Car collectors know the impact coatings have had on automotive products. Nowadays, glass and silver aren’t needed to provide reflectivity in auto headlights – just a light aluminum coating on injection-molded plastic does the job and gives automakers increasing design flexibility. A similar story can be told about cutting tools, which are manufactured with tribological coatings that reduce wear and can double or triple their lifetimes.
Enabling manufacturers to provide these benefits is the business of Mustang Vacuum Systems Inc. The company is a global manufacturer of industrial-scale vacuum deposition equipment, including sputtering systems, evaporation systems, optical coating units and roll-to roll-systems. The equipment it manufactures is used to apply coatings to automotive, decorative, medical and industrial tools, and thin-film solar products.
“Vacuum-based processes are methods to deposit engineered thin-film coatings of almost any material onto a substrate,” Director of Business Development Todd Komanetsky explains. “Our focus is to work with customers to optimize production. We often can provide a better solution for material handling or fine-tune our coating process to enhance cycle time, to help our customers achieve higher productivity.”
He explains the company has a continuous focus “on how to reduce scrap, how to increase the uptime of the tool and how to make the production of the tool as efficient as possible. Everything we do is about making equipment that operates at a high level of uptime, even in harsh manufacturing environments.”
Mustang designs coating systems for almost any type of substrate and situation, from complex three-dimensional parts to flexible rolled material and flat glass in stand-alone or in-line processes. “Our systems apply a range of thin-film coatings to plastics, metals, glass, and even ceramics,” Komanetsky points out. “And we do this in a highly sustainable, environmentally friendly process. No water treatment liability or hazardous waste is generated in our process.”
Komanetsky emphasizes the company’s engineering expertise. “We focus on manufacturing engineering as it complements our equipment – working with customers to get the highest uptime and the most throughput to reach their requirements,” he stresses. “We specialize in high-production manufacturing.”
20 Percent Improvement
One example of the company’s work Komanetsky cites involved increasing the power of Mustang’s patented high power cathodes to improve deposition rates. “Increasing deposition rates allowed us to significantly reduce the cycle time to manufacture an automotive product compared with a competitor’s manufacturing equipment,” Komanetsky explains.
“Ours runs in a four-minute cycle, and theirs is a five-minute cycle, which doesn’t seem like a big difference, but it’s 20 percent more in production terms,” he points out. “That is 20 percent more capacity per year. So using our deposition sources, our cathodes, has allowed them to deposit at a higher rate and get a faster cycle time. That is a simple example of how choosing the right deposition components can make a big difference in the output of a system.”
Mustang is always improving. “We consistently evaluate component options, as well as make design updates to optimize system performance for each unique application,” Komanetsky declares. Product improvements also include upgrades of Mustang’s product software. “We are an upgrade-driven world,” he points out. “A good example is how we recently released a software package where our systems have built-in warnings.
“Our systems can now continuously monitor all aspects of how they’re operating,” he continues. “If it finds something outside of its normal operating range, it will give a warning to the operator. If the operator bypasses the alarm a certain number of times in an hour, the system will automatically email the service team and ask for help. So we’ve taught our systems to ask for maintenance and service when they need it. The Mustang touchscreen, menu-driven process controls are simple and intuitive.”
Mustang maintains non-disclosure agreements for a majority of its projects. “Nine-five percent of our business is confidential, where customers are adding their own techniques or technology to our product or collaborating with us to develop a process,” Komanetsky says. “Most of the technology is customer-specific. For us, developing a process is figuring out the best method of depositing the materials to give the customer the best-quality results while meeting their requirements.
“We work with new and existing customers in our application lab on new deposition methods or to scale deposition processes to larger or smaller tools to match production requirements and come up with an optimal solution,” he continues.
Applications & Production
Mustang manufactures its products in a 50,000-square-foot plant at its headquarters in Sarasota, Fla. “We consider the welding and fabrication of vacuum chambers a core competency, which also allows us to more easily manage customized system designs,” Komanetsky emphasizes. Sarasota is the location of Mustang’s applications group, engineering group and global support headquarters.
“We’ve had a well-staffed applications group with Ph.D.-level managers for each of our major areas of focus,” Komanetsky says. “Our laboratory staff are continuously developing processes for customers and running customer samples to demonstrate system capabilities. We maintain several pieces of equipment at our facility full-time to process samples and for proof of concept/demonstration purposes.”
Mustang Vacuum Systems has installed its equipment throughout North America, Europe, Latin America, China, Korea and Asia. It also has sales and service partners in Japan, Korea, China, India, the European Union and Brazil.
For the future, Komanetsky stresses the importance of tribological coatings. “The tribological coatings area is one of the fastest-growing vacuum deposition markets,” he declares. “This is why we’ve launched a series of product solutions in this growing area. Mustang has been making tribological coating systems on a custom basis for years.
“With the increasing number of standard tribological coatings, we now have a growing market that wants to bring these coating capabilities in-house, alongside their other manufacturing processes,” he says. “Launching the MVS Tribo Series to address this changing market requirement makes sense right now and fits well with our industrial manufacturing focus. We’re on the lookout all the time for the next-generation technology.”