IIT Madras-incubated Start-up Kapindra develops Novel Diamond Coatings with Applications in Hypersonic Technologies

Chennai: Indian Institute of Technology Madras-incubated deep-tech start-up Kapindra Precision Engineering has developed diamond coatings that can aid Indian Scientists working on heat dissipation (thermal management), a major issue for hypersonic missiles during their re-entry into earth’s atmosphere where they experience destructive high temperatures (>2,400 oC).

Defence establishments of many countries have been working on heat dissipation issues, which pose a major hurdle to aero-dynamic stability of missiles upon re-entry.

Based on their technology, Kapindra, a deep-tech start-up, was adjudged as the ‘#1 Start-up’ in the ‘DRDO Dare to Dream Innovation Contest’ for its specialised product offering. The start-up came from technology developed at IIT Madras’ Nano Functional Materials Technology Centre (NFMTC) and Materials Science Research Center (MSRC) led by Prof. M.S. Ramachandra Rao, Department of Physics, IIT Madras.

Kapindra Precision Engineering works on development and application of specialized coatings for components used in strategic products that demand extreme tribological performances to reduce friction, wear and promote heat dissipation at contacting surfaces. High quality thin film coatings are required for UV and IR detection/sensing, underwater SONAR devices, surface acoustic wave devices, pressure sensors and actuators, among others.

Speaking about the current Research being taken up by Nano Functional Materials Technology Centre on Diamond Coating, Prof. M.S. Ramachandra Rao, Department of Physics, IIT Madras, Mentor and CTO of Kapindra, said, “Stronger adhesion to tools and components is required to transmit larger loads and enhance coating/tool life. Currently this comes at a cost of functional performance in the form of higher friction and wear. So how can the coating adhesion to the substrate be improved, while ensuring required tribological performance of low friction and wear? – this is the problem we are trying to solve.”

Prof. Rao also added that the physics of doping diamond was fascinating from the point of converting the most insulating diamond into a metal and a superconductor (good for electronic industry). It is interesting to note that even though diamond is electrically insulating, its thermal conductivity (2,000 Wm-1K-1) is 5 times that of copper. So, diamond coatings act as heat-spreaders in electronic devices and find applications in space technology.

Prof. Rao termed diamond as an ultimate engineering material with a plethora of application prospects and he states that it is the material to explore for ‘quantum computing’ with the creation of ‘N-V centres in diamond’ – a very challenging and futuristic area of research.

The uniqueness of Kapindra’s solution lies in the deep physics-based understanding of the mechanics of the diamond coating process and using this knowledge to control the process parameters during the process to achieve certain desired microstructures on the substrate-side and functional-sides of the coating. Such a solution is not possible with a mere surface-level understanding of the coating process. Hence, it is not simply possible to buy a commercial machine and develop such a coating technology.

Highlighting the work underway at Kapindra, its Founder and CEO, Mr. Padmanabh Bagaria said, “We are grateful to DRDO for recognising our work and giving us this breakthrough. We are committed to provide our defence and space establishments with need-based cutting-edge indigenous technologies. Kapindra is also carving out a really powerful yet affordable product-based solution for disinfection, cleaning and waste water treatment without the use of chemicals. Our team strongly believes in innovating continuously and gives great importance to R&D. We are here to establish ourselves as a nano-engineering surface technology powerhouse.”

Kapindra’s coatings have found applications in machine tools, endmills and other moving parts (automobile, aerospace and defence) to improve wear-resistance, thermal management (heat-spreaders), and optical grade windows. Diamond coatings find applications in better performance of medical implants and in water purification. The technology proposed in this involves growing a protective layer (few microns thick) consisting of thin films of diamond.

As Dr. N. Arunachalam, Associate Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering, IIT Madras, and mentor to Kapindra, explains, “Coatings which are capable and equipped to convey in real-time, the variations in the behaviour of the coated component, are known as smart coatings. This AI-driven surface technology, simply adds sensing functionality to a nano-engineered coating. The nano-engineered coatings market believes that smart coatings in IIOT (Industrial Internet of Things) could be a perfect fit. IIOT is usually presented as consisting of networks of internet connected AI sensors and multi-processing units (MPUs).”

Kapindra offers an innovative diamond coating technology that, through its special patented microstructure, offers better surface adhesion on the substrate-side while providing better tribological performance on the functional-side on various types of substrate materials and shapes. For e.g. the life of the graphite-machining tool can be improved by 5-15 times upon diamond coatings (Graphite is widely used for fuel cell applications). The innovation lies in the process recipe used in an otherwise well-established CVD process technology, the machine for which can be commercially purchased. Conventional tools are not capable of machining Al-Si alloys or other carbon fiber reinforced polymers (CFRP); so the proposed technology is not just providing an improvement, but a solution to the existing problem of machining hard composite materials/alloys.

This two-year old start-up is also developing the application of smart functional coatings on various substrates that realise applications involving AI and Internet of Things (IoT). Such smart coatings are targeted for use in Industry 4.0 based data driven scenarios in the factory and other applications such as IoT that utilise machine learning algorithms to come up with strategic decisions on health of high-value components and machines.

Elaborating on this material, Dr. Sathyan Subbiah, Associate Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering, IIT Madras, and mentor to Kapindra, said, “Our coating products include CVD based methods of applying thin layers of diamond, diamond-like carbon and PVD based techniques of applying various inter-layers needed to support the diamond coatings to cater to various engineering substrates.”

The team behind Kapindra includes IIT Madras faculty Dr. M.S. Ramachandra Rao (Physics, NFMTC and MSRC), Dr. N. Arunachalam (Mechanical Engineering Dept.) and Dr. Sathyan Subbiah (ME Dept.).

The Start-up is led by Mr. Padmanabh Bagaria (Founder and CEO), Mr. Deep Paldiwal (CFO), Mr. Ramasubramanian, Mr Nikhil, Mr. Arun Veerabagu, and Dr. Maneesh Chandran.

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