Diamond-like Carbon (DLC) Market: Snapshot
Diamond-like Carbon or DLC consists of carbon atoms with sp3 bonding. It has high mechanical hardness, chemical inertness, and optical transparency. DLC coating has been garnering interest from the industry and research world since the last two decades. The unique properties of DLC make it a fascinating and commercially essential coating material for various industrial applications. Currently, it is used in various industrial applications including critical engine parts, mechanical face seals, scratch-resistant glasses, invasive and implantable medical devices, microelectromechanical systems, razor blades, and magnetic hard discs. Presence of certain elemental species such as hydrogen, nitrogen, sulfur, silicon, titanium, and fluorine plays a significant role in the properties of DLC.
The notable tribological properties of DLC depend upon the micro-structures, amount of hydrogen present, and ratio of sp2 to sp3 carbon atoms. Ratio of sp2 to sp3 carbon atoms defines two types of DLC: pure (pure DLC) and mixed (mixed DLC). Concentration of sp3 carbon atoms is high in pure DLC. A blend of sp2 and sp3 bonded carbon atoms can be observed in mixed DLC with random intermixing of cubic and hexagonal lattices. Deposition methods of DLC include ion beam, sputtering, cathodic arc, pulsed laser deposition, and plasma enhanced chemical vapor deposition. In most technologies, ions are used to deposit elements on various material substrates.
Rise in demand for DLC coating in automotive engine components is projected to drive the global DLC market. DLC coatings are largely employed in diesel fuel injectors, automotive tappets, rocker arms, differential gears, valve lifters, wrist pins, and door hinges. DLC coatings help increase the shelf life of automotive engine components by decreasing the coefficient of friction. Reduction in friction lowers the need for lubrication. This improves efficiency in the supply chain, from raw materials to end-users. The high load bearing properties of DLC coatings make them an ideal choice for improving the performance of engineered components. Increase in demand for advanced coatings with high abrasion resistance acts as a major driver of the global DLC market.
Rise in demand for DLC coatings in the medical industry owing to the high biocompatibility is also a key factor boosting the DLC market. Demand for DLC based coatings with exceptionally hard, low friction, and bio-inert characteristics is high in biomedical components. DLC coatings possess these properties. They help prevent leaching of metallic ions to the automotive body parts. DLC is used in applications in orthopedics, cardiovascular components, guide wires, etc. in the medical industry owing to its biocompatible nature.
Manufacturers are focusing on the production of hydrogen-free DLC that can be employed in automotive and biomedical applications. Superior abrasion and wear resistance are the key factors driving the demand for hydrogen-free DLC. Hydrogen-free DLC coatings improve binding with engine oil and result in the formation of a firm ultra-low friction film when special oil additives are added. Usage of advanced technologies such as plasma enhanced CVD and pulsed laser deposition is anticipated to propel the applications of DLCs. Potential applications in the personal care sector, such as razor blades and skin wrinkling treatments, are estimated to offer attractive growth opportunities to the global DLC market. Similarly, electronics sector, with the advancements in MEMS technology, is expected to act as a potential end-user industry of the DLC market in the near future.
Emission of Carbon dioxide is the key factor intensifying the global warming effect. DLC is typically a coating which is a layer made up of carbon atoms. It may combine with oxygen and emit carbon dioxide. Regulations on the emission of carbon dioxide are getting stricter in developed regions such as Europe and North America. Thus, implementation of stringent regulations on the emission of carbon dioxide is likely to hamper the global DLC market. Poor adhesion of DLC coatings onto substrates is also expected to adversely affect the DLC market. However, advancement in ultrathin layer coating technologies is anticipated to help the market overcome the challenges mentioned above.
The DLC market in Europe is dominated by a few large manufacturers such as Oerlikon Group, Morgan Advanced Materials Plc., Miba AG, and Renishaw Advanced Materials Ltd. These companies have production bases in the U.K., Germany, Belgium, and Austria. Constant research activities in automotive, electronics, and medical industries is likely to create new opportunities for DLC manufacturers. According to the RoHS guidelines, medical device manufacturers are focusing on moving toward greener engineering technologies such as DLC coating materials, as these are biocompatible and can work in a wide range of temperatures. Manufacturers are striving to obtain competitive advantage in the DLC market by introducing highly advanced technologies such as plasma assisted chemical vapor deposition and pulsed laser deposition. Discovery of self-healing DLC, which produces ultra-thin film with high performance characteristics, is anticipated to provide an attractive growth platform for the DLC market in the near future. New product launches, brand promotions, and mergers & acquisitions are also estimated to boost the demand for DLC market in the near future.