Home SHOES'in'TECH What is Physical Vapour Deposition and why it is a good innovation for footwear

What is Physical Vapour Deposition and why it is a good innovation for footwear

In a nutshell, PVD is an innovative and sustainable coating for metal accessories that is very thin and very resistant, allowing for novel colourations.

What is Physical Vapour Deposition and why it is a good innovation for footwear

The metal accessories that are applied to a shoe – an eyelet, a decoration or a zip – almost always undergo a treatment aimed at coating them with a layer of material that provides both a certain degree of protection and the desired aesthetics.

The treatment is called ‘electroplating‘.

Purpose and processes of electroplating

Galvanic treatments can be defined as protective and aesthetic processes for metals that increase their durability, improve their performance and determine their aesthetics. They are a whole series of electrochemical processes designed to deposit a thin layer of metal or alloy on a metal object in order to technically and/or aesthetically modify the surface of the treated product.

Deposition can take place in three different ways: hot, cold, by immersion in a zinc bath.

Why galvanise a metal accessory?

The purposes, as mentioned, are many. In some cases to increase resistance to corrosion or oxidation, in others to renew surfaces that are no longer new or to make them more pleasing to the eye. Sometimes both motivations are valid.

Although galvanic treatments are applied in full compliance with international regulations, they remain a process that does not represent the best possible solution in terms of sustainability.

It seems that today we can do better by applying innovative processes, already well developed in other sectors such as the automotive industry, and thus reduce the environmental impact of these metal coating steps.

metal accessories | shoestechnologies

To discover an alternative to electroplating that is actually feasible today, we turn to the experience of Oerlikon Luxury (Riri).

The innovative PVD technology

The Riri Group, a leading manufacturer of metal accessories, has always stood out for its unique range of products and quality offerings. Collections include metal and plastic zips, buttons and rivets for jeans, components for leather goods, footwear and clothing, and fashion jewellery.

metal accessories | shoestechnologies

Since 2023, Riri has been part of the Oerlikon Group, an international and innovative powerhouse in the fields of surface engineering, polymer processing and additive manufacturing.

It was precisely the drive for continuous innovation that led to the application of an alternative process to electroplating for the protection and coating of metal accessories: PVD – Physical Vapour Deposition.

metal accessories | shoestechnologies
PVD system

Katharina Rick, Chief Transformation Officer of Oerlikon Luxury, explains what the innovative PVD coating technology consists of:

A flash of light strikes the material chosen to cover the surface and vaporises it, allowing the particles to settle on the object.

It is a complex process whose steps cannot be revealed in detail, but which allows truly remarkable results to be achieved:

  • A coating that is thinner and at the same time more resistant than that of traditional electroplating;
  • Colours that cannot be obtained with a traditional process;
  • A lower use of water;
  • Absence of chemical processes;
  • Very little energy required;
  • Recovery of 95% of the source material used;
  • Durability and, in the case of zips, better flowability.
metal accessories | shoestechnologies

Once you have read through the list of benefits provided by PVD coating, it becomes clear that the treatment is far more sustainable than the processes commonly used so far.

It is more sustainable not only in terms of production, but also in terms of use, because a material that spoils less, lasts longer and performs better allows the finished product to live longer and, therefore, reduce consumption

Rick concludes

Nantas Montonati, Sales and Marketing Director of Oerlikon Luxury is keen to emphasise how the new and innovative coating system offered to the industry fits right in with a sustainability strategy that Riri has been pursuing since 1986 and which, today, boasts numerous achievements:

100% of the energy used in our production sites comes from renewable sources, 100% of the tapes with which we make our zips come from recycled materials. We are the first to offer collections all made exclusively of ribbons originating from recycled materials; they have become the standard for us

Although a shoe may always look the same, the level of innovation it can conceal is very high; research and development of new solutions that change the quality of the product, improve it and make it more durable and beautiful. Above all, they take a step forward towards products that are more respectful of our health and the environment.

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