Surface engineering


Institute of functional surfaces research

Lowering the friction between surfaces through improved coatings improves the reliability of engineering components and creates benefits in many walks of life. Our Surface Engineering research brings improvements in many sectors, from automobile and aerospace, to biomedical and agricultural industries.

This results in increased quality of life for recipients of surgical implants, reduced environmental pollutants in manufacturing processes, increased fuel efficiency with lower emissions in multi-modal surface transport, and improvements in functional efficiency and safety of products.

At the centre of our PVD/PECVD (Physical Vapour Deposition/Plasma Enhanced Chemical Vapour Deposition) Surface Engineering activity is the state-of-the-art multi-functional platform. Our vision for this equipment is to drive innovation in the science of future hybrid functional surfaces, and to provide industry with a playground to try new solutions for their current functional surface challenges. 

We have studied in depth the optimisation of processes such as nitriding (including oxyniriding (QPQ etc)), Plasma Electrolytic Oxidation (PEO), sol-gel and composite sol-gel, thermal spray (including HVOF), solid lubrication systems (including MoS2), polymeric systems based on phenolic and PTFE.  We have published in all these areas. 

In addition to the evaluation of commercial and developmental coating systems we conduct research into novel surface engineering systems for bespoke requirements. We have looked at Slippery Infused Porous Systems (SLIPS) which combine a porous surface and a retained lubricant for anti-fouling and low friction.  We are also investigation the tethering of polymer brushes (zwitterionic) to surfaces to facilitate water lubrication. 

We have expertise in the design, selection and implementation of the appropriate surface engineering solution for a wear, corrosion, fouling, optical or decorative challenge. 

Current research

  • Low-friction DLC coatings with incorporated nanoparticles
  • Dielectric oxide films for sensor applications
  • Solid lubricant coatings for harsh environments
  • Functional coatings for 3D printed components
  • Advanced micro-mechanical characterisation of thin films
  • Optimisation of coating architectures for polymer substrates
  • Assessment of coatings performance under fretting
  • In-situ techniques for coating degradation measurements
  • Tribocorrosion of DLC coatings for oil and gas industry
  • Development of bespoke nanoscale layers based on organic and inorganic polymeric systems
  • Bioinspired lubrication.

Research highlights

  • Optimisation of established coating recipes for specific engineering application (e.g. DLC, TiN, CrN, Al2O3, MoS2) including interlayers design, toughness, thickness and doping elements
  • Development of new coating architectures for emerging applications and demanding environments, e.g. nano-composite coatings, insulating layers for vehicle battery applications, antibacterial surfaces
  • Coatings characterisation including mechanical properties, electro-chemistry, surface chemistry, insulating properties, surface morphology, and advanced microscopy techniques
  • Assessment of tribological properties of coatings including dry and lubricated contacts, harsh environments, friction and wear measurements at nano-, micro-, and macro-scales
  • Active engagement with industry through short consultancy projects for routine coatings deposition and large research programmes for strategic partnerships and fundamental research.

Past and current collaborations

  • University of North Texas
  • Fraunhofer Institute
  • Ecole Centrale de Lyon
  • Lodz University technology
  • Nanjing Southeast University
  • Saxonian Institute of Surface Mechanics
  • Micro-Materials
  • Hauzer Techno Coating
  • Caterpillar
  • Croda International
  • Cummins Turbo Technologies
  • Procter&Gamble
  • AWE
  • Keronite

Research team

PhD projects

We have opportunities for prospective postgraduate researchers. Find out more.

Contact us

If you are interested in collaborating with us or joining our research team, please get in touch with a relevent staff member.