Features

A technology initially designed to lubricate aircraft parts could lead to more durable nonstick cookware and prosthetic bone-repair implants.

Conventional nonstick cookware coating (shown at left) might soon find new competition from a materials process being refined by MDA-funded Technology Assessment & Transfer, Inc. The pan shown at right is coated with the company s material.
Through a 2000 SBIR Phase II contract, the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO), a predecessor of the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), funded the Annapolis, MD-based company Technology Assessment & Transfer, Inc. (TA&T) to develop a low-friction, low-wear lubricant for the moving parts of missiles and aircraft.

After successfully developing a lubricant that met the SBIR contract’s goals, the TA&T researchers determined that the chemistry and techniques involved in making the lubricant could be used to create hardened, wear-resistant coatings not just for improving the durability of defense technologies, but also for improving cooking equipment.

The result of post-SBIR research led TA&T to develop quasicrystalline coatings using a process known as magnetron sputtering, which is capable of coating virtually any part of an object with a wide variety of materials. Quasicrystalline refers to metallic materials with unusual symmetrical patterns in their structure substances that are very stable, but brittle. Quasicrystalline structures consist of localized five-fold or ten-fold atomic symmetries which were previously forbidden by crystallographers. They, however, exhibit long-range aperiodic structural order. Quasicrystalline materials are defined as quasi because their hardness is between that of crystal and glass.

Magnetron sputtering — considered ideal for high-adhesion, high-density thin-film coating — involves applying a magnetic field when making coatings to ensure the proper adherence and densities of particles. Use of magnetron sputtering for quasicrystalline materials, however, can present a host of technical challenges, and typically quasicrystalline coatings are made with electroplating techniques or other manufacturing methods that involve plasma sprays.

How it Works

TA&T's innovation lies in the formulation, processing, and preparation of the powder targets used in making the quasicrystalline coating as well as the sputter coating deposition conditions. The company has refined methods that solve two key problems associated with magnetron sputtering for quasicrystalline material, namely the cracking and lack of stability that can occur when the coatings are exposed to high temperatures.