Dana Corporation has announced that it has developed a revolutionary technology that harnesses microwave energy to accomplish dozens of processes, including the heat treating and coating of metal parts.

Dana claims that its Microwave Plasma Technology (MPT), which operates at atmospheric pressure, has been shown to reduce processing times, cut operating costs, and improve part quality over conventional techniques. 

Microwaves historically have not been used to process metals because microwave reflection by metal can cause damage to both parts and the system.  However, Dana scientists solved this problem by surrounding the metal with microwave-absorbing plasma. 

Dana says its method of creating and sustaining plasma is simple and cost-effective and enables a variety of metal processing applications – such as brazing, sintering, carburizing, annealing, tempering, nitriding, and coating.

“Dana is one of the world’s largest metal processors, and we knew that we could reap valuable rewards by improving current systems to exploit the power of microwave energy,” said Dominique Tasch, director, microwave atmospheric processing products at Dana.  “So we assembled a team of microwave, plasma and materials scientists.  MPT is the result of their collective efforts.”

Heinz Eilks, executive vice president for business development and technology in Dana’s Automotive Systems Group, said, “Although MPT was originally developed for internal use, the potential for the technology is even greater outside the company.”

He said that Dana is scheduling internal production lines for MPT deployment but that the company is also in discussions with several companies about external commercialisation opportunities.

By reducing microwave reflection, Dana says that MPT allows multiple low-cost energy sources to be linked together, rather than requiring an expensive, high-power source – significantly reducing the capital cost of a system.

MPT also forms plasma evenly around parts, delivering superior temperature uniformity and coating depth versus conventional methods. 

Perhaps most importantly, Dana says, MPT is achieved at atmospheric pressure, eliminating the expense of vacuum equipment and accelerating the deposition of coatings compared to CVD or PVD methods.

MPT is highly versatile, Dana adds, claiming that it can be used to process many different materials, including metals such as steel, aluminium, titanium, magnesium, and iron, as well as ceramics.  It is also possible to deposit advanced ceramic coatings, including silicon nitride/oxide, aluminium oxide, titanium nitride, and tungsten carbide. 

Dana’s prototype system has heated parts to 1,200 degrees Celsius in seconds and to more than 2,000 degrees Celsius within a few minutes.  This high-temperature capability has already been shown to yield improved part properties for sintering, carburizing, and surface engineering.

Although the initial focus is on metal processing and coating, Dana says it is also exploring more exotic applications for its technology, such as exhaust treatment; surface engineering, including decrystallization; formation of carbon nano-structures; and hydrogen production.