Thermally induced age hardening in tough Ta-Al-N coatings via spinodal decomposition

Mikula, M., Sangiovanni, D.G., Plašienka, D., Roch, T., Čaplovičová, M., Truchlý, M., Satrapinskyy, L., Bystrický, R., Tonhauzerová, D., Vlčková, D., Kúš, P.

Journal of Applied Physics 121, 2017, 155304


We combine experiments and ab initio density functional theory calculations to investigate the evolution in structural and mechanical properties of TaAlN coatings as a function of the annealing temperature T. Formation of coherent cubic TaN- and AlN-rich nanometer-size domains, occurring during the initial stage of thermally induced phase separation within cubic NaCl-type (B1) TaAlN solid solutions, yields a monotonic increase in hardness from 29 GPa (as deposited coatings) up to a maximum of 35 GPa (+17%) reached after annealing at 1000 °C. Further thermal treatment at T > 1000 °C leads to the transformation of metastable cubic domains into stable hexagonal TaNx and wurtzite AlN phases, thus resulting in hardness reductions. A comparison of our results with those reported in the literature reveals that TaAlN coatings are at least as hard while considerably less stiff (lower elastic moduli) than TiAlN coatings, thus indicating a substantial increase in toughness achieved upon replacing Ti with Ta in the host lattice. Present findings suggest that cubic TaAlN solid solutions are promising candidates for applications in protective coatings possessing both high-temperature hardness and toughness. © 2017 Author(s).