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European pair promise 'single-nanometer accuracy' patterning tool for optics

11 Oct 2017

Semiconductor equipment firms SwissLitho and EV Group continue collaboration initiated under European research project.

Zurich-based SwissLitho and Austria’s EV Group are working together to bring to market a new nanoimprint lithography (NIL) technique capable of making nanostructured optical components.

The collaboration, which builds on earlier research carried out under a €17.6 million project funded by the European Union and at IBM Research, combines elements of EV Group’s “Hercules” system with SwissLitho’s “NanoFrazor” thermal scanning probe.

The approach is said to be capable of replicating high-precision 3D structures in large volumes, with the companies initially targeting diffractive optical elements (DOEs) and other optical components used in applications including data communications, and augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR).

Pilot line
EV Group has also set up what it calls the “NILPhotonics Competence Center” in Austria, where the partners invite customers from the photonics sector to evaluate the technology through feasibility studies, demonstrations and even pilot-line production.

Thomas Glinsner, corporate technology director at EV Group, said: “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.”

The technology on offer has its roots in the famed IBM Research laboratory in Zurich, where SwissLitho’s NanoFrazor probe was invented. The maskless, direct-write lithography approach involves spin-coating a thermally sensitive resist onto a sample surface before patterning. An ultra-sharp, heated tip is then used to decompose and evaporate the resist locally, while simultaneously inspecting the written nanostructures.

“The resulting arbitrary resist pattern can then be transferred into almost any other material using lift-off, etching, plating, molding or other methodologies,” explains SwissLitho, resulting in a nanoimprinted “master stamp”.

EV Group’s Hercules ultraviolet NIL system is then able to replicate the nanoimprint stamp’s 3D structure in high volume, at a throughput of up to 40 wafers per hour, for 200 mm-diameter wafers.

Single-nanometer accuracy
SwissLitho CEO Felix Holzner said: “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.”

SwissLitho, IBM Research and EV Group were three of the industrial partners to take part in the “Single-Nanometer Manufacturing for Beyond CMOS Devices” (SNM) project backed via the European Commission’s Seventh Framework Program (FP7).

That project ran from January 2013 to the end of March 2017, and was headed up by principal investigator Ivo Rangelow from Ilmenau University of Technology in Germany. Other partners included UK-based Oxford Instruments, the Belgian semiconductor development center imec, and Imperial College, London, among others.

Among its key aims were to push the cutting-edge of novel lithography techniques to the single-nanometer scale, with a view to enabling ultra-low-power electronics, quantum devices, and the ability to manipulate individual electrons.

Established in 2012 by co-founders Holzner and company CTO Philip Paul – who together led the development of the NanoFrazor technology while at IBM Research – SwissLitho has since established a global distribution network and shipped tools to customers including the US Air Force Research Laboratory, the Melbourne Centre of Nanofabrication in Australia, and TNO Delft in The Netherlands.

SwissLitho animation: NanoFrazor working principle:

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