CrN-Ag nanocomposite coatings are deposited on Si(100) wafers and 20MnCr5 steel disks in a mixed Ar+N2 atmosphere by reactive magnetron sputtering. Structure, composition and morphology were investigated by Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM), Auger Electron Spectroscopy (AES),
X-ray Photoemission Spectroscopy (XPS), X-ray Diffraction (XRD) and Focused Ion Beam (FIB) cross sectional analysis. The as deposited film matrix is mainly composed by CrN phase (78%), but a relevant part (28%) is composed by Cr2N. Ag agglomerates in the CrN matrix forming elongated
grains 200–400 nm wide and 50–100 nm high, which extends on the top of CrN columns. At the surface Ag aggregates into two different structures: large tetrahedral crystalline clusters, with typical dimension ranging from 200 to 500 nm, and smaller Ag nanoparticles with diameter
of 15–25 nm. The annealing in N2 atmosphere up to 500 °C does not affect size and distribution of the Ag grains in the sub-surface region, while it induces a size increase of the bigger Ag clusters on the surface, mainly related to Ag surface diffusion and clusters coalescence.
Annealing at higher temperature leads to an evident Ag out-of-bulk segregation, generating Ag depleted voids in the near-surface region, and further increasing of the Ag clusters size at the surface. Tribological tests on as deposited CrN-Ag film reveal a coefficient of friction against a
steel ball reduced with respect to CrN film, probably related to the presence of Ag which acts as solid lubricant, but the coating is removed after a very short sliding distance. The poor mechanical properties of the realized Ag-based coatings are confirmed by lower hardness and Young modulus
values with respect to pure CrN.
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