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Thin film technology is the development of very thin layers of material to deposit on the surface of objects, ranging from semiconductors to plate glass. Thin film offers a number of benefits to manufacturers including reduced production costs, smaller and more lightweight finished products, and increased flexibility. Thin films can be made from a variety of materials including silicon and ceramic. Companies specializing in the development and application of thin films can be found all over the world.
One use for thin film technology is in semiconductor production, including development of new photovoltaic cells. Size can be critical with semiconductors, particularly as consumers expect smaller and thinner laptops, cell phones, and other electronic devices. The thin film provides a stable surface that will perform well, without the bulk of more traditional coatings. It also cuts down substantially on materials cost, as less material will go further. This savings can be passed on to consumers.
For optics like lenses, specially treated windows and mirrors, and so forth, thin film technology offers improved performance. The thin layer reduces distortions, decreases weight, and performs like thicker layers of materials. Thin films can filter light, add insulation, or turn a lens into a mirror, depending on the need. This technology is particularly useful for green building design, where treating the windows with thin film can decrease energy loss and make the building more efficient.
This technology requires the development of materials that can be used in thin films, along with deposition techniques. These can include plating, vapor deposition, and spraying. In all cases, it is necessary to be able to apply a very thin and very even layer of material to create the thin film. Disruptions in the film will cause declines in performance. Developers of thin film technology explore new materials and deposition methods on a regular basis to produce the best possible products for the needs of their clients.
Numerous companies have research and development departments working on thin film technology. As with other technological advances, there is constant room for improvement, including making films thinner, expanding the applications, and developing new methods for manufacturing thin films. Researchers in this field are often engineers and commonly hold advanced degrees. People interested in careers in this area should pursue training through a reputable engineering program. It can be helpful to seek out internships with major companies to get work experience and professional connections while in school.