coating stainless steel sheet.

Hypoallergenic

Because PVD is just a thin layer of additional metal, it is harmless and hypoallergenic, making it a fantastic choice for many applications. Not only does this make PVD the smart choice for wearable technology and jewelry, but the hypoallergenic properties also make it easier to clean. 

The smoother surface of metal coated by PVD can reduce the risk of a surface trapping bacteria and viruses. The ease of sanitation is a huge bonus that has led to the widespread use of PVD during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Disadvantages of PVD Coating Stainless Steel

The disadvantages of PVD coating your stainless steel are few and far between. While a PVD coating improves the metal, you need to make sure you need an improvement.

Cost

Physical Vapor Deposition is not the cheapest option for coating metal; that much is true. The cost may or may not be necessary or encouraged based on an individual client’s needs. PVD is not prohibitively expensive, but the price is one factor for why it may not be a good fit. 

Not Meeting Needs

Some projects simply do not need the extra protection, cleaner surfaces, or beauty that PVD adds. For example, an industrial deep freezer that will be rarely entered and poses no risk of bacteria is a great choice for stainless steel walls or shelving. But, in that case, PVD may be overkill. Speaking with an experienced member of the FTSSS staff can help you look at your project specifications to determine if PVD would increase the value that is added to your building or product line. 

Common Applications of PVD Coating

Even if you are learning about Physical Vapor Deposition for the first time, the odds are that you have seen PVD coating all around you. It is one of the most popular ways to protect metal, especially in applications that expect heavy use or wear-and-tear.

Jewelry and Watches

Jewelry and watches are both worn close to the skin, so having a hypoallergenic coating over the metal reduces cases of skin irritation or allergic reactions. Stainless steel jewelry is more common in recent years since it is so resistant to corrosion and rust. Scratch and corrosion resistance is also why PVD-coated stainless steel is often used for daily wear wristwatches. 

The possibility for PVD to change the color of stainless steel also lends itself well to jewelry and watches. A wide variety of metallic coatings are available in PVD, which provides an affordable and attractive alternative to high-end metals like gold, white gold, rose gold, and platinum. 

This is an image of stainless steel jewelry.

Aerospace Equipment

Aerospace equipment and space vessels used to use a heavy, hard-surfaced chrome finish to provide excellent corrosion resistance. Recently, the aerospace industry switched a lot of its coatings to PVD. Researchers found that PVD provides many of the same benefits as the hard chrome coating, with fewer drawbacks. The environmental impact of hard chrome is much higher than PVD as well. The chrome plating process can lead to the spread of carcinogens, cancer-causing compounds, so PVD is also much safer for metal-workers to use. Chromium is heavily regulated in many nations due to the dangers it can pose for workers and consumers. 

The high corrosion resistance of PVD coating makes it ideal for aerospace applications. PVD coating can also withstand the extreme temperatures between the heat of a rocket launch and the frigid vacuum of space. 

Architecture

Outdoor uses of stainless steel are at risk of corrosion over a long period of time, especially with some stainless steel alloy grades and surface finishes. An additional layer can strengthen metal against the elements. 

Sometimes, a significant amount of money can be saved by opting for an alloy with less chromium and simply coating it with physical vapor deposition. This type of decision is best made with the support of an engineer and customer support staff since every project is different. If you are doing an architectural project with stainless steel, reach out to sales@ftsss.com for help and a free quote. Each environment and structure type will require a different approach. 

This is an image of stainless steel ceiling.

Interior Design

Many stainless steel fixtures are coated with PVD to help reduce the impact of moisture or wear and tear. PVD coating preserves the metallic shine of stainless steel, while painting would dull the color and cover up the natural look of metal that is so prized. PVD coatings have been used to customize and color kitchen appliances like refrigerators, ovens, and coffee makers. 
You have also probably seen colored PVD coatings on stainless steel panels used for walls and cabinets or even beautiful statement ceilings. The possibilities are wide open for using PVD in interior design. Many people are using PVD as a coating while remodeling their kitchens and bathrooms. 

This is an image of bathroom brush.

Automotive Technology

The affordability of PVD coating means it is not just used in luxury goods like nice watches and sportscars. Many automobiles use PVD coating to extend a vehicle’s usable life or improve performance. Consumer vehicles use PVD as a lightweight solution that protects the vehicle and provides drivers with fuel savings. Even in professional racing vehicles like Formula 1 cars, PVD is used to improve performance by reducing weight and decreasing friction.

This is an image of racing car.

Firearms

Another piece of equipment with a lot of moving parts is a firearm. Friction between parts of a firearm can lower its quality or wear down important components. Many firearm manufacturers use PVD to reduce friction and increase lubricity or smoothness of parts. This means less maintenance and lubrication by the firearm owner.  

This is an image of gun.

Should You Use PVD Coating?

For something like Physical Vapor Deposition that is used from earrings to space stations, how can you be sure it is right for your project? Well, with all the benefits and simple addition to many shapes and blends of stainless steel, you can almost always find a reason that the value of a PVD coat is a smart choice. If you are still not certain if your project needs PVD, speak with the FTSSS client support team at sales@ftsss.com or give us a call directly at +86-137-986-86781. 

Hi, I am Linda, FTSSS blog writer . I have been working on stainless steel  since I graduated from university. How time flies!  13 years have slipped away from me. ‘Stay hungry, Stay foolish.’ I am walking steadily on the road of seeking knowledge every day.

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