The 3-year H2020 project PHENOmenon, launched in January 2018, is developing nano 3D printers capable of producing micro and nano-structures (particularly those with an optical function), while adhering to limited production times. Kevin Heggarty is a researcher at IMT Atlantique, one of the project partners along with three other European research institutes and eight industrial partners, including major groups and SMEs. He offers a closer look at this project and the scientific challenges involved.
What is the goal of the H2020 PHENOmenon project?
Kevin Heggarty: The goal of this project is to develop nano 3D printers for producing large, high-resolution objects. The term “large” is relative, since here we are referring to objects that only measure a few square millimeters or centimeters with nanometric resolution—one nanometer measures one millionth of a millimeter. We want to be able to produce these objects within time frames compatible with industry requirements.
What are the scientific obstacles you must overcome?
KH: Currently there are nano 3D printers that work with a single laser beam. The manufacturing times are very long. The idea with PHENOmenon is first to project hundreds of laser beams at the same time. We are currently able to simultaneously project over one thousand. The long-term goal is to project millions of laser beams to significantly improve production speeds.
What inspired the idea for this project?
KH: Parallel photoplotting is an area of expertise that has been developed in IMT Atlantique laboratories for over 15 years. This involves using light beams to trace patterns on photosensitive materials, like photographic film. Up until now, this was done using flat surfaces. The chemistry laboratory of ENS Lyon has developed highly sensitive material used to produce 3D objects. It was in our collaboration with this laboratory that we decided to test an idea—that of combining parallel photoplotting with the technology from ENS Lyon to create a new manufacturing process.
After demonstrating that it was possible to obtain hundreds of cubic microns by simultaneously projecting a large number of laser beams on highly sensitive material, we reached out to AIMEN, an innovation and technology center specialized in advanced manufacturing materials and technologies located in Vigo, Spain. Their cutting-edge equipment for laser machining is well-suited to the rapid manufacturing of large objects. With its solid experience in applying for and leading European projects, AIMEN became the coordinator of PHENOmenon. The other partners are industrial stakeholders, the end users of the technology being developed in the context of this project.
What expectations do the industrial partners have?
KH: Here are a few examples: The Fábrica Nacional de Moneda y Timbre, a public Spanish company, is interested in manufacturing security holograms on bank notes. Thalès would like to cover the photovoltaic panels it markets with micro and nano-structured surfaces produced using nano-printers. The PSA Group wants to equip the passenger compartment of its vehicles with holographic buttons. Design LED will introduce these micro-structured 3D components in its lighting device, a plastic film used to control light…
What are the next steps in this project?
KH: The project partners meet twice a year. IMT Atlantique will host one of these meetings on its Brest campus in the summer of 2020. In terms of new developments in research, the chemistry laboratory of ENS Lyon is preparing a new type of resin. At IMT Atlantique, we are continuing our work. We are currently able to simultaneously project a large number of identical laser beams. The goal is to succeed in project different types of laser beams and then produce prototype nano-structures for the industrial partners.