Nitrogen implantation of tool steels and engineering coatings
Ion implantation modifies the surface composition and properties of materials by bombardment with high energy ions. The low temperature of the process ensures the avoidance of distortion and degradation of the surface or bulk mechanical properties of components. In the present work nitrogen ion implantation at 90 keV and doses above 1017 ions/cm2 has been carried out on AISI M2, D2 and 420 steels and engineering coatings such as hard chromium, electroless Ni-P and a brush plated Co-W alloy. Evaluation of wear and frictional properties of these materials was performed with a lubricated Falex wear test at high loads up to 900 N and a dry pin-on-disc apparatus at loads up to 40 N. It was found that nitrogen implantation reduced the wear of AISI 420 stainless steel by a factor of 2.5 under high load lubricated conditions and by a factor of 5.5 in low load dry testing. Lower but significant reductions in wear were achieved for AISI M2 and D2 steels. Wear resistance of coating materials was improved by up to 4 times in lubricated wear of hard Cr coatings implanted at the optimum dose but lower improvements were obtained for the Co-W alloy coating. However, hardened electroless Ni-P coatings showed no enhancement in wear properties. The benefits obtained in wear behaviour for the above materials were generally accompanied by a significant decrease in the running-in friction. Nitrogen implantation hardened the surface of steels and Cr and Co-W coatings. An ultra-microhardness technique showed that the true hardness of implanted layers was greater than the values obtained by conventional micro-hardness methods, which often result in penetration below the implanted depth. Scanning electron microscopy revealed that implantation reduced the ploughing effect during wear and a change in wear mechanism from an abrasive-adhesive type to a mild oxidative mode was evident. Retention of nitrogen after implantation was studied by Nuclear Reaction Analysis and Auger Electron Spectroscopy. It was shown that maximum nitrogen retention occurs in hard Cr coatings and AISI 420 stainless steel, which explains the improvements obtained in wear resistance and hardness. X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy on these materials revealed that nitrogen is almost entirely bound to Cr, forming chromium nitrides. It was concluded that nitrogen implantation at 90 keV and doses above 3x1017 ions/cm2 produced the most significant improvements in mechanical properties in materials containing nitride formers by precipitation strengthening, improving the load bearing capacity of the surface and changing the wear mechanism from adhesive-abrasive to oxidative.