Plating Primer: How Do Sputtering Targets Work?

We’ve written on this blog previously about how valuable your used sputtering targets can be. Today, we’d like to give you an overview of how the sputtering process works to apply platings to a variety of surfaces. The more you know, the better the chances are that you won’t overlook valuable quantities of precious metals that you could have on hand in your used sputtering targets.

What Is Sputtering?

Shown: One type of used sputtering target, which can contain gold, silver, platinum, palladium and rhodium, and can be refined and recycled by Specialty Metals.

Shown: One type of used sputtering target, which can contain gold, silver, platinum, palladium and rhodium, and can be refined and recycled by Specialty Metals.

It’s an electronic process that deposits thin films of metals or other materials onto a variety of surfaces. Most often, sputtering is used to apply thin platings onto silicon wafers, solar panels and display screens.

How Does Sputtering Work?

Sputtering is done in a vacuum chamber into which an inert gas is introduced – in most cases, argon. Two items are placed into that chamber: the item to be plated, and the “target” that contains the material that will be applied. A negative electrical charge is applied to the target, causing some of the electrons that it contains to travel to the material to be coated. Presto! You’ve got a thin film of plating right where you want it. But note that the use of the term “target” can be confusing, since it is the source of the plating material that is used, not its final destination.

What Metals or Other Substances Can Be Delivered from Sputtering Targets?

Sputtering targets are now being used in a many industries for the first time. As a result, targets are being used to apply cadmium, chromium, gold, indium, iridium, palladium, platinum, rhodium, silver, tungsten, zirconium, and even more materials that can be used as coatings or platings.

Is That All There Is to It?

No, that is just a very basic summary. In fact, a number of different sputtering technologies are used today, including magnetron sputtering, ion-assisted sputtering, and reactive sputtering. If you are not sure which kind of sputtering is taking place on your production line, speak with your production engineers, with the manufacturer of your sputtering production equipment, or with the supplier of your sputtering targets.

How Much Are Used Sputtering Targets Worth?

That can vary, depending on the value of the metal that you are using as platings, the presence of secondary metals in the sputtering targets that you use, the strength and efficiency of your sputtering applications, and more. The one way to be sure is to send your used sputtering targets to a qualified precious metals recycler for testing. To learn more, call Specialty Metals Smelters and Refiners at 800-426-2344.

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