Singapore is fast becoming a major global player in precision engineering and manufacturing. As the country intensifies its research and development activities in the burgeoning field of nanotechnology, A*STAR is taking a lead role in driving forward the development of high-value, innovative products across multiple sectors, from healthcare and cosmetics to telecommunications and transportation.
In a pioneering move, the A*STAR Institute of Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE) and its partners have launched a new initiative called the Nanoimprint Foundry, designed specifically to accelerate the transition of nanotechnologies from concept to product release. Nanoimprinting — a high-throughput, cost-effective method of designing and manufacturing novel materials at the nanoscale — holds great promise for advances in the development of practical applications. The foundry is envisioned as a ‘one-stop shop’ for consumers and industry alike, according to Karen Chong, the IMRE scientist who is heading the new project.
“The main advantage of this one-stop shop at A*STAR is the availability of the value chain for nanoimprinting,” says Chong. “We have partnered with the best equipment makers, including Toshiba Machine, Solves Innovative Technology and EV Group, materials suppliers such as micro resist technology, and also mold makers such as NTT Mould, NIL Technology and Kyodo International, to ensure that end users have access to the best in the value chain.”
Over the last decade, researchers at the IMRE have been developing novel technologies based on nanoimprinting, including a new type of antireflective plastic (see Fantastic plastic) and a precision-engineered plastic film that can turn mobile phone screens into three-dimensional displays (see Adding another dimension to smartphones). Through such research, the IMRE has greatly strengthened its capabilities in nanomaterial patterning, fabrication, synthesis and integration.
The Nanoimprint Foundry will benefit from the IMRE’s expertise not only in nanoimprinting techniques but also in intellectual property, facilitating the development of novel materials and innovative engineering solutions that are aligned with the needs of suppliers and end users.
Commenting on the original impetus behind the launch of the project, Chong explains: “There was a deadlock whereby suppliers were waiting for end users to define and demonstrate applications for nanoimprinted products, and end users were waiting for suppliers to demonstrate manufacturability — this was the push for A*STAR to establish the foundry.” By building on A*STAR’s considerable nanotechnology portfolio, Chong adds that the eventual goal will be to “offer end users the ‘complete’ package for solutions based on nanoimprinting.”
Activities are already underway to develop new advanced materials such as antimicrobial films, disposable molds and scaffolds for biomedical engineering at the foundry. The A*STAR Institute of Microelectronics (IME) and the A*STAR Institute of High Performance Computing (IHPC) will also boost the foundry’s capabilities in key areas, such as predictive optimization and post-processing steps for the integration of nanostructures.
The foundry will also work closely with the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB) and SPRING Singapore (the Standards, Productivity and Innovation Board) to promote entrepreneurship, develop quality assurance infrastructure and foster an internationally competitive manufacturing base. By attracting interest from multinational corporations and small and medium-sized enterprises seeking to invest in leading-edge solutions and applications, the Nanoimprint Foundry aims to become a key pillar in Singapore’s innovation-driven economy.
About the Institute of Materials Research and Engineering
The A*STAR Institute of Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE) was established in 1997 with the aim of becoming a leading research institute for materials science and engineering. The IMRE has developed strong capabilities in materials analysis, characterization, materials growth, patterning, fabrication, synthesis and integration, and has established research and development programs in collaboration with industry partners.