Unless you’re an engineer or a solar power enthusiast, your first question on reading that headline probably wasn’t,
“So what is the magnetron sputtering technique in question?”
More likely, you thought,
“What on earth even is magnetron sputtering?”
But if you’re someone with an interest in the future of photovoltaic solar as an alternative energy source, you owe it to yourself to learn a thing or two about sputter deposition.
Take Kendall Combs — a man who’s stoked about magnetron sputtering these days. Why? Because he’s general manager of Solar Gard Saint-Gobain, a glass manufacturer that recently spent millions to install a roll-to-roll sputtering line at its San Diego manufacturing facility.
“We had to construct an entire new building to house it,” he gushes. “No one’s allowed in there except or our engineers. They’ve only let me in a couple of times.”
Magnetron sputtering is indeed a high-tech affair. But it’s not some secretive new technique from the bowels of Silicon Valley — it’s a well-tread method that’s been around since the 1970s. It’s only now that magnetron sputtering is being used to its potential in the production of photovoltaic solar panels. And that’s the exciting part.
Essentially, magnetron sputtering is a way of putting a very uniform, very thin layer of material onto an object. It’s used when manufacturers need to cover something with a layer of metal thinner than a paint or coating. There are a few ways of going about doing this, and one of them is magnetron sputtering.
Magnetron sputtering works by forcing the molecules from the source metal onto the surface of an object using a powerful magnetic field. Both the source and the object (referred to as the target and substrate respectively) are placed in a vacuum chamber together, where they are exposed to inert gas. The material is then blasted with a high voltage charge to create plasma, which slams into the material and forces ions to eject and fly onto the object. This is called physical vapour deposition or PVD.
It sounds complicated, and it is. Magnetron sputtering is an exact science, and only skilled technicians can operate the equipment that makes it happen. Hence the brand-new facility at Solar Guard.
So, what is the magnetron sputtering technique’s value in terms of solar power? Solar panels use what’s called photovoltaic materials to absorb light photos and release electrons. The process converts the light into energy at the atomic level, making it available for us to use as electricity.
Magnetron sputtering is enabling a whole new generation of ultra-thin, flexible solar panels that can go places and serve applications that rigid panels never could. Solar Gard’s investment will give them the tools to create more advanced coatings and address the demand for top-performance tech as this sector continues to evolve.
For more information on magnetron sputtering, visit Angstrom Engineering — they’re a leader in the field of physical vapour deposition.