The Power of Maskless Lithography for Microfabrication

Heidelberg Instruments logo, top half in negative resist aligned to the bottom half etched chrome.

For decades, photolithography with mask aligners has been the cornerstone of microfabrication. But what if there was a faster, more flexible way to create the intricate patterns needed for miniaturized devices? Discover Maskless Lithography or Direct Writing – a powerful technique revolutionizing the R&D and rapid prototyping landscape. It allows you to bypass the long process of ordering a photomask and enables you to transfer the design directly to the wafer.

Why ditch the masks?

Traditional photolithography relies on custom-designed masks that are ideal for high-volume sub-micron manufacturing, particularly in industries like semiconductor production. Our ULTRA and VPG+ excel in producing high-quality masks tailored for such large-scale operations. However, for low-volume production or research and development facilities, these masks come with drawbacks:

  • Costly: Masks can be expensive, especially for complex designs or small batches. Besides their production, their storage and cleaning also generate additional costs.
  • Time consuming: Mask fabrication adds significant lead time to the development cycle.
  • Inflexibility: Design changes necessitate new masks, hindering rapid iteration.

Here’s where Direct Laser Writing shines:

  • Eliminating masks translates to faster design iterations and quicker prototyping cycles.
  • Writing patterns directly on the substrate enables rapid exploration of intricate designs and on-the-fly modifications.
  • Direct Writing requires fewer steps and less equipment compared to traditional mask-based photolithography.
  • Alignment with pre-existing structures is fast and intuitive facilitating the fabrication of multi-layer devices.
  • Ideal for low-volume, high-complexity projects where mask costs become prohibitive.
  • With our real time autofocus, the exposure remains in focus across the entire substrate, even on corrugated surfaces.

Leveraging 40 years of experience, Heidelberg Instruments offers a comprehensive portfolio of Maskless Aligners and Direct Write Lithography systems, catering to the diverse needs of various application areas:

  • µMLA: Configurable and compact tabletop Maskless Aligner with raster scan and vector exposure modules, ideal for virtually any academic application that requires microstructure fabrication.
  • MLA 150: The Maskless Aligner for multi-user facilities, R&D, rapid prototyping, and small production volumes, designed for binary lithography.
  • MLA 300: Achieves the highest optical quality and precision while providing high throughput, a simplified workflow, and integration with manufacturing execution systems (MES).
  • DWL 66+: Versatile allrounder for research and prototyping with variable resolution and a large selection of modules for easy customization.
  • DWL 2000 GS / DWL 4000 GS: Industrial-level Grayscale Lithography tool designed for high-throughput patterning of masks and wafers, particularly suitable for wafer-level micro-optics.
  • VPG 300 DI: Volume Pattern Generator specially designed for direct writing high-resolution microstructures in i-line resists, replacing traditional steppers.

The Heidelberg Instruments systems and technology pool comprises high-precision Maskless Aligner (MLA) and Laser Lithography systems for Direct Writing of 2D, 2.5D and 3D microstructures to mask-making, and systems based on Thermal Scanning Probe Lithography (t-SPL) for the advanced nanopatterning. 3D laser lithography systems based on Two-Photon Polymerization (TPP) technology close the gap between conventional laser lithography – the basis of Heidelberg Instruments’ strong core business – and the Thermal Scanning Probe Lithography (t-SPL) for nanopatterning.

Maskless Lithography as the state-of-the-art, high-precision, highly flexible technology is ideal for use in both R&D as well as environments where rapid-prototyping of feature sizes greater than 1 µm are required. The maskless lithography technique enables you to transfer the design directly to the wafer without the need for a photomask.

In maskless lithography the pattern is exposed directly onto the substrate surface with the help of a spatial light modulator, or SLM, which serves as a “dynamic photomask”.

If you would like to know more, our team is on-hand to assist you with any questions you might have. Click the button below to contact us directly.

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