Nanoimprint lithography (NIL) is a relatively new technique that provides the ability to form nanoscale patterns at a significantly lower cost than conventional lithography methods. NIL technology is attractive to biomedical and optical device manufacturers, however, a lack of knowledge of the technique means many manufacturers have not yet taken full advantage of the technology.
We spoke to Markus Wimplinger, of the EV Group, about the new NILPhotonics™ Competence Centre that EV Group (EVG) have recently opened and how they can guide manufacturers through the entire NIL process - from prototyping to developing a high volume manufacturing plan.
What are the benefits of using nanoimprint lithography over other lithography techniques?
Nanoimprint lithography (NIL) is an emerging lithography technique that supports the manufacture of extremely small (sub-100nm) patterns at an extremely low cost. This makes NIL an attractive choice for many applications in the bio-medical and optics fields, where other approaches such as the optical lithography used in mainstream semiconductor manufacturing, are too cost prohibitive.
NIL also has the capability to accurately replicate complex three-dimensional shapes in a single process step, which is ideally suited for the manufacturing of optical features, such as miniaturized lenses or optical gratings. This also facilitates the construction of textured surfaces such as microfluidic channels and nano-scale patterned surfaces for bio-medical applications.
NIL can also be used to simplify the overall process flow, since many NIL materials can be used as permanent materials in the final device—as opposed to processes where the pattern must be transferred into the bulk material through etching. This feature further underlines NIL’s capability to enable the manufacturing of highly complex structures at a very low cost.
What motivated you to open your NILPhotonics™ Competence Centre?
While nanoimprint lithography (NIL) has strong potential as an enabling production technology for many applications in photonics, biotechnology and other areas, it is still relatively new to most of our customers.
For a company to investigate the benefits of NIL manufacturing by themselves, they would need to build up NIL expertise in a number of areas such as specialized materials, NIL templates, metrology approaches specific to NIL, and finally the unique NIL process technology itself before they could bring a new product to manufacturing. This is a time consuming and costly approach. Customers might miss market opportunities in this case. It creates a pretty high barrier for using NIL.
The NILPhotonics Competence Center centralizes EV Group’s expertise, products and services in NIL and makes it accessible to our customers in a very flexible format that can be tailored to their specific needs.
Within the NILPhotonics Competence Center, we provide an environment for our customers that enables them to test out new product ideas, conduct feasibility studies related to applying NIL to their product ideas and then develop production-worthy processes. This is complemented by the ability to support sample processing runs all the way to pilot-line manufacturing. The processes can then be transferred to a customer-designated production site.
What level of consultation can EV Group provide for your NIL customers?
EVG possesses close to 20 years of experience in the area of NIL. Over the years, EVG has built up a wealth of knowledge surrounding the primary methods of NIL, namely UV-NIL, Hot Embossing and Micro-Contact-Printing. For all three of these technologies, we offer a wide range of different implementation options.
Based on this foundation, we are in a unique position to provide our customers with an unbiased view on what technology will suit their production needs best. Once the technological choices are narrowed down, EVG can also support customers by helping to identify the right source for master templates, certain aspects of the master template design and the selection of suitable materials.
We are also more than happy to recommend material improvements and metrology methods suitable for the specific structures that our customers want to produce using NIL.
How has the Centre helped in the development of diagnostic microfluidic devices?
EVG has multiple projects underway with customers to qualify NIL for the manufacturing of microfluidic devices.
In addition to addressing the technical needs of our customers, it is equally important to help them meet their demanding project schedules. The comprehensive support package available within the NILPhotonics Competence Center has proven to be highly successful in defining optimized packages for customer applications that are in-line with their demanding project schedules.
Product development in highly regulated markets like the medical industry also requires extensive documentation and IT systems and business processes that are compliant with the stringent requirements found in these markets. A dedicated program management team within the NILPhotonics Competence Center ensures that EVG’s internal business processes comply with these requirements and offers consultation to its customers.
What services are available to users of the NILPhotonics Competence Centre?
Overall, the offerings span initial consultation, feasibility studies, process development (both basic/early stage as well as full characterization for high-volume manufacturing), sample processing service and pilot-line manufacturing all the way to process transfer to the designated manufacturing site.
What stages of product development does the NILPhotonics Competence Centre guide its users through?
Usually the stages are;
- Feasibility testing
- Basic process development
- Development of a manufacturing ready process
- Process transfer.
What type of devices has the Centre assisted in the production of?
The center has assisted customers in developing devices that are used in the optical and bio-medical fields. For example, we’ve worked with customers to develop plasmonic structures used to create better performing waveguides and sensors.
Can NIL devices be incorporated into high volume manufacturing (HVM) processes? What does the NILPhotonics Competence Centre offer that facilitates this?
Absolutely. NIL processes have proven to be high-volume-manufacturing capable. The unique comprehensive support package offered in the NILPhotonics Competence Center facilitates the development of high-volume-manufacturing ready processes.
What do EV Group and the NILPhotonics Competence Centre have planned for the future?
One way we are expanding our capabilities is through our partnership with CEA-Leti within the INSPIRE program, which we jointly launched last year.
Like our NILPhotonics Competence Center, the INSPIRE program is designed to demonstrate the feasibility and benefits of NIL technology across a wide range of application domains, such as photonics, plasmonics, lighting, photovoltaics, wafer-level optics and bio-technology. In this case, INSPIRE boosts the range of capabilities that can be offered to our joint customers.
Separate from INSPIRE, we will continue to upgrade our capabilities and resources as well as expand the portfolio of building blocks in materials, baseline processes and metrology solutions that can be readily offered to our customers.
Where can our readers find out more about the NILPhotonics Competence Centre?
You can find out more about the center on our webpage, or please feel free to contact us directly.
About Markus Wimplinger
Markus Wimplinger is the director of EV Group’s (EVG) business unit for technology development and intellectual property.
In this role, Markus oversees EV Group’s global process engineering team. Additional responsibilities include the management of R&D partnerships and contracts with third-party organizations such as companies or government-related entities, as well as intellectual property affairs associated with EVG’s process technology development efforts and 3D integration-related projects.
Prior to his current role, Wimplinger held positions within EVG with increasing responsibilities. Most recently, he was director of technology for EV Group North America. He began his career with EVG as a project manager at the company’s headquarters in Austria in 2001 where he was focused on customer-specific projects.
Wimplinger’s past work includes involvement in design, development, process technology and many other aspects of capital equipment manufacturing both at EVG and at his former position at a capital equipment supplier for non-semiconductor related industries.
Wimplinger received his educational background in electrical engineering from HTL Braunau, Austria.
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