Automakers have a unique challenge. They must not only design a car from scratch, which requires a variety of materials and a lengthy manufacturing process, they must produce cars people want to drive. In the case of muscle cars and speed racers, that typically involves lots of chrome. Manufacturers use a PVD coating process to get that shiny metallic finish, but that’s not the only thing it can do.
Take a peek under the hood and you’ll see quite a few parts that have undergone some form of metallization. Metallization is a process that coats one object, say plastic, in metallic substances like aluminum or copper. It is also used to give a uniform finish, like the chrome tail pipe on a motorcycle or classic car.
PVD systems have seen a surge of use in the past thirty years, especially when it comes to high-performance parts.
Anything with a chrome finish probably received PVD coatings. Chrome is very different in appearance from brushed metal, which undergoes an intense sanding process aimed at smoothing the metal. Brushed metal can look attractive too, certainly on the interior of cars or on accessories, but chrome has a kind of uniform sheen to it that other metals can’t really match. That’s because chrome is applied through the metallization process, which evenly rotates the part (engineers call it a “substrate”) to receive a uniform coating.
In high-performance vehicles, like a NASCAR speedster, some parts are actually made of plastic. It’s because the engine is driven so hard, plastic makes more sense economically than using all metal parts. The metal parts will break down just as quickly, and they cost significantly more than coating plastic in metal.
This is similar to technology already used in the cockpits and hulls of jet liners for the aerospace industry.
The biggest advantage has to be cost-savings, but there is a hidden advantage too. Cost savings happens on the manufacturer side because fewer materials are wasted during the manufacturing process. Parts are cheaper to produce, and fewer materials are needed to finish the job.
Finally, the materials themselves have completely different properties. Metallization makes plastic much more resistant to wear and heat, which means that cars are cheaper to produce and they last longer too.
Don’t forget that this technology is not limited to metal alone. Windows can be treated with anti-glare coatings, and various finishes can be applied using the same process.
With clients in the United States and China, Denton Vacuum, LLC specializes in the manufacture of thin-film technology.