vacuum thin film process capabilities

In vacuum thin film processing, "proven process capability" and "proven application history" are clearly inter-dependent qualifications.  For additional insight into our process capability, please see also our application history.

Part of the value we provide to customers is thin film development history, capabilities and know-how reflected in a broad array of both conventional and unique processing options, for which we have experience and know-how in applications comprising a quite broad array of materials and material classes.  We typically have at any given moment, numerous different types of vapor sources installed in our multi-source research systems.

Also, a complete selection of power conditioning options are also no small part of the flexibility we rely upon so as to not be limited in our capability.  


The reactive sputtering art has gained greatly from recent advances in power electronics, primarily manifested in the introduction of of mid-frequency, pulsed, and high-speed switching supplies that can endure the severe requirements of accurately metering current to a sustained vacuum discharge under easily altered conditions.

Target Materials

Quick-Turn-Around Elemental Materials that we use in metallic and reacted compounds:  Lithium, Boron, Carbon, Magnesium, Aluminum, Silicon, Titanium, Vanadium, Chrome, Manganese, Iron, Cobalt, Nickel, Copper, Strontium, Yttrium, Zirconium, Niobium, Molybdenum, Ruthenium, Silver, Indium, Tin, Antimony, Barium, Lanthanum, Cerium, Neodymium, Gadolinium, Hafnium, Tantalum, Tungsten, Iridium, Platinum, Gold, Bismuth.
Also, a variety intermetallics, metallic glasses, eutectics, dielectric and semimetal targets.

However, these advances do not necessarily provided a better process.  At Helicon, we consider optimization of power conditioning as both art and science, and maintain a large inventory in state-of-the-art power supplies, power-coupling electronics, and plasma sources, as well as older discrete circuits that have unique capabilities.  This inventory is maintained so that we are not impeded in our latitude to best serve our clients in converging on the best process that yields the most attractive cost/benefit scenario (simplicity is our goal), with the ability to demonstrate direct comparison data if needed.

At Helicon, we have been completely designing, fabricating, and utilizing reactive PVD sources (both sputtering and evaporation), at all levels, on a continual basis for the last twenty-five years, as well as utilizing a large variety of commercially available vapor deposition sources.  Most of our in-house development work involves both fast experimental testing with multi-source chambers utilizing highly re-configurable small and mid-size sources, as well as "proof-of-value"  runs with larger circular and linear sources.     

For our applications, we have in-house, and actively utilize on a daily basis, a variety of well-known plasma/sputtering power sources and configurations that are discussed at length in the literature.  The research literature is also awash with many rules on the limitations of the various configurations, often originated by those who haven't used them enough to witness exceptions to those rules.

Helicon's palette of in-house plasma power conditioning and magnetron configurations:
DC (switched and non-switched)
AC (40kHz)
Mid-Frequency (~20Khz-400KHz)
RF  (both 2MHz and 13.56 MHz)
Low Frequency
Bi-Polar Dual Magnetron
Uni-Polar Dual Magnetron
Unbalanced ("Type II")
Unbalanced ("Type I")
Various Ion-assisted/plasma-assisted processes
Microwave ECR plasma generation .
High-current electron-beam-assisted deposition 
Various "crow-bar" circuits and diagnostics for differential waveform control .

Experience saves time, paticularly when it is a breadth of diverse, materials-specific deposition experience.  What works most effectively will be greatly materials-specific, and typically a function of several factors, including specific performance requirements, ultimate cost, and throughput.  Small differences in application can make very large differences in performance results.  There is a vast amount of process latitude represented by these "conventional" approaches in the context of specific product and different thin film materials requirements.  

Frequently, thin film devices will have multiple requirements that require both practical experience and a genuine cost modeling to properly approach downstream issues that result from these different chamber environments.


In reactive thin film manufacturing, we constructively encourage the most commercially utilized and conventional process solutions where ever this is practical.  However, new product development often requires unconventional thin film processing.   Helicon has been, over the years, required to develop its specialized facilities for conducting work in plasma, ion, electron, and photon-assisted activation processes as utilized in various unique activated reactive deposition regimes of the so-called "physical vapor deposition" methods, such as sputtering and evaporation.  Such methods, many of them pioneered here, provide specific advantages in material combinations and compounds that are not as readily exploited under more equilibrium conditions.

Such active development work has resulted in our having a variety of ways for improving PVD results for specific types of materials and applications, some of which are included below.




Many technically important materials, particularly dielectrics an other compounds, conventionally require process temperatures that are far higher than what is compatible with any polymeric material or similarly low-temperature material.  Such non-compatibility can be further limited in the even the substrate possesses an exceedingly low thermal mass, such that normal plasma sputtering processes will cause irreversible damage.

Helicon has developed several working solutions around the challenges of coating polymers and co-depositing with polymers.


Helicon developed proprietary dual plasma source approach for depositing boron and reactive boride compounds in a manner that allows greater film density and higher power density, without utilizing intermediate energy ion bombardment 


Prior to our development of this process in the mid-1990's, there were no available means for depositing optical quality, dense metal fluoride film by plasma deposition.  se developed the first means for providing a dense reactively sputtered metal fluoride film, doing this in conjunction with a co-developed xenon difluoride sublimation source.


                               ULTRA-VIOLET COUPLED PVD:

In mid 1990's, we developed key technology in areas of energetically coupled sputtering plasma for both activating reactive processes via selectively increasing ion density of these plasma, originally intended for epitaxial growth of the GaN materials (and various solid solutions in the GaInAlN quaternary system)
for its various semiconductor applications.  However, the technology has many potential applications.

We have several patents issues on this deposition technology as well as on the associated light sources.


Fundamental process advantages are realized through an operationally unique and specific, bifurcated coupling mode in the utilization of very high electron currents in conjunction with either sputtering or evaporation/sublimation sources.

Helicon won award position in the Singapore Government for its development of 

We also enabled multiple government grants through nuclear threat detection utilizing this technology as well.



Helicon pioneered barrier formation utilizing use of surface energy to create both greater tortuosity and mechanical integrity.  Use of plasma and electron-assisted processes for increasing what is, effectively, instantaneous wicking of adsorbed monomer into the microstructure of metal oxide and metalloid oxide refractory thin film materials deposited over a polymeric web.  

For more information, see:  ENVIRONMENTAL BARRIERS


Ferromagnetic compositions such as iron, cobalt, nickel, gadolinium, and various ferromagnetic alloys represent unique challenges with respect to rate and process latitude. Please contact Helicon for appropriateness of these processes with your application if you have a project concerning these materials 

Because of the oxygen poisoning behavior specifically of aluminum, fully stoichiometric, optical quality aluminum oxide has historically been problematic by the high-rate metallic-mode (or more frequently referred to nowadays broadly as "transition mode" - an abuse-ably vague term) reactive sputtering.  Helicon has demonstrated this material at rates and quality that make this dielectric compatible with cost-effective thicker coatings of alumina, as well as applications benefiting from a low loss and low electronic leakage; we have and other problematic dielectrics in high-rate mode.   We have explored microstructure, electronic and morphological effects of a number of 


Helicon utilizes nanosecond pulse fiber laser and has access to picosecond laser facilities for the custom processing and cutting of thin film structures in proving of various applications such as sensor packages and cantilevers. 

Post-deposition processing can be performed by Helicon for purposes of either completing a prototype device, for extracting more critical process information (possibly in conjunction with micro-characterization), or for performing reliability studies.  To provide these services, Helicon possesses facilities for furnace anneal regimens, lithography, thick film packaging glazes, vacuum furnace diffusion bonding, and other post-deposition treatments. 

We have Please see our section under FACILITIES


Helicon has acquired over the years tooling for processing a wide variety of odd-shaped substrates.  Please contact us to verify our capability if your organization is working with unique substrate geometry or material.

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