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General Orthopaedics


The International Society for Technology in Arthroplasty (ISTA), 27th Annual Congress. PART 2.



Protective hard coatings are appealing for several technological applications like solar cells, organic electronics, fuel cells, cutting tools and even for orthopaedic implants and prosthetic devices. At present for what concerns the application to prosthetic components, the coating of the surface of the metallic part with low-friction and low-wear materials has been proposed [1]. Concerning the use of ceramic materials in joint arthroplasty, zirconia-toughned-alumina (ZTA) reported high strength, fracture toughness, elasticity, hardness, and wear resistance [2]. The main goal of this study was to directly deposit ZTA coating by using a novel sputter-based electron deposition technique, namely Pulsed Plasma Deposition (PPD) [3]. The realized coatings have been preliminary characterized from the point of view of morphology, wettability, adhesion and friction coefficients.

Materials and methods

ZTA coatings were deposited by PPD technique, which is able to maintain the stoichiometry of the starting target. In this case we started from a cylindrical ZTA target (30 mm diameter × 5 mm thickness, 75% alumina / 25% zirconia). The morphology, micro-structure and chemistry of deposited coatings were characterized by Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM) equipped with Energy Dispersive X-ray Spectrosopy (EDS) and Atomic Force Microcscope (AFM). Coating-substrate interface quality were investigated by microscratch tests. The degree of wetting was estimated by measuring the contact angle between a drop of 1 ml of ultrapure water and the surface of the sample. Preliminary ball-on-disk tribological tests were carried out in air and deionized water coupling ZTA-coated stainless steel ball (AISI 420, 3 mm radius, grade 200) against medical grade UHMWPE to evaluate the friction of the proposed coupling.


Deposited ZTA films exhibited a smooth nanostructured surface. Coatings up to several microns thick have been deposited by PPD [Fig. 1 – SEM image (left) and cross section (right)].

Mechanical tests showed a well-adherent films were deposited. In particular, the good interface adhesion was assessed by scratch tests, reporting at about 0.8 N the first formation of cracking in the coating during testing. The contact angles revealed an hydrophobic behavior of the coating (average contact angle 116° ± 2°), probably due to the nano-roughness of the coating itself [Fig. 2 – Contact angle].

Preliminary tribological tests carried out in deionized water after up to 10000 m tracks showed good average friction coefficient ranging from 0.12 to 0.15 [Fig. 3 – Friction coefficient].


We have presented the preliminary results of a novel approach aiming to the drastically improve the performance of prosthetic couplings by introducing hard ceramic coating. The results showed suggested the feasibility of pursuing this approach of realizing ZTA coatings by means of PPD technique. Further analyese on mechanical properties, nano-roughness and tribology should be performed. Well-adherent ZTA films deposited directly on the surface of prosthetic components of a joint implant would then allow a drastic improvement of the actual prosthetic behaviour.