Understanding the multilevel phenomena that enables inorganic atomic layer deposition to provide barrier coatings for highly-porous 3-D printed plastic in vacuums

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Department of Materials Science and Engineering; Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering; Department of Chemistry


The potential of 3-D printing polymers to achieve low-weight space flight hardware has seen increasing interest. Additionally, robust 3-D printed polymer vacuum equipment would provide highly attractive low-cost alternatives to conventional industrial-scale tools for the scientific community. Inorganic barrier coatings of plastic parts can be used to minimize outgassing and damage to polymers from extreme vacuum environments. Among different coating technologies in this area of research, atomic layer deposition (ALD) has shown the most promise. Nevertheless, the exact formation morphology of ALD coatings on 3-D printed polymers under vacuum are not yet well understood, which hinders use of 3-D printed polymers in vacuum environments. In this study, the film formation mechanisms of ALD alumina on porous 3-D printed polymers are investigated via SEM, EDS, XRD, ATR-FTIR, and XPS. ALD alumina is deposited on 3-D printed pigmented and un-pigmented acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, polycarbonate, commercially available polypropylene, and pure polypropylene. The results reveal that the formation of the ALD barrier layer, its thickness, and diffusion of ALD precursor materials into the polymer substrate is a multi-scale phenomenon, and that substrate porosity and polymer functionality both dominate film formation behavior. Additionally, this study demonstrates that during ALD processes on 3-D printed polymers a vapor phase infiltration (VPI) growth mode also occurs, especially where porosity is present.

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Surface and Coatings Technology