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IBM 3D printer pushes prototyping to nano-scale patterns

Posted: 28 Apr 2014     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:IBM  3D printer  prototyping  nanometre 

IBM Research—Zurich has taken 3D printing to a level that could make chip prototyping cheaper, more accessible. It revealed a printer that can write nanometre resolution patterns into a polymer, which can then be later rendered on substrates based on silicon, III-V gallium arsenide, or graphene. The patterns can also be read, facilitating real-time verification under a microscope.

"The big difference when compared to e-beam is that you can easily write 3D patterns, which is extremely challenging for e-beams," Colin Rawlings, a scientist at IBM Research told EE Times. "The other big difference is its imaging capability—we can read as well as write. After creating a 3D pattern we then turn off the heat to the tip and use it like an AFM [atomic force microscope] to measure with sub-nanometre resolution—allowing us to verify our 3D patterns as well as easily locate structures beneath the polymer layer."

The microscopic 3D printer is being licensed to Zurich start-up SwissLitho AG, which calls it the NanoFrazor—a play on words between the English word razor and the German word for "milling machine," frase. The NanoFrazor, which behaves like a nanometre resolution milling machine, outperforms e-beams in many ways but costs a fraction of the price—around $500,000, as opposed to to e-beams, which cost from $1.5 million to as much as $30 million.

"The NanoFrazor is great for rapid prototyping of all sorts of applications," Rawlings told EE Times. "It runs open loop in order to achieve scan speeds of millimeters per second and uses a specialised heated tip, mounted on a bendable cantilever, that is 700nm long, but just 10nm in radius at its tip."

IBM 3D printer

Figure 1: IBM's mechanism works like an atomic force microscope (AFM) but with a heated tip that can sculpt 3D nanometre resolution patterns. (Source: IBM)

Line width accuracy is 10 nm, but 3D depth accuracy is one nm, while reading back the measured depth of patterns has sub-nanometre accuracy. IBM hopes to be prototyping tunnelling field-effect transistors (FETs) in III-V and graphene materials by the end of 2014, using a lithographic transfer technique.

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