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Failure modes of PVD coatings in molten Al-alloy contact

This paper deals with a study of the failure mode of thin PVD coatings in alternated contact with molten aluminum alloy. CrN and ZrN monolayer coatings deposited through cathodic arc evaporation were used. The coatings morphology was assessed by SEM and their mechanical properties evaluated by nanohardness test performed at room temperature. An experimental test rig which cyclically immerses coated steel samples in molten Al-alloy and in a cooling bath was applied. The thermal gradient from the coating to the steel core was exalted by internal cooling channels placed in the internal cavity of samples. Periodical SEM inspections were performed to assess the damaging levels introduced by the test and to study the related decrease of substrate protection capability. Descriptions and interpretations of the damages evolutions were derived. The main conclusions achieved are that both coatings suffered by the formation of corrosion pits, which were due to a corrosion attack of the steel substrate localized at coating defects sites. In particular, at pores locations the corrosion was fast, whereas at droplets sites it required a certain incubation time. Once corrosion pits were formed they exhibited an initial tendency to expand laterally, but they did rapidly stabilize in terms of lateral dimensions. Later on two different failure modes acted in ZrN and in CrN. Extended delamination due to a marked mismatch of mechanical properties between the coating and the steel substrate developed in ZrN. On the contrary, thermal cracking due to lower hardness levels developed in CrN, but with limited delamination. Accordingly the steel substrate protection capability was evaluated to be higher in CrN than in ZrN.
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