While it’s possible to 3D print micro-optics at the nanoscale, startup company SwissLitho AG, which manufactures novel nanolithography tools, wants to revolutionize nanofabrication. Thanks to a new partnership with EV Group (EVG), which supplies wafer bonding and lithography equipment and process solutions for manufacturing semiconductors, microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), and nanotechnology devices, they are one step closer. The two announced that they will be developing a first-of-its-kind joint nanoimprint lithography (NIL) solution for producing 3D optical structures on the single-nanometer scale.

The unique solution will use SwissLitho’s novel NanoFrazor system to make 3D structure NIL master templates, which will be replicated at high throughput with EVG’s HERCULES NIL system, which features the company’s SmartNIL technology.

NanoFrazor is powered by subtractive thermal scanning probe lithography, which was invented at IBM Research Zurich and later acquired by SwissLatho. It centers around a maskless, direct-write lithography approach of spin-coating a thermally sensitive resist, before patterning, onto a sample surface. The resist is locally decomposed and evaporated using a heated, ultra-sharp tip, which inspects the written nanostructures at the same time. The final resist pattern can be transferred through methods like plating, molding, and lift-off into many other materials. According to the company, the process could actually be described as “inverse 3D printing on the nanoscale.”

“We developed our NanoFrazor line to provide a high-performance, affordable alternative and extension to costly e-beam lithography systems. The technology allows manufacturing of the master with many ‘levels’ in a single step. In particular, 3D structures with single nanometer accuracy can be produced more easily and with greater fidelity compared to traditional e-beam or grayscale lithography methods,” said Dr. Felix Holzner, SwissLitho CEO. “We look forward to working with customers to combine our technology with EVG’s successful SmartNIL process at their NILPhotonics Competence Center in Austria.”

Topography image of nanoimprint stamp of a 3D computer-generated hologram fabricated with the NanoFrazor.

SwissLitho’s NanoFrazor tools can be used to fabricate novel electrical, optical, magnetic and biological nanodevices for the first time. For the joint solution with EVG, imprint masters will be created using the NanoFrazor system; compared to more typical methods, like electron beam, the system can print extraordinarily accurate 3D structures.

Working templates for production use will be created on EVG’s HERCULES NIL system with the company’s large-area nanoimprint SmartNIL. The HERCULES NIL combines resist processing, high-volume manufacturing solutions, and EVG’s NIL expertise into an integrated system “that offers throughput of up to 40 wph for 200-mm wafers.”

HERCULES NIL

The system has a modular, configurable platform that can accommodate multiple structure sizes and imprint materials, so manufacturing customers can enjoy more flexibility. It’s easy to operate, is capable of faster curing times with its high-power lamp house, and offers automated imprinting and controlled low-force detachment for maximum working stamp reusability. Even better, because the HERCULES NIL can be used to make multiple-use soft stamps, the lifetime of master imprint templates is extended.

“SwissLitho’s NanoFrazor solution is highly complementary to EVG’s SmartNIL technology. Together we can offer a complete NIL solution for photonics and other applications involving 3D structure patterning, providing significant opportunity for both companies to expand our customer base and market reach,” said Dr. Thomas Glinsner, Corporate Technology Director at EV Group. “Our NILPhotonics Competence Center will be the first point of contact for customers interested in this joint solution, where we will be able to offer feasibility studies, demonstrations and pilot-line production.”

Fully populated 6″ Si substrate imprinted using SmartNIL process.

The joint solution was first demonstrated within a project, funded by the Seventh Framework Program of the European Union, called “Single Nanometer Manufacturing for Beyond CMOS Devices (SNM).” Together, SwissLitho and EVG will first use the solution to develop diffractive optical elements, along with other related optical components which support target applications like data communications, augmented/virtual reality, and photonics. The companies also say that the solution could even have the potential “to expand into biotechnology, nanofluidics and other nanotechnology applications.”

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