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\hbox {CrN}_{\rm x} Films Prepared by DC Magnetron Sputtering and High-Power Pulsed Magnetron Sputtering: A Comparative Study

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3 Author(s)
Greczynski, Grzegorz ; Dept. of Phys. (IFM), Linkoping Univ., Linköping, Sweden ; Jensen, J. ; Hultman, Lars

CrNx (0 ≤ x ≤ 0.91) films synthesized using high-power pulsed magnetron sputtering, also known as high-power impulse magnetron sputtering (HiPIMS), have been compared with those made by conventional direct-current (dc) magnetron sputtering (DCMS) operated at the same average power. The HiPIMS deposition rate relative to the DCMS rate was found to decrease linearly with increasing emission strength from the Cr ions relative to Cr neutrals, in agreement with the predictions of the target-pathway model. The low deposition rate in HiPIMS is thus a direct consequence of the high ionization level (~56%) of the target material and effective capturing of Cr ions by the cathode potential. Although the HiPIMS deposition rate did not exceed 40% of the DCMS rate, the drop in the relative deposition rate upon increasing the N2-to-Ar flow ratio, fN2/Ar, was found to be similar for both sputtering techniques. Films prepared by HiPIMS contained similar amounts of atomic nitrogen as the dc-sputtered samples grown at the same fN2/Ar indicating that the nitride formation at the substrate takes place mostly during the time period of the high-power pulses, and the N2 uptake between the pulses is negligible. The microstructure evolution in the two types of CrNx films, however, differed clearly from each other. A combination of a high substrate bias and a high flux of doubly charged Cr ions present during the HiPIMS discharge led to a disruption of the grain growth and renucleation, which resulted in column-free films with nanosized grains not observed in the conventional DCMS-based process. The comparison of nanoindentation hardness as a function of fN2/Ar revealed superior properties of HiPIMS-sputtered films in the entire range of gas compositions.

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Plasma Science, IEEE Transactions on  (Volume:38 ,  Issue: 11 )