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Fraunhofer Institute for Surface Engineering and Thin Films - Tuned coatings ensure cleanliness

DCN Corp® - Water droplets on a steel surface with anti-fouling coating. Credit - Fraunhofer Institute for Surface Engineering and Thin Films (IST), Brunswick, Braunschweig, GermanyAnnually in Germany contaminated industrial plants cost billions. However, special coatings can prevent the build-up of contaminants. German researchers have managed to adapt thin film coatings for a wide range of applications

Daily everyone is faced with a battle against dirt, and once laziness has been overcome, vacuum cleaners, dishwashers and/or washing machines can quickly restore order in a household. However, ensuring industrial plants and their equipment is clean is a totally different matter. In such instances, the devil is in the detail, as is similar to milk pasteurisation processes. Dissolved milk proteins typically build-up in the pipes, boilers and/or heat exchangers of the equipment being employed. For example, after one working shift the equipment is already soiled to the extent that the entire plant has to shutdown. The requirement for factory shutdowns translates into huge costs for manufacturers. The diary deposits, which is referred as "fouling", can disrupt productions processes. Numerous studies have suggested that this can result in costs of between 5-7 billion euros/year in Germany alone.

Tailor-made for every requirement

At a surface trade show in Hanover, Germany, the Fraunhofer Institute for Surface Engineering and Thin Films (IST) was exhibiting a range of technologies which prevent fouling within plants in the first instance. So called special coatings prevent proteins, salt crystals and calcium carbonate (CaCO3) deposits from sticking to the surfaces of plants and/or system components. The difficultly in achieving this is that the types of deposits vary depending on the materials employed to manufacture the plant and the liquids used. However, scientists have now found a way for the coatings to adapt on to a variety of different industrial applications and/or loads. The scientists achieved this by "tuning" the structures and surface energy of the coating surfaces. One important factor is the surface energy of the coating. Essentially it determines the extent that deposits are able to cake-on. As stated by Dr Martin Keunecke, Head of Department for New Tribiological Coatings at IST - "the range of properties relating to these layers range from high wear protection through to an extreme anti-fouling effect. With the help of special process technology, we are now able to create practically any desired property."

The coatings consist of Carbon (C) as well as other elements and are few micrometers thick. The dimensions correlate to approximately 50 times thinner than a human hair. Both C and hair are extremely hard and durable - C layers are characterisation of demonstrating excellent anti-corrosive and anti-wear properties. The surface energy and so the cohesive properties can be reduced by integrating non-metallic elements such as Fluorine (F) and Silicone, which leads to an additional anti-fouling effect. As explained by Dr Peter-Jochen Brand, Head of Department for the Triboiology Transfer Centre at IST - "depending on the type and quantity of the elements used, we are able to control the properties of the coatings in a targeted way" - and - "this is necessary because industrial plants are subjected to a wide range of differing stresses resulting from liquid substances. Just consider milk processing or fruit juice manufacturing in the foods industry, paint production in the chemical sector, production of medications in the pharmaceuticals industry or the transportation of crude oil."

Strong demand for anti-fouling solutions

Currently industry considers C-based coatings because it reduces friction and wear. Though in great demand, anti-fouling applications are still in their infancy, because of this Keunecke and Brand are anticipating fresh momentum from the marketplace as a result of their innovation. The scientists will seek to demonstrate the scope of their anti-fouling coatings at future trade shows. In summary, Keunecke states - "now that we understand how to individually configure the layers, the next stage involves tackling the questions of how to most efficiently produce the coated equipment. Anti-fouling already works extremely well for external surfaces, however, internal coating, for example, for pipes, is anything but straightforward. For this reason, we are now collaborating with industry and research partners to create new manufacturing processes." Original article available here

As with a similar fouling research study, the future potential of anti-fouling nanomaterials on to industrial parts has been handsomely sold. As stated previously, DCN Corp strongly believes it can supersede, by providing a dip controlling process which is superior in its cost-effectiveness, efficiency, eco-friendliness, etc. Going forward, if you and/or your colleagues are interested in making DCN Corp's alternative process reality - please ensure to contact the company as soon as practicably possible.