One of the square plastic films bearing nanometer-sized patterns being rolled out of the prototype roll-to-roll UV nanoimprinter – Roll-to-roll processing will allow such unique plastics to be manufactured on a large scale.
Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), is ready to put roll-to-roll nanoimprint manufacturing. This manufacturing process can easily and quickly mass produce films and surfaces with nanometer-scale textures for a host of new applications in biomedical devices, optical films, plastic electronics and flexible solar cells.
R2R nano imprinting can form optical films for flat panel displays, anti-reflective coatings for solar cells, and other textured products in mass quantities on large-area pieces, and at a high speed. “With this method we can merge nanoimprint technologies into real-world applications and on an industrial scale,” explained Dr Low Hong Yee, an IMRE senior scientist who heads the team developing the roll-to-roll nanoimprint technology. Nanoimprint technology produces nanometer-sized structures of greater complexity using fewer processing steps, while minimizing wasted materials. It has evolved from the semiconductor industry’s lithography technology to a platform process technology that can be adapted to a wide range of applications.
A test control square plastic film imprinted with four different nanometer-sized patterns – Nanoimprint technology allows plastic films to take on different properties such as anti-reflection or super water-proofing for use in technologies like new flexible solar cells for harnessing solar power or low-maintenance, self-cleaning walls and surfaces.
1. Nanoimprinted structures and components are being used in items such as anti-reflection films, and solar cells. However, their impact in consumer products is limited as viable manufacturing processes to scale-up the production of such nanostructures is lacking. IMRE and its partners in ICON are planning to manufacture the structures, using a roll to roll process. This fast, mass production method can create large area nanostructured components, opening the way for new consumer applications not previously conceptualised or economically feasible.
2. Roll-to-roll imprinting is the third industry-themed project by ICON that includes local and international partners such as Solves Innovative Technology Pte Ltd (Singapore), Advanced Technologies and Regenerative Medicine, LLC (ATRM) (USA), Young Chang Chemical Co. Ltd (South Korea), EV Group (Austria), Micro Resist Technology GmbH (Germany) and NTT Advanced Technology Corporation (Japan). The partners who are raw material providers, tool-makers, and end-users represent the entire value chain for producing nano-structures and putting them to use. Some of the applications that the consortium hopes to harness with roll-to-roll nanoimprint include anti-fouling surfaces, anti-reflection films to enhance the efficiency of solar cells, wire-grid polarisers, and optical films for flat panel displays.
3. “The roll-to-roll nanoimprinting technique is a crucial centerpiece in ICON’s plan to complete the value chain for harnessing the true potential of our bio-mimetic multifunctional nanoimprint technology surfaces”, said Dr Low Hong Yee, an IMRE senior scientist who heads the team developing the roll-to-roll nanoimprint technology. “With this method we can merge nanoimprint technologies into real-world applications and on an industrial scale”, explained Dr Low, adding that the engineered materials that are produced can be made for a variety of applications. For example, nanostructures can be used to mimic patterns of surfaces found in nature to endow the synthetic surfaces with properties such as inherent colour effects, tack-free adhesion to surfaces, water-proofing and anti-reflectivity.
4. ICON will be introducing two types of roll-to-roll techniques – a thermal and a UV-based version. The thermal method makes patterns on the substrate directly, can accommodate a variety of plastics for different applications, and is ideally suited for the fabrication of micro- and nano-fluidic devices, biochemical assays as well as other biomedical applications. The UV technique allows quicker processing because it is a room temperature process, and offers the advantage of fabricating the nanostructures on cross-linkable resins, thus imparting higher thermal and mechanical stability to the imprinted products.