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The high wear resistance, high chemical inertness, and high electrical conductivity of magnetron-sputtered transition metal diborides make them a candidate material for sliding electrical contacts. However, their high hardness makes it difficult to penetrate surface oxides, resulting in a high electrical contact resistance. In this study, the authors have investigated how the contact resistance can be improved by the formation of softer Nb-B-C films. The Nb-B-C films were deposited by magnetron sputtering and shown to exhibit a nanocomposite microstructure consisting of nanocrystalline NbB grains with a solid solution of C separated by an amorphous BC phase. The formation of the BC phase reduces the hardness from 41 GPa for the NbB film to 19 GPa at 36 at. % C. As a consequence the contact resistance is drastically reduced and the lowest contact resistance of 35 mΩ (contact force 5 N) is achieved for a film containing 30 at. % C. However, crack formation and subsequent delamination and fragmentation is observed for the C-containing Nb-B-C films in tribology tests resulting in high friction values for these films.


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