UP prof develops coating for aerospace, semicon tools

By Paul M. Icamina

A University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman physicist has invented a new process with vast applications for industries from aerospace to semiconductors.

UP physics prof. Henry Ramos and the plasma machine

UP physics prof. Henry Ramos and the plasma machine

The process is called CoaTiN because it uses titanium nitride (TiN) to coat, harden, and enhance the life of sharpened industrial tools such as drill bits, taps, punches, and extrusion molds.

It can be applied to aerospace components, marine hardware, automotive parts, medical devices, blades, pharmaceutical equipment, plastic molds, plumbing fixtures, extrusion dyes, eyeglass frames, surgical implants and so on.

Patents for the process technology have been awarded to Dr. Henry J. Ramos of the UP National Institute of Physics: in the Philippines in 2005, United States in 2008, Japan in 2010, Germany in 2011 and Malaysia in 2013.

TiN has been produced via several processes using different devices. However, most of the processes involve additional heating of the material to more than 500 degrees Celsius, compromising the integrity of low thermal conductivity materials.

“Our process does not incorporate additional heating except the inherent gaseous temperature of the burning plasma which is about 200 degrees Celsius,” Ramos says. “This novelty merited the patents awarded.”

The Ramos prototype could pave the way to locally produce tools that are now imported, says Arthur Tan, chairman of the Semiconductor and Electronics Industries in the Philippines Inc. (SEIPI) whose membership includes leading semiconductor and consumer electronics, telecommunications, automotive, communications, medical, and industrial manufacturers as well as fabricators and tooling shops.

Carbide is used to coat and prolong the durability of high-speed steel for cutting, engraving, milling and punching tools. Carbide-coating is not available in the Philippines; a semiconductor company may spend about $300,000 each year for coated tools.

To do it locally is prohibitive; an imported chemical deposition machine – used for carbide coating – costs about P20 million each, according to Alfonso M. Azurin who heads the Asian Semiconductor and Electronics Technology (ASET) Corporation, a semiconductor assembly subcontractor.

ASET has the license to market and service local companies and is doing the market validation of the prototype for industrial use. UP gets a royalty, out of which Ramos gets 40 percent – in line with the provisions of the Technology Transfer Act of 2009 and the Magna Carta for Scientists.

A prototype of the coating device was developed at UP’s Plasma Physics Laboratory that was established by Ramos, a physics professor. His expertise covers experimental plasma physics and its applications to the production of high-grade thin films of nitrides, oxides, carbides plasma sterilization and ion irradiation of polymers.

The prototype was upscaled at the Metals Industry Research and Development Council with funding by the Philippine Council for Industry, Energy and Emerging Technology Research and Development (PCIEERD), both agencies of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST).

Using a prototype called a “magnetized sheet plasma” machine, Ramos synthesizes titanium nitride to coat drill bits, taps, punchers, and extrusion molds.

“The technology increases surface hardness and provides protection from abrasion and the damaging effects of heat generated at the cutting edge for cutting tools,” he says. “It imparts a hard wear- resistant surface.”

This eliminates costly cleaning or grinding to remove a brittle white layer associated with traditional coating. Since titanium nitride coats the base metal, corrosion resistance is increased. With a hard, heat-resistant titanium nitride coating, sharpness is prolonged without the breaking and chipping often found in cutting tools like carbide.

Titanium nitride-coated end mills can run from four to as much as 12 times longer in applications where high speed steel end mills are used, Ramos says.

“It’s a major achievement and technology breakthrough,” says Edgar I. Garcia, Director of DOST’S Technology Application and Promotion Institute which promotes the commercialization and marketing of technologies.

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