Sustainable solutions with surface and thin film engineering

Sustainability is currently perhaps the most important social guiding principle of the age. Not only in the European Union but also in Germany sustainable development processes are in first place on the agenda. In the field of surface and thin film engineering the Fraunhofer IST has for a number of years now been developing solutions for sustainable products and sustainable industrial production.

A large number of research subjects at the Fraunhofer IST are oriented by urgent future-related topics and by social trends, such as the implementation of an alternative energy supply, alternatives for scarce materials and raw materials, or mobility in the 21st century. The very thinnest high-performance coatings are in addition the basis for a variety of further products and high-tech applications which are viable for the future, especially when it is a matter of saving material and energy.

Some examples from our research into sustainable industrial products and processes

Innovative materials

  • At the Fraunhofer IST intensive research has been in progress on replacing indium tin (ITO) with alternative materials such as ones based on ZnO and SnO2 and TiO2.
  • Low damage separations of indium free materials for high efficient LEDs are being developed.
  • At the Fraunhofer IST alternative materials for the high-refractive-index tantalum oxide coatings used in optical industries are being developed.
  • New materials like canal materials for TFIs and p-conductive materials are being developed for transparent contact films (TFTs).
  • At the Fraunhofer IST a REACH-compliant plastic metallization is used as an alternative to chrome (VI).

Material efficiency

Energy efficiency

  • Lower energy consumption due to the erosion protection of aero-engines: very hard multilayer coatings of ceramic and metal prevent excessive fuel consumption and falling efficiency levels.
  • Broader and improved range of applications for lightweight components by means of wear-resistant, friction-reducing coatings which also protect against corrosion.
  • Reduced solar radiation in buildings by the use of electrochromic windows.
  • “Data mining“ in production – from data collection to evaluation using machine learning methods – enables the identification of “drivers“ in terms of energy and resource consumption.

Production efficiency

  • Optimized hard-material and nanostructured coating systems for forming or cutting tools increase service lives and make more economically efficient manufacturing possible.
  • Faster to the goal: simulation means ever shorter development times. For example, highly efficient production chains are made possible by model-based design and implementation of coating processes.
  • Modules with sensorized thin-film systems are built into deep-drawing systems and driving machines to ensure efficient forming and machining of components.
  • Hard carbon-based coatings not only stop materials such as powders from adhering to tools but also prevent deposits on or fouling of surfaces in, for example, heat exchangers or exhaust systems.
  • Lifecycle analyzes are carried out in order to holistically evaluate and improve the economic and ecological sustain­ability of products.
  • The development of cyber-physical production systems (CPPS) enables a more sustainable design and control of production. By using “digital twins“ design alternatives can be analyzed in real time.
  • Multi-scale simulation from the material to the factory roof: By coupling specific simulation models, interactions be­tween the product and the production system makes them assessable and potential savings become visible.

Clean environment and health

  • With the diamond electrodes developed at the Fraunhofer IST water can be conditioned electrochemically – adapted to the infrastructure on the spot and without the use of chemicals.
  • Photocatalytic coatings make self-disinfecting surfaces possible and the degradation of pollutants from the air.
  • The functionalization of surfaces in plasma enables adhesive to be dispensed with when, for example, bonding materials. Plasma pretreatment is also suitable as a replacement for primers and as a way of improving the adhesion of paint systems.
  • The use of atmospheric pressure plasmas allows to kill even multiresistant germs.

Mobility in the future

  • Low-friction and extremely wear-resistant coatings reduce the fuel consumption of car engines and extend both maintenance intervals and service life.
  • New corrosion coatings on metallic bipolar plates make possible the economic production of powerful fuel cells for the automotive industry.
  • Robust thin-film sensor systems in highly stressed parts of components increase reliability and safety in many fields of application, such as, electromobility.
  • Functional coatings for components of lithium ion batteries raise the efficiency and the durability of these storages for electro mobile applications.