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The characterization of an upgraded and flexible plasma-based ion implanter has been initiated, in terms of dose rate, uniformity, and control of the implant profile. In this article, we report the preliminary results of a comparative study of different means of hardening aluminium and reducing its friction coefficient, with an emphasis on microcharacterization [Auger electron spectroscopy (AES) and Rutherford backscattering spectroscopy depth profiling, x-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS), and scanning force microscopy (SFM)]. In particular we present an AES study of the N and O depth profiles produced in Al by our system; an XPS characterization of the stoichiometry and bond chemistry of ion nitrided Al; and a SFM study of the respective roles of roughness and atomic forces in friction on the N-implanted samples. © 1999 American Vacuum Society.