Group Repair/Create/Invent Project: Vacuum Coating System

I was going through craigslist and lo and behold, someone was offering a broken vacuum coating system. It's nonfunctional, but for the most part whole. It weighs so much I'm rather surprised not to have an inguinal hernia. There is normally a vacuum chamber on top which is missing/broken. I'm going to try to repair it.

 For those who don't know, this is the type of tech used to coat things in very thin biocompatible metals like titanium. Getting it back to functional would allow us to coat custom implants and to test devices being designed without the 2500 or more price tag. I'd like to make the repair/creation/invention of this into a community project and thus be able to provide this service to grinders.

I won't pretend to even know where to begin, but if you'd like to get involved please let me know. image





  • Looks cool, but I can't find anything on it but sale threads. Any other serial numbers on the thing?
  • hm. i do know where i could order the missing knob for the lower right dial.
    the company still exists and you may have some luck getting at least the operating manual by simply requesting it

    if you need help with any circuits inside i can assist in reverse engineering based on pictures of the circuit boards/chips.

    the vacuum chamber should be a standard lab part, expensive but off the shelf.
  • By the looks of it, the top is meant to hold a fairly large pyrex dome. Those can run you a grand on their own. I'd have to see it to know what else needs fixing though but it looks seriously fucked up. Best of luck but I don't know if that thing will ever run again
  • Thank you Thomas! I'll request it. Yeah, this thing dates to the 70s I think. I'm definitely not trying for a refurbishment. There was a previous post about how easy the process is to make happen. The guy doing it was using like a canning jar. Even if the components are all junk, the clamps and fixturing and layout is worth it.I'll photo every board don't and back and label.
  • That post was by me. It's "technically" easy, but only because i've been tinkering with these systems for almost 7 years. It's why im building a vacuum system for coating. I could refurbish that thing, im just saying, it's an expensive endeavour. I find it easier to start from scratch then try and rebuild an old broken system. You can definitely salvage some good bits from that thing though.
  • Yeah, I don't even know what the huge immensely heavy cylinder component in the middle is exactly. Does it produce the electron beam?
  • edited September 2015
    I need pictures from other angles to be able to tell. I can't see much in the picture above

    edit: looked up the sale and got more pictures. It's missing a bunch of stuff but it looks like it's using a hot filament system. But again without seeing the guts of the thing and having time to tinker it's hard to guess what the previous owner was using it for. Or rather how they were using the filament. 
  • Will provide.
  • Although if you're talking about a cylinder on the inside of the case, it's probably the vacuum pump but again, need more pictures

  • I was thinking looks like some pics I was looking at.. But it's so large. It even has a water cooling coil.
  • that's a diffusion pump. It's the secondary pump. Ina  vacuum system there are 2 pumps. The first is a roughing pump. they look what you expect a vacuum pump to look like, basically an air compressor in reverse. Then there's the diffusion pump. once the system is down below a certain pressure you heat the diffusion pump and fill it with special oil. As the oil vaporizes and re-condenses it pulls more air out with it.  you need a diff pump for good vacuum deposition. I'm waiting on my old one to be delivered so I can get my system down further.

  • I'd love to help in any way. If you are missing any parts that could be made of plastic I can model print and ship it out to you. Beats having the spend $10 on a stupid little handle or something.
  • edited September 2015
    Found some more things looking around. Appears to be from the 50's-60's. The company no longer exists, and the one you linked is unconnected.

    I don't think you're going to have a lot of luck restoring 50+ year old equipment.
  • don't let the age fool you. especially old equipment was build to last, and to be repaired. bonus points as most parts can be manufactured rather easily on common tools because cnc equipment wasn't really around.
  • This has held true in nearly all of my experiences with older machinery. I've seen engines from the '50s that still run with only average maintenance done on them.

    As far as the dome for the vacuum chamber, is pyrex the only option?
    Also, would it be possible to get the circumference of the round metal dish where the dome would go? @Cassox

    @chironex How tall are the pyrex domes used on vacuum coaters like that usually?
  • you'll need a big one for this and yes if you're gonna buy a dome, get pyrex. the components can get very hot in a coating system so pyrex will keep the system happy or longer which for this is important. You can get  shitty glass dome but you run the risk of it getting hot and exploding. I use regular glass cause im broke but given the choice i'd be using pyrex or steel. 
  • So steel would work as well?
  • yes and no. When i say steel, i mean varian high vacuum chambers. They get pricey. Yes you can make chambers but it's hard to get right . Glass is also better for this sort of thing cause you can see what's going on. steel you only get a small viewport so it's not as good.

    Hey, I've never gotten around to doing anything with my site yet but it's a great place to park pictures. Click to zoom in on the guts.
  • The amount of rust worries me. It shouldn't be that rusty so you'll have to replace a ton of parts. The thing was a diffusion pump as i thought and it looks ok, but you'll need new oil. There looks to be a transformer in there but it's rusty so fuck knows if it'll work. The main base plate has a few feedthrough which are of questionable quality so those may/probably will need repair or replacment. The main plate is fine but you'll need a large gasket and the dome still. you'll also need a roughing pump and a high voltage system and control. Basically all you have is a fancy cabinet, a questionable pump and transformer and a steel plate that looks intact. You could get it working but it'll take a lot of elbow grease. And money. Mostly money.
  • most of that rust looks like it's only affecting tiny grains on the very surface. should be pretty easy to clean those back to shiny again. building a new HV source can be tricky depending on the current requirements, there are some cheap and dirty tricks we could try if the current demand is low enough.
    about the dome, would a dome with no window work? i mean we can measure stuff like the tiny currents flowing around these days. getting a steel-cylinder shouldn't be exactly difficult if it needs no window. lathe/grind the bottom flat and all you need is a rubber sealing.

    i'd vote to disassemble all non-critical parts and give each one a good cleaning and inspection.
  • The point of the dome is to see through it. You can't just measure these things you need to be able to see and adjust. Trust I tried the measurement route, it was awful. It only works if you have a shitload of sensors and even then a camera is usually mounted so you can see in. Just go with glass 
  • can you describe what's happening in there and what parameters need to be adjusted? also the operating conditions for sensors. if a bit of vision is all it takes for a human, a crapload of sensordata should make it possible to automate process.
    and if not. maybe a bit of hacking a steel cylinder would work. like adding a smallish hole and cover it with a piece of suited glas so you can peek inside with a camera. a smallish piece of expensive glass is still a lot cheaper than a full glas dome. can't be the only sollution for the given problem to spend a grand on a piece of glas.
  • Heres the rub. You can use steel if you prefer. The reason glass is standard is because with a system like this nothing beats being able to see what's going on. It allows you to do quality control on the fly. For example you can see how a layer is going on and can adjust parts to make sure they're in the right place and are getting coated properly. Trying to do that through a viewport isn't impossible its just a pain in the ass. There are sensors you can get that will measure coating thickness and stuff but they're pricey. Also with steel the whole chamber is a conductor. Which when your trying to get a beam of plasma to go where u want it can cause problems. If the whole thing is grounded and youre using electrons you'll get a lot of stray beams that can knick steel off the chamber and onto your part. Also glass is easier to keep clean. Since anything in your chamber can get added to your coating if you're not careful and those impurities will cause rejection. Really its just a preference thing though. I like glass for its ease of use. Also the thing cassox has is meant for glass not steel. It would be different if you were starting from scratch but if you're gonna try and repair the thing that's what should be used. Feel free to try steel, but it opens up a lot of other issues
  • edited December 2015
    What kind of vacuum are we talking? I've read that ball mason jars can withstand 25in/Hg before risk of implosion.   The jars come in the gallon size for $35-40 in indiana.  I recently opened a jar of peppers I canned and a lightbulb went off after I re-read this discussion. 

    Edit,  nope, not enough.  That machine needs to be capable of pulling 29.2-29.7 in/Hg to work, correct? 
  • Mason jars hold vacuum just fine. 
  • cool.  what's the biggest mason jar you've pulled hard vacuum in @chironex?
  • non. You dont pull a hard vacuum in a jar. That requires stainless steel and a big furnace. But 10^-3 torr can be done in a mason jar fairly easily. which is what's required for most plating systems like the one im building. which is made out of a jar. 
  • nice machine, furnace are use to burn anything like muffle furnace used in labs to burn samples and check their organic and inorganic specifications so muffle furnace suppliers provide furnace which researchers can use in their experiments. but i don't understand what are you doing with the furnace in this machine?
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