Sep 02 2017

Handheld plasma treatment for surface preparation or bonding

How does it work?

Short version: it seems like magic but the plasma is chemically modifying that top few layers – putting on high energy groups allowing for the adhesive or paint to form a chemical bond.

handheld-plasmaFirst off, what is plasma? Plasma is ionized gas, which is highly reactive. The handheld plasma treatment system (shown in picture) will deliver this highly reactive gas directed to your materials. The plasma will do multiple things simultaneously as you hover this tool across your substrate: 1) clean the surface free of organic contamination, 2) the reactive atoms will insert itself onto the top molecular layers of your surface, and 3) also etch the top molecular layers very slowly.

Yes, that is someone’s hand on the pistol grip handle and it is quite safe to use when you are that close to the plasma. The wheels allow the user to freely guide on a large (relatively flat) surface while maintaining consistent distance between plasma exit and substrate. In between the two wheels, you see a bright strip. That is the plasma glow discharge (it gives off light when it goes from excited state back down to neutral state). The distance and the speed at which you guide the tool will matter and is highly dependent on the material.

How does plasma do those three things happen and how can you tell?

When you do hover the tool over your substrate, you will not see any physical changes (as you would sanding or grit blasting). Remember, this is happening to the top layers, which is very thin and is not visible to the naked eye.

Organic contamination consists of hydrogens and carbons. Our plasma will usually be used with oxygen based plasma – meaning it will generate very reactive oxygen atoms. When the oxygen combines with 2 hydrogens, it will form water. However, the amount is so small that it volatilizes from the surface. Carbon contaminants will form carbon dioxide, which is a gas form so that flies off the surface.

The material does get etched very slowly because the reactive oxygen atoms are not selective. If you provide enough time and enough reactive oxygen, it will etch through almost anything. So damage to the part is not a concern with our atmospheric plasma technology.

Once the part has been treated, there will be no visual change. The quickest way to tell is by dipping it in water (water break free test) or putting a droplet of water down on the area that has been plasma’ed and compare to another droplet of same/similar size down. This is the quickest and most qualitative way to demonstrate that your surface has been plasma cleaned/treated. What you should expect to see is the water droplet sheath out much further on the cleaned surface compared to untreated. Water is a polar molecule and is attracted to other polar components, thus spreading out more on the oxygenated surface.

Now, if you want quantitative data, then I would recommend a cost-effective portable goniometer such as the Kruss Mobile Surface Analyzer (MSA). The MSA can be utilized in a lab setting or on the production floor. It takes a total 3-5 seconds to do the following: place two droplets (water or another liquid), take contact angle measurements, and the software to calculate the polar and dispersive components of the surface free energy.

Don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions.

Richie Woo
Sales Engineer
(626) 410-8491

May 09 2016

Automotive Parts Suppliers – Beware of air plasmas that deliver barely acceptable results

High-density polyethylene (HDPE) and polypropylene (PP) are widely used to produce molded plastic parts for the automotive industry. Obtaining strong, durable adhesion of the electronic components to these plastics can be a big challenge. Surface activation with in-line atmospheric plasmas solves this problem. However, you have to use the right plasma for the job.

Air plasmas that generate hot reactive gases do a poor job of activating thermally sensitive materials, such as PE and PP. Surfx’s cold argon plasmas achieve excellent adhesion with no chance for thermal damage.

Obviously, plasmas that use air are going to be cheaper than those that use bottled argon and oxygen. However, the difference is at most a few pennies ($0.01 USD) on a part that sells for more than ten dollars. Is this savings really worth the risk of a recall down the road? The adhered components must survive tens of thousands of hours of use under constant shaking, temperatures ranging from -10 oC to over 40 oC, and up to 100% humidity. Lab testing cannot duplicate this environment.

Beware of air plasmas that deliver barely acceptable results. Show your customers that you are willing to go the extra mile for a reliable product that never fails during the vehicle’s lifetime.


Dr. Robert F. Hicks
CEO & President
Surfx Technologies LLC


Mar 29 2016

Hand plasma tools for improving adhesion on plastics

Hand Plasma System for Surface PerperationAdhesion is a big problem in manufacturing goods out of plastic components. Whether one is gluing, printing, or coating these materials, the surface must be clean and activated for adhesion. A safe, cost effective, and “green” way to clean and activate plastics for adhesion is atmospheric pressure plasmas. The plasma generates a stream of reactive gas that removes organic contamination and creates reactive functional groups for bonding. This process occurs in seconds.

Manufacturing costs must be kept to a minimum in order to maximize profits. A big question is how does one go about treating plastic components with plasma in a cost effective way. Should the process be automated, or can it be done more cheaply by hand? The answer lies in the level of production. If thousands of parts must be activated and bonded each day, then an automated system may be justified. However, if production is less than a thousand parts per day, then a hand plasma tool is the right choice.

A fully automated plasma system can cost upwards of $1.0 million USD, when you consider the robotics, the integration, and the entire work cell needed to keep workers safe from the robot motion. A complete hand plasma tool can be purchased for a fraction of this cost. Here is an estimate of the capital required for treating 500 parts per day, 300 days per year: $1.33 per part for the robotic system compared to $0.07 per part for the hand plasma tool.Hand Plasma System for Surface Perperation

Surfx’s hand plasma tools treat plastic parts in seconds, are safe and easy to use, and have minimal EH&S concerns. Our products can save you a lot of money over alternative atmospheric plasmas that must be mounted on fixtures and kept away from the operator.

Contact us for system details and purchasing information

Dr. Robert F. Hicks
CEO & President
Surfx Technologies LLC

Mar 24 2015

Surface preparation in the aerospace industry

One of the most common applications that we see here at Surfx is the need for surface preparation in the aerospace industry. Materials such as carbon fiber reinforced epoxy composites present a challenge when being incorporated into larger structures. The low surface energy of the base material does not allow for intimate contact with the adhesive being used, and the chemical functionalities present on the surface are not design for covalent linking to the adhesive material. As a result, the aerospace industry typically utilizes wet chemical and abrasive techniques to generate surfaces which are prepared for adhesive bonding. However these methods do not lend themselves to automation, and they also generate environmental waste.

I would like to bring your attention to some work we have done using our Atomflo plasma system to activate the surface of epoxy composite materials to yield robust, environmentally stable bonds. Our Atomflo plasma system works to generate a highly active epoxy surface by handling the 3 of the major barriers to good adhesive bonding. Initially, the plasma can strip away organic materials at the composite surface and allow for clean interaction between the composite and the adhesive being used. Once these materials are gone, the high density of oxygen atoms generated in the plasma will react with the composite surface to leave behind a high surface energy which facilitates intimate contact with the adhesive. Finally, specific chemical functionalities are generated that react directly with the adhesive being used. These plasma treatments are a permanent and covalent substrate modification. Surfx has been working for many years to understand and optimize this process. Please see the attached literature for a more complete description of this process, or contact us for a free demonstration of our Atomflo plasma system.

Surfx Technical Articles and Information

The Effect of Atmospheric Plasma Treatment on the Chemistry, Morphology and Resultant Bonding Behavior of a Pan-Based Carbon Fiber-Reinforced Epoxy Composite

Surfx Technical Articles and Information

Effect of Processing Parameter Changes on the Adhesion of Plasma treated Carbon Fiber Reinforced Epoxy Composites

Surfx Technical Articles and Information

Williams Stainless steel and composite bonding

Surfx Technical Articles and Information

Epoxy Composite Tutorial

Oct 07 2014

Surfx Visits MD&M Minnesota

Surfx Visits MD&M Minnesota

MD&M MinnWe are excited to exhibit at the 2014 MD&M medical device tradeshow in Minneapolis next month: October 29th and October 30th. Visit the Surfx team at booth 1053 for demos of the Atomflo 500 atmospheric plasma device, and helpful insights into your projects.

Tradeshow: October 29-30, 2014

Minneapolis Convention Center
1301 Second Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55403

For over 20 years, MD&M Minneapolis has been the trusted resource for what’s next in medical design and manufacturing. Regardless of your particular design and development objectives, MD&M offers everything you need to drive your project to the finish line.

Contact Nathan Looyenga at Surfx for free passes and more info: (310) 558-0770 x112 or by Email at

Aug 07 2014

The Navy uses Surfx Atmospheric Plasma Innovation


The navy uses Surfx Atmospheric Innovation

Fleet Readiness Center Southwest (FRCSW) personnel have been repairing and modifying aircraft for 95 years, making FRCSW the birthplace of Naval Aviation Maintenance. As aircraft have changed so has the manner in which they are repaired and FRCSW has been at the forefront of this innovation.

The FRCSW and Surfx entered into a Cooperative Research and Developmen Agreement (CRADA) to build a partnership that offers a clean non damaging way to make a better bond when doing aircraft repairs.  Surfx technology allows for the FRCSW to remove hazardous chemicals, reduce repair time, and save money.

Read The Full Article Here: FRCSW Plasma News



Apr 08 2014

Surfx In The News: Plasma used for consistent surface preparation while increasing chemical bond.

Certification of bonded composite primary structures.

OEMs develop technology to quantify uncertainty in pursuit of the no-bolt bondline.

Composites have flown on commercial aircraft primary structures — those critical to flight — for more than 30 years, but only recently have they conquered the fuselage, wingbox and wings, most notably on the Boeing Co.’s (Chicago, Ill.) 787 Dreamliner and the A350 XWB from Airbus (Toulouse, France). These carbon fiber-reinforced plastic (CFRP) structures, however, still require assembly with thousands of mechanical fasteners. Why? Because it is the easiest and least expensive way to meet current certification requirements, which mandate proof that each and every adhesively bonded joint will not separate and cause structural failure should it reach its critical design load. But many in the industry argue that the full cost and weight savings of composites cannot be realized until bonded joints can be certified without fasteners.

The development of technologies to address this need has steadily progressed, from programs in the late 1990s such as the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) Composites Affordability Initiative (CAI) to more recent initiatives, including the European Union (EU)-funded Boltless assembling Of Primary Aerospace Composite Structures (BOPACS) project. Here, HPC looks at current efforts to build a certification regime for bonded primary structures on aircraft. Boeing, Airbus and Lockheed Martin Aeronautics (Palmdale, Calif.) have mounted independent efforts toward that end. Their research offers the hope of building reliability into the bonding process, and of gauging final bond strength via a coordinated certification system that includes design, process control and quality assurance (QA).

Read The Full Article

Discussed Topics:


Oct 13 2012

Lights! Camera! Acton! New Products on YouTube

Surfx Technologies is pleased to announce a new range of Atmospheric Plasma Products. These products have increased performance, additional features, production integration capability and system status feedback. These improvements have been driven by the introduction of the next generation of atmospheric plasma controllers. Customers across many industries now have even more choices in high-speed plasma systems that can also be easily integrated into existing production environments.

High-speed atmospheric plasma can be used for cleaning, etching, deposition, surface modification and activation prior to bonding. This safe plasma technology creates a beam of plasma for materials processing at atmospheric pressure and low temperatures and is clean room compatible. The clean reactive gas flows over and through micro-structured materials, uniformly treating surfaces without any damage to sensitive electronics or

Go to our YouTube channel to see more! 

Oct 09 2012

New Atmospheric Plasma Products in Europe

Messe Dresden, Germany, October 9, 2012 – Surfx Technologies is expanding its latest range of Atmospheric Plasma Products into the European market. For the first time, Surfx Technologies together with major distribution partner, Novel Technology Transfer GmbH, are showcasing the new line of Atomflo™ plasma systems at SEMICON Europa 2012 from October 9 to 11.

With increased performance, additional features, production integration capability and system status feedback, customers across many industries in Europe now have even more choices in high-speed plasma systems, which can easily integrate into existing production environments. The Atomflo™ plasma systems is unique in that it is a particle-free plasma source, and generates significantly less particle contamination than vacuum plasmas.

Just released in September, the Atomflo 500 atmospheric plasma controller offers real-time process feedback, argon or helium primary gas, multiple secondary gas handling and integrated machine I/O. The Atomflo 500 is an excellent fit for demanding high-throughput production applications that require direct real-time process monitoring feedback. This completely new controller design includes a touch-screen user interface, increased RF power and high-speed RF tuning, and an increased accuracy of the matching network.

Surfx Technologies also recently launched the Standalone Plasma Machine (SPM) to provide customers with a turnkey system that integrates the Atomflo 500 solution into an automated, compact, multi-axis application system. The SPM includes advanced graphical motion management software (generating NC code for the motion engine), 4-axis motion with 400 x 400 x 300 mm plasma treatment volume and modular control system architecture, capable of interfacing to other systems via network communication and/or SMEMA interface.

The new Atomflo 400S, an upgrade of its popular A400 model, is now in the market and can be used as a standalone R&D tool or integrated with any motion system to automate customer’s process needs. Additional process parameters and an increased controller memory for additional stored process recipes and simplified recipe management, will result in faster tuning performance for customers.

“Our atmospheric plasma tools are safe, clean room compatible and fast,” explains Roger Williams, Vice President of Sales for Surfx Technologies. “Our patented downstream plasma will not expose sensitive electronics or circuits to potentially damaging electric fields. We also offer high speed LED encapsulation processes as well as solar thin film and silicon cell process solutions. Customers will gain better performance, single part traceability and increase package yield.”

“We are excited about the opportunity to expand our broad spectrum of products and services to our customers with the new line of Atomflo plasma systems,” says Max Wanninger, President, Novel Technology Transfer GmbH. “We will be able to provide even more high-speed atmospheric plasma solutions for cleaning, etching, deposition, surface modification and activation. Surfx Technologies’ new integrated end-point detection and real-time spectroanalysis will ensure our customers have the best solutions for high volume and/or high value manufacturing processes.”

Atmospheric pressure plasmas eliminate the need for harsh chemicals or inefficient vacuum chambers that are limited to batch processes. The Atomflo atmospheric pressure plasma generates a stream of reactive gas at low temperatures so many materials can be treated, including polymers, epoxies, metals, ceramics and glass.

Oct 03 2012

Surface & Plasma Blog

Good day to everyone who reads this blog.  I have started this informal communication with you to reach out to people who are interested in engineering surfaces, and want to find out what atmospheric pressure plasmas can do for them.  I am presenting this material with my hat on as Senior Vice President at Surfx Technologies.  Over the years, I have learned that people have a lot of questions concerning the use of plasmas to manufacture commercial products.

The main questions are: (1) what are the principal applications of plasmas in manufacturing; (2) how do I know which plasma to choose from the many types on the market, and (3) why would I select plasma over other types of surface treatment, such as abrasion, solvent wiping, or chemical etching.  Over the coming months I am going to take a shot at answering these questions.  I encourage readers of my blog to ask me questions, or select topics that they would like me to discuss in the areas of surfaces and plasma processing.  I sincerely hope you find this helpful as well as enjoyable to read.

Definition of Plasma
Before I start, let’s make it clear that we are talking about an ionized gas, and not a component of blood.  If you’re interested in blood, you’ve come to the wrong website.  An ionized gas, or plasma (or alternatively, a gas discharge), is comprised of free electrons, negatively and positively charged ions, and neutral molecules.  Plasmas can be created many ways, but the most common method is through the application of a sufficient voltage to strip electrons away from the neutral molecules, thereby ionizing the gas.  Plasmas conduct electricity, consume power (watts), and are sustained by the application of an electric potential (volts) and current (amps).

Applications of Plasma in Manufacturing
The principal applications of plasma in manufacturing are for making functional materials and surfaces.  Plasmas come in contact with materials at their surfaces.  Any change in material function must proceed through processes that occur at the surface.  The important applications are therefore:

(1)   Cleaning, i.e., contaminant removal.

(2)   Activation for wetting, i.e., adjustment of the surface energy.

(3)   Activation for adhesion.

(4)   Sterilization.

(5)   Etching of nanometer to micron scale features in materials.

(6)   Deposition of nanometer to micron thick coatings.

The six applications listed above are presented approximately in order of the time it takes to accomplish the task.  Cleaning can take a short or long time depending on the amount of contaminant on the surface.  “Gross contamination” corresponds to organic layers that are more than a micron thick.  This type of contamination is best handled by aqueous washing or solvent rinsing.  An exception to this rule is photoresist film removal, which is a standard plasma process carried out by the semiconductor industry.  “Fine contamination” is present on all surfaces, even after those recently cleaned.  This last layer on the surface is best removed by plasma, and it takes on the order of 0.1 to 10.0 seconds to complete.

Surface activation for wetting is the process of putting specific chemical groups on a material surface to precisely fix its energy.  Wetting refers to the spreading of water droplets onto a surface to make a continuous film.  If there is a low surface energy, droplets will not spread out, and the water contact angle between the droplet and the surface will be high, ~90o.  By contrast, if the surface energy is high (say 70 dynes-cm), the droplets spread out and merge together easily, with the water contract angle below 20o.  Wetting is necessary in some industries, such as printing, to get the desired coverage of the fluid on the solid surface.  Putting functional groups down on a surface is a fast process, because only one atomic layer is being changed.  This process is completed in the millisecond to second time range.

Surface activation for adhesion is also the process of putting specific chemical groups on a material surface, but this time the goal is to achieve strong bonds between the surface and an adhesive or glue.  As stated by Dr Mittal, “the strength of an adhesive bond increases with the quality and quantity of connections made at the interface.”  Since here as well we are only affecting roughly one atomic layer of the material, this process is fast, and can be completed in the millisecond to second time range.  If cleaning to remove fine contamination is required prior to activating the surface, then the process time can increases to tens of seconds.  Adhesively joining materials is ubiquitous in manufacturing, cutting across many industries from automotive and aerospace to packaging and electronics.  This is by far the largest industrial application of plasmas.

Sterilization is at present a relatively small application of ionized gas discharges.  Here we are killing microorganisms prior to packaging products which are destined for human consumption, either, food, drugs, medical devices, medical instrumentation, etc.  If the microorganisms are present on the product in thick film form than washing is probably the most effective cleaning route.  However, if you need to make sure that every last bug is killed down to the last layer on the surface, then plasma sterilization is a good way to go.  This process takes several seconds to several minutes to complete.  In this case, the job is finished when less than one biological organism remains out of more than a million that were present initially.

Etching nanometer to micron scale features on a surface is a crucial step in manufacturing integrated circuits, flat panel displays, microelectromechanical systems, and other microelectronic devices.  Vacuum plasmas are uniquely capable of etching these features, because one can direct the positively charge ions in the gas to bombard the surface with high energy, such that trenches with straight sidewalls are generated in the material.  Blanket etching is possible as well, as in the case of photoresist removal.  However, this process is relatively slow taking from a minute to as much as an hour to finish.

The last important application is the deposition onto materials of nanometer to micron thick coatings.  Thin film deposition is another crucial step in manufacturing integrated circuits, flat panel displays, microelectromechanical systems, medical devices, etc.  Plasmas are very valuable tools for this process, because they enable the coatings to be laid down at low temperatures where no thermal damage to the expensive electronic device can occur.  Since this process usually requires depositing many thousands of layers of atoms on the material one atomic layer at a time, it is a relatively slow process taking from a minute up to an hour to complete.

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