Thermally induced structural evolution and age-hardening of polycrystalline V1–xMoxN (x ≈ 0.4) thin films

Marián Mikula, Stela Uzon, Tomáš Hudec, Branislav Grančič, Martin Truchlý, Tomáš Roch, Peter Švec, Leonid Satrapinskyy, Mária Čaplovičová, Grzegorz Greczynski, Ivan Petrov, Magnus Odén, Peter Kúš, Davide G. Sangiovanni

Surface and Coatings Technology, Volume 405, 2021, 126723


Rocksalt-structure (B1) (V,Mo)N alloys are inherently hard and tough ceramics. However, the mechanical properties and thermal stability of (V,Mo)N solid solutions at temperatures ⪆ 700 °C of relevance for practical applications have not been previously investigated. In this work, we synthesize single-phase B1 polycrystalline V0.57Mo0.43N0.95 coatings to investigate the effects induced by temperature on the nanostructural evolution and hardness (H) of the material. Nanoindentation measurements show that the as-deposited film (H = 23 ± 3 GPa) becomes ≈30% harder (up to 31 ± 2 GPa) upon annealing at 730 °C. Experimental characterization and analyses, based on dispersive X-ray spectroscopy, X-ray diffraction (XRD), and transmission electron microscopy (TEM), reveal that the age-hardening effect originates from decomposition of the solid solution into coherent strained cubic VN-rich/MoN-rich domains. The experimental results are complemented by the composition/temperature (V,Mo)N phase diagram – constructed upon ab initio molecular dynamics free-energies – which indicates that the separation observed in the solid solutions is of spinodal nature. Films annealed at temperatures exceeding 850 °C undergo structural coarsening, with formation of hexagonal MoxNy and cubic VN phases, which cause a decrease in hardness to ≈22 GPa. Our present findings indicate that (V,Mo)N coatings may offer outstanding mechanical performances during operation at elevated temperatures.