Physical Vapor Deposition (PVD) Equipment: What You Must Know Before Purchasing

Physical Vapor Deposition Equipment PVD EquipmentDefine your requirements:

Requirements for physical vapor deposition (PVD) coating equipment vary between R&D systems and production tools. However in either case having a definition of the requirements is paramount.

R&D PVD systems as an example can be purchased with many features and in a variety of configurations. So understanding your needs and being able to convey them to the vendor will help streamline the process insuring you are getting the highest return on your investment.

It is also important to prioritize your requirements as with almost any capital equipment purchases as it will ultimately come down to budget and may require some compromises. Knowing what you cannot compromise on before analyzing the tender is important.

A common mistake that is made is the requester will list out every conceivable configuration known to man which (a) most budgets will never support or (b) functionality or performance can be compromised due to physical limitations. The question then becomes do you want to buy a physical vapor deposition system that does a selected list of things very well – or a system that may do a lot of things poorly?

Ease of serviceability:

How well the PVD coating system is designed around easy serviceability, such as, target changes, shield changes, access to critical mechanical and electrical components are all important features to consider.

Throughput Requirements:

If the physical vapor deposition equipment to be purchased is to be used for pilot production or high-volume manufacturing it is important to specify your requirements. This may require sharing confidential information about your process, such as material to be deposited and their intended purposes (barrier, conductive, reactive, optical, etc.), any pre or post process variables.

A qualified vendor should be able to perform throughput calculations and design a system to meet the specification. Executing a Mutual Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) is typically the first step prior to divulging confidential information about your product or process.

Facility Requirements:

You need to take in to account the physical size of the physical vapor deposition coating equipment and how this will fit into your work area or cleanroom. What associated costs might be incurred for facilitating the equipment (Power, Water, CDA, Process Gases, and Grounding)? Understanding the access area required around the PVD equipment for service and safety is also important.

Equipment Acceptance Criteria:

Having a clear definition of the equipment acceptance will insure that both parties are in complete agreement as to the final objective. This maybe includes vacuum performance data, leak back rates, RGA analysis, mechanical operation and parts handling, process control, coating thickness and uniformity, film adhesion.

Customer References:

Prior to making any PVD machine purchases you should always speak first to customer references. Request a list of customer references that you can contact, preferably with a physical vapor deposition system similar to the one you are considering buying. It is also recommended that you speak to references that have purchased equipment within the prior 6 to 12 months which will give you the best insight as to the vendor’s current bandwidth and business climate.

Site Visit:

Actually visiting the vendor before making a purchasing decision is probably the best investment you will ever make. No amount of e-mails, web meetings or conference calls can replace the value of paying a personal visit to the vendor’s factory.

The company name or logo is just the store front but meeting key players (Production Manager, Service Engineers, and Assembly Staff) will provide valuable insight in gaining confidence in the vendor. How organized is their production area and parts management staging area, etc. What type of quality control is employed? Pay specific attention to work in process and the quality of workmanship.

Putting this in different terms, would you buy a new home without first checking it out in person, including the neighborhood?

Best Value:

Never forget, the lowest price may not necessarily be providing you with the best value.

Price is definitely an important factor when purchasing physical vapor deposition equipment but needs to be weighed against system capability, quality, serviceability, warranty terms and conditions, delivery times. Quality of components used by the manufacture and knowing that those components are of the highest quality from reputable companies will insure the long term serviceability of your equipment.

If the price seems too good to be true this should raise a red flag for concern. The odds are you will be buying an inferior product with limited life and product support. Remember, you get what you pay for!

If your intention is to buy a new piece of physical vapor deposition equipment it is important to state as such in the tender or request for quote. If this is not clearly stated it is possible that a vendor can substitute used or refurbished components as a means to reduce price. You may not know this until after the system has been delivered by which time it is too late.

If you know this going in then it is important that the supplier clearly specifies which components are used or refurbished and how they are covered under the system warranty. It is also important that these components are not at end of life and or no longer supported by the original equipment manufacturer

Safety Compliance:

Is the equipment safe and in compliance with current health and safety codes? Operational safety, liability and reduction of risk is a hot topic of discussion at all business levels. Does the equipment meet CE, SEMI S2, NEC, RoHS, WEEE, NFPA and/or Third Party Field Labeling?

Transportation Expenses:

Who is responsible for crating and shipping cost? Depending upon the size of the physical vapor deposition system and distance to be transported these costs can add up quickly. You may see such statements as, FOB (Free On Board), EXW (Ex-Works), DAP (Delivery at Place) and understanding the responsibilities associated with each of these is important. Study up on International Commercial Terms also known as INCOTERMS.

Vital Checklist You Must Have Answers for Before Making the Purchase:

Be sure you have gone down this checklist and have detailed and complete answers to each of the above issues before making a final decision. Consider this PVD equipment a legacy that will live with the company for many years to come – for good or for bad!

Remember, the world of physical vapor deposition equipment is littered with the graves of companies that fell short of meeting their technology goals. When it comes to achieving the high standards of such an exacting technology it is important that you are equipped with the right equipment for the job.

This is why it is so important to thoroughly research and have detailed answers to all of the issues in the above checklist you must know before making a physical vapor deposition (PVD) coating system purchase because there simply is no room for error in this demanding and often unforgiving environment!


Semicore Equipment, Inc. is a leading worldwide supplier of Sputtering Coating Systems and Thermal Evaporation Equipment for the electronics, optical, solar energy, medical, automotive, military and related high technology industries. Please allow our support staff to answer any questions you have regarding PVD Coating Equipment: What you Must Know Before Purchasing and how to implement the best equipment and techniques for your specific needs by contacting us at or calling 925-373-8201.


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