Failure modes in organic coatings studied by scanning acoustic microscopy
Scanning acoustic microscopy (SAM) has been found to be well suited to study physically and chemically induced changes and defects in polymer coatings exposed to corrosive environments. In this work, SAM was used to investigate sub-surface migration and blister formation in polymer coatings of different layer structure after exposure to a corrosive solution. Two model systems consisting of base coat and clear coat on steel substrates where studied. The time evolution of sub-surface migration fronts and blister initiation and their growth were investigated by analysing SAM images after different exposure times. Depending on the layer structure, it was possible to differentiate between transport of the electrolyte solution (i) through the coating and (ii) along the coating/substrate interface. Samples without clear coat typically showed randomly distributed blisters at the coating/substrate interface, irrespective of the location of initial defects. The random distribution of blisters is related to diffusion of the electrolyte solution through the coating layer followed by ""nucleation"" at weak spots of the substrate, at the interface between polymer and substrate or within the polymer. In contrast, samples with a clear coat acting as a diffusion barrier showed a sub-surface migration front of 2-4 µm height, propagating along the coating/substrate interface, starting at initial defects. The linear propagation of this front cannot be explained by Fickian diffusion and is discussed in terms of an accelerated diffusion or crack growth kinetics. Since blistering started only at regions, where the migration front has already passed, the presence of electrolyte solution or water at the coating/substrate interface was found to be a prerequisite for the nucleation of blisters.