An apparatus and a process is disclosed for applying a boron coating to a thin foil. Preferably, the process is a continuous, in-line process for applying a coating to a thin foil comprising wrapping the foil around a rotating and translating mandrel, cleaning the foil with glow discharge in an etching chamber as the mandrel with the foil moves through the chamber, sputtering the foil with boron carbide in a sputtering chamber as the mandrel moves through the sputtering chamber, and unwinding the foil off the mandrel after it has been coated. The apparatus for applying a coating to a thin foil comprises an elongated mandrel. Foil preferably passes from a reel to the mandrel by passing through a seal near the initial portion of an etching chamber. The mandrel has a translation drive system for moving the mandrel forward and a rotational drive system for rotating mandrel as it moves forward. The etching chamber utilizes glow discharge on a surface of the foil as the mandrel moves through said etching chamber. A sputtering chamber, downstream of the etching chamber, applies a thin layer comprising boron onto the surface of the foil as said mandrel moves through said sputtering chamber. Preferably, the coated foil passes from the mandrel to a second reel by passing through a seal near the terminal portion of the sputtering chamber.