Plasma Surface Modification: What Is It and Why Does It Matter?
What are plasma surface treatments and how can they help materials and components perform their...
How can manufacturers enhance their materials to have the desired functional properties? Advanced techniques like plasma surface modification offer a powerful option. But harnessing these techniques requires specialized engineering knowledge that many organizations do not possess in house. TriStar’s Enhanced Materials Division (EMD) provides a solution.
By combining advanced materials modification capabilities with high-touch consultative engineering, TriStar’s enhanced materials team offers a one-stop shop for getting the most possible performance out of critical materials.
EMD effectively works as an auxiliary engineering team for TriStar clients, working directly with client engineers and product development teams to solve tough materials engineering problems.
This guide looks at two prototypical enhanced material solutions offered by EMD: plasma surface treatment and the fabrication of specialized polymer membranes for filtration. These advanced technologies, however, only cover a small portion of what an advanced engineering team like TriStar EMD can do. We conclude with a look at how we work hand-in-hand with customers to study challenging applications and identify the right solution for the budget and requirements of the project at hand.
TriStar Enhanced Materials Division offers clients a one-stop shop for solving tough engineering challenges. From material selection, to advanced surface enhancement, to in-depth consultative problem solving, EMD can identify cost effective solutions geared to unique project requirements.
For a comprehensive listing of EMD’s product offerings and services, please see our data sheet here. At a high level, EMD capabilities cover:
Below, we provide more details on two prototypical solutions with a broad range of applications, plasma surface modification and specialized membranes for filtration. These solutions demonstrate not only EMD’s technical expertise, but our commitment to working hand-in-hand with clients to understand their problem, analyze it in-depth, and pinpoint an appropriate solution.
In many cases, EMD clients don’t initially know what technology they need and that’s okay. Our approach isn’t centered on marketing a particular material, process, or technology, but instead on true solutions engineering. Careful material selection, supported by advanced enhancements, can solve a huge variety of problems—in many cases problems clients didn’t even know they had.
Plasma treatment is a great example of a materials engineering technique that can directly enhance key material properties. Used in a wide range of industries, this surface modification process can prime nearly any surface for improved acceptance of secondary manufacturing applications.
We explore the basics of plasma surface modification below. For a more in depth look at this technology and its applications, we recommend our whitepaper here.
This reactive treatment is used to modify the traits of a material’s surface on a molecular level.
TriStar’s EMD division uses a low-pressure “vacuum plasma” methodology, which helps achieve the most consistent, longest lasting surface treatments possible. A material is placed into a vacuum chamber which is emptied of air and reduced to an extremely low pressure. A mix of gases is injected into the chamber and subsequently ionized via electrical charge, generating plasma ions. Ions react with the surface of the material in the chamber, with different results achieved through different plasma types, pressures, and length of treatment.
Ceramics, polymers, elastomers, and metal assemblies can all be treated via plasma surface modification. This treatment provides a great example of how an upstream material enhancement can drive valuable downstream benefits. Early-stage plasma treatment, for example, can actually boost yield by reducing defects caused by insufficiently bonded paints, inks, molding, and other coatings. And, compared to traditional solvent chemistry solutions like acetones or sodium naphthalene, plasma is less caustic and much more environmentally friendly.
Plasma surface modification is a great fit for a wide variety of materials engineering challenges. The applications below provide some useful examples (with links to more detailed case studies for more information).
Interested in discussing your surface treatment challenges with TriStar team? Fill out our plasma treatment worksheet here. We provide plasma surface treatments as a contract service within our own laboratory.
Membranes are simply thin sheets of semi-permeable material. Properly engineered, they can be used in a variety of filtration applications, including removing water contaminants like bacteria, particulate matter, and parasitic microorganisms.
By using different materials and engineering them to have different microporous structures, different filtration outcomes can be achieved. By allowing some substances through but not others, membranes can be used to purify a liquid of toxins, separate substances for further analysis, or in food preparation.
TriStar EMD takes pride in the customizability, consistency, and reliable delivery of specialized membrane solutions. Many specialty product areas (like medical devices and automotive) which utilize filtering membranes also feature a high rate of innovation and relatively short product life spans (often ~5 years). Consequently, large inventories risk going to waste; TriStar offers the timely supply needed to maintain lean inventories and order more membranes on an as-needed basis.
PTFE membranes are one of the most commonly specified for water filtration in the food industry. PES (polyether sulfone) is another common choice, as it can be readily manufactured with precise, reproducible properties (with pore sizes that can be specified all the way down to 40 nanometers). Other common material choices include PVDF (Polyvinylidene Fluoride), Nylon, and PP (polypropylene).
Membranes are commonly classified as either symmetric or asymmetric. Asymmetric membranes exhibit varying pore size, while symmetric are more uniform. By combining different membrane layers with different pore sizes, asymmetric membranes can generally be used to achieve more targeted, high-performance filtering outcomes. TriStar EMD has the capability to fabricate both symmetric and asymmetric membranes.
Polymer membranes can be engineered for a wide variety of filtration use cases, ranging from medicine to food and beverage processing.
Advanced polymer solutions like plasma surface treatments and precision engineered filtration membranes can offer incredible value in the right applications. EMD’s technological capabilities to deliver these services, however, is only a small part of the overall value we provide clients. Our EMD services give clients access to an advanced materials engineering team that’s perfect for a variety of scenarios:
In any of these scenarios, clients can leverage EMD for end-to-end solution engineering. That means studying the application in depth (including operating environment, functional requirements, maintenance needs and availability, budget, and component lifespan), identifying the right solution, testing it as necessary, and supporting successful implementation in the field.
Not every problem requires an advanced, “enhanced materials” solution, and EMD is backed by TriStar’s extensive portfolio of materials that can solve many engineering problems off the shelf. Crucially, EMD clients don’t need to know anything about plasma, specialized membranes, or other advanced manufacturing technologies to get the process started. Instead, they can simply reach out to EMD and describe their problem.
TriStar Engineering Services Offer:
TriStar’s Enhanced Materials Division represents the leading edge of our organization-wide dedication to solving business problems with advanced materials, hands-on engineering, and deep industry-specific knowledge. While EMD is the home of some of our most advanced engineering capabilities, the entire TriStar organization is built around a recognition that strategic material selection matters.
The TriStar team is passionate about learning the ins and outs of every client application. Ground-level knowledge of specific applications and operational challenges are essential to providing the right material for the task at hand. Rather than selling materials, we focus on engineering solutions designed to maximize value over the full lifecycle of the application at hand. Our team provides an end-to-end partner who can help identify the right solution, implement it, and provide reliable long-term supply and support.
In our experience working with a variety of industries across North America, this consultative engineering approach almost always pays off. Whether it’s fabricating a polymer membrane, enhancing adhesion with a plasma surface treatment, or helping essential equipment perform better with self-lubricating bearings, we work to align material selection with unique requirements to solve problems. In many cases, we are able to engineer solutions that not only fulfill key requirements but solve problems clients didn’t even know they had.
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