MICROSTRUCTURE of 3D-OBJECTS. MICROLIGHT3D TECHNOLOGIES FOR THE CREATION OF MICRO- AND NANOWORLDS OBJECTS
D.Barbier, President, J.Cordeiro, Sales Manager
The development of the 3D printing process technology based on two-photon polymerization has continued for 15 years and culminated in the founding of Microlight3D. The founders managed to bring to life the unique technology for micro- and nano-objects printing using a laser that moves freely in three coordinates, which ensures continuous printing in a polymer resist medium. Nowadays the company’s technologies now provide incredibly high print resolution and unsurpassed surface quality for micro- and nano-objects being created. Microlight3D President Denis Barbier and Sales Manager Julien Cordeiro talk about new technologies, innovations, equipment and products of Microlight3D.
Dear Denis, can you describe the philosophy of your company, what is your company message?
Microlight3D is a system manufacturer dedicated to very-high resolution 2D and 3D printing machines. We deliver affordable printing systems, adapted to the objectives and means of our customers. Modern manufacturers are striving for technologies that ensure the highest quality products needing no maintenance and capable of creating high-tech products in a minimum time. This is a real construction of a new world which dimensions are more than 100 times smaller than the thickness of a human hair, a kind of the nanostructure which helps to produce reliable products and components in comparison with which a biological cell is a macro-object.
How did your company work its way up?
The growth of the company is achieved thanks to its sales force, based on a network of well chosen distributors, and thanks to its R&D capacity, which allows us to regularly bring to market new systems adapted to the needs of our customers. With an emphasis on two breakthrough technologies, two-photon polymerization and maskless lithography, we have created the marketable µFAB-3D, Altraspin and SmartPrint UV product lines. Constantly improving technologies and developing our equipment as well as amending the marketing of the company, we have achieved leading positions in the markets of many countries of the world and are mastering new planning horizons, including Russia.
What new developments are being carried out in your company and when will you transform them into finished products?
We have just launched a new 2D maskless lithography tool, called Smart Print UV, which aim is to help our customers in the field of microfluidics, MEMS, micro-sensors and other micro-technologies activities. This new affordable 2D-printing system brings high-resolution, high-speed, and process flexibility thanks to a powerful and user-friendly software. It is available in two types, standard and improved, for the most demanding applications. The parameters of both systems impress our customers – with the possibility of working on any type of substrates, from silicon and glass to plastics and metals using negative and positive photoresists, the print resolution reaches one and a half micrometers, and the printing itself can be carried out using our own, client’s CAD-files or raster images on Phaos firmware.
What activities of your company do you consider to be priorities for the Russian, European and worldwide markets?
We believe that our affordable Smart Print UV system can be used in most technological institutes across Russia, while our µFAB-3D system can trigger interest in the key Russian advanced-research-labs. It is also available in two versions to achieve surface finish levels of up to 20 nanometers at print speeds of 100 μm / s in high resolution (0.2 μm) and 1 mm / s in low resolution (2 μm). For this purpose the user can select either manual or automatic control mode.
Has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your company’s operations? How will you frame the work under the new conditions?
We have clearly seen a slow-down in sales activity during 2020, due to the pandemic, but we have been able to carry on our manufacturing work and deliver systems to our customers. Though we have been working from home for most of our R&D activities.
Explain, please, to our readers the peculiarities of new technologies developed in your company, such as maskless 3D lithography, and their applications?
Three points are unique to our 3D-printing technology. First we offer the highest printing-resolution of the market, down to 200 nm. Second, we can print any 3D shapes, including organic shape; we are not constrained by the layer by layer limitation of the usual additive manufacturing. And last but not least, we can print onto a wide range of materials including bio-materials like collagen.
What interesting innovations and projects are you presenting on the Russian market today?
We are introducing a new option for our µFAB-3D system, the Z-motorized sample holder. This option allows the user to create objects that have up to 10 mm in height, as well as print objects directly onto the end-face of an optical fiber and any transparent or impervious objects.
Our readers are always interested in a new innovative equipment, what can you tell us about Microlight3D achievements?
Microlight3D is selling its systems worldwide, and has sold its 50th micro-fabrication system last year.
Julien, what are the fundamentals of 2D lithography and the equipment based on this technology?
Photolithography is a photon-based technique consisting in reproducing an image into a photosensitive material. It is the most widely used technique to produce semiconductor components in the industry but also for R&D purposes in private and public laboratories. For decades mask aligner has been the standard equipment used in laboratories to produce samples with micrometric scale resolution structures. They use photomasks, a solid and transparent substrate covered with a metal layer reproducing the structures to be produced. However, they suffer from a lack of flexibility as the design on the photomask cannot be changed, the only way is to produce a new one. It reaches its limits when it comes to testing or producing many different designs. The expansion of photolithography in more and more varied fields (MEMs, microfluidics, biotechnologies, photonics, etc.,) as well as the growth of rapid prototyping have led to emergence of new generations of equipment and the maskless lithography systems.
What interesting innovations and huge projects would you like to share with our readers and followers?
Microlight3D’s products are constantly evolving to take into account the needs of our customers whether from a hardware or software point of view. We are currently collaborating on a project involving a private partner in the field of microfluidics, one of the highest-potential markets in our sector. Unfortunately, I cannot reveal more details because the project is confidential.
SmartPrint UV is a maskless lithography equipment, based on a DMD projection technology. What’s new in this technology and what are the applications to be achieved using your equipment? How can it improve a nanoindustry in Russia?
Smart Print UV is based on a DMD technology (Digital Micromirrors Device) allowing a digital image to be displayed. SP-UV integrates an optical module allowing the image to be projected onto the surface of a sample and thus exposing the photoresist without the need of a mask. The optical module includes an interchangeable reduction lens to quickly vary the writing resolution and thus optimize the writing time. It also includes a feedback camera system for alignment steps. SP-UV is equipped with a 385 nm light source compatible with standard photoresists. Such technology is applied when it is necessary to create microstructures, specifically those used in such as microfluidics or 2D materials where the shape of the structures must constantly be adapted to the needs. ML3D brings a new affordable lithography solution to respond to the scientific research issues of Russian R&D laboratories more efficiently.
How does your company organize the worldwide logistics and aftersale services in Europe?
We closely work with distributors based in high-potential regions (Europe, Asia, America). Each of our distributors has his own local representatives to ensure a strong presence. Our distributors are trained to answer the main questions of our customers and we guarantee remote assistance, if necessary. Distributors are also able to install our products at customers’ premises and train them to use the machines.
Are you planning to organize manufacturing of your products in Russia? If no, how do you assess the Russian market and who is your distributor in Russia?
The production is carried out in our premises near Grenoble and we work with many local partners in order to guarantee a follow-up throughout the production chain. The Russian market is managed in partnership with our local distributor. We work with the company Mivatek thanks to which we were able to deliver our product to the first customer in 2020.