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Laser Surface Modification of Thermal Sprayed Aluminium Oxide Coatings

Aluminium oxide coating on metallic substrates has attracted attention for a broad range of applications including wear resistance, oxidation and hot corrosion resistance, heat and thermal shock resistance and electrical insulation. Laser surface modification is an emerging field, wherein lasers are used for imparting superior surface properties on engineering components. In this work, we report the development of high quality dense alumina coatings for providing electrical insulation for DC induction pumps of PFBR. Utility of high power lasers to transform the metastable g-Al2O3 phase present in as-deposited Air Plasma Sprayed (APS) alumina coatings into thermodynamically stable a-Al2O3 phase is demonstrated. A host of solid-state analytical techniques including non-destructive laser based optical techniques that have the potential for on-line adaptation have been developed in-house. (A)

Continuous efforts to enhance the surface properties of the engineering components have resulted in the development of various surface processing techniques. Alumina coatings of 300 m thick over oxygen free high conductivity (OFHC) copper plates were made using Air Plasma Sprayed (APS) technique. These coatings were surface modified using a CW CO2 laser and a comprehensive investigation of the laser surface modified alumina coatings were carried out using conventional Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM), X-Ray diffraction and microhardness tests. Laser based non-contact techniques like laser scattering, Laser Raman spectroscopic (LRS) and photoluminescence techniques, hitherto used for characterizing bulk materials, were innovatively used for characterization of laser modified coatings. Evolution of microstructure and associated surface properties like surface roughness, coating density, microhardness and residual stress were quantitatively determined. XRD patterns of alumina powder used for synthesizing the coating, asdeposited coating and laser treated coatings are shown in Fig 1. While the as deposited coating consisted of predominantly metastable g-alumina phase, laser treatment restored the thermodynamically stable a-alumina phase. This phase is preferred phase for coatings. While XRD gives average phase information, LRS can be used for phase mapping and detect microlevel inhomogeneties of laser treated surface. The complementary nature of these techniques to probe the modified surface both at macro and micro levels was brought out. Surface and cross sectional SEM studies have revealed reduction in surface roughness and elimination of inter-lamellar pores, respectively. Laser treatment has reduced the average roughness from ~5 mm to less than 1 mm. Similarly, the photoluminescence spectra (Fig. 2) were used to evaluate quantitatively the densification of the coating brought about by the laser treatment. As the laser treatment closes the inter-lamellar pores and enhances the volumetric concentration of Cr3+ ions, the PL intensity from the laser treated coating is enhanced manifold (thousand times) as compared to the as deposited sample. Also this technique allows one to optimize the process parameters like laser power density. Also, an in-house developed laser scattering technique enabled us to characterize the reduction of surface roughness as a function of laser power in a non-destructive and non-contact mode. We also found the adhesion strength and hardness of the laser treated coating were nearly doubled as compared to as-deposited coating. Attempts were made to use an ultrasonic technique for evaluation of laser treated depth and interface adhesion in a qualitative manner. A comparative laser surface modification study of two powerful coating techniques used for synthesizing alumina coatings viz., APS and Detonation Gun (D-Gun) were also made. Thus a host of solid-state techniques were successfully made use of to demonstrate the feasibility of making thicker (~150 mm), denser and harder (~2000 VHN) Al2O3 coatings by combining two powerful surface modification techniques with the potential for variety of engineering applications.
Fig. 1 : X-ray diffractogram of Alumina coatings
As-deposited Laser Treated-50W Laser Treated-100W Laser Treated-150W

PL Intensity (a.u) 1.775


Energy (eV)




Fig. 2 : Photoluminiscence coatings.



Al 2 O 3


Laser is an acronym for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. It is a clean source of energy. When a laser beam strikes a specimen surface(1) it is either absorbed (2) or transmitted(3) or reflected. The absorbed photons are converted to thermal energy resulting in local temperature surge to a depth of few tens of microns depending on the wavelength, fluence and average power. Lasers are employed over a wide range of applications including basic scientific research, test and measurement, industrial processing, microelectronics, biomedicine, environmental science, avionics, entertainment and telecommunications. Application of lasers in materials processing provide many advantages over conventional methods in terms of increased manufacturing efficiency, decrease in manufacturing costs, ease of automation, superior quality, reliability of the products and enables one to design and develop new products.

Ceramics is the materials science and engineering of inorganic, nonmetallic solids. Ceramic materials are characterized by low density and high temperature strength. They possess superior wear and corrosion resistance. But their low fracture toughness and brittleness makes them unsuitable for many critical applications. Ceramic coatings over metallic substrates provide a synergetic way of combining the superior properties of ceramics with the desirable properties of metals. They serve diverse and vital functions in the electronics, chemicals, aerospace, energy and manufacturing industries. Alumina, one of the cheapest ceramics, is widely used for variety of applications in both bulk and coatings form.



Laser Treated (150W 1 Pass)

a-Al O3 2 g-Al O3 2 Substrate


Cross sectional SEM micrographs showing the densification of coatings brought about by laser treatment: As-deposited coating is characterized by typical lamellar structure interspersed with porosities. g-Al2O3 is a metastable phase with a transformation temperature above 1000 C. Only laser heating can transform this metastable phase to a thermodynamically stable a-Al2O3 phase without degradation of metallic substrate.

Based on these studies, air plasma sprayed alumina coatings were developed for sodium DC conduction pumps employed in PFBR. Laser surface modification was used as a value addition technique for imparting superior physico-mechanical properties for application with next generation conduction pumps.


R. Krishnan, S. Dash, R. Kesavamoorthy, C. Babu Rao, A.K. Tyagi and Baldev Raj, Surface and Coatings Technology, 200 (2006) 2791.

Further inquiries: Shri R. Krishnan and Dr. S. Dash, Materials Science Division Metallurgy and Materials Group, IGCAR, e-mail: