AlN/CrN multilayer hard coatings with various bilayer thicknesses were fabricated by a reactive sputtering process. The microstructural and mechanical characterizations of multilayer coatings were investigated through transmission electron microscope (TEM) observations and the hardness
measurements by nano indentation. In particular, the variation of chemical bonding states of the bilayer nitrides was elucidated by near edge X-ray absorption fine structure (NEXAFS) spectroscopy. Many broken nitrogen bonds were formed by decreasing the bilayer thickness of AlN/CrN multilayer
coatings. Existence of optimum AlN/CrN multilayer coatings thickness for maximum hardness could be explained by the competition of softening by the formation of broken nitrogen bonds and strengthening induced by decreasing bilayer thickness.
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