Helios

Even smaller, even more precise

Sensor technology is developing rapidly. Under the leadership of the Austrian company ams AG, a consortium of European technology providers, including Bühler, has developed the latest generation of sensors. This is a unique market innovation – because these new sensors combine several functions such as aperture, lenses, and filters in a single component in the smallest format.

  

We are all surrounded by countless sensors every day: in our smartphones, our car, the fitness tracker on our wrist, the smart refrigerator, the robot lawnmower, the intelligent street lighting. The world is largely made up of sensor technologies that are evolving rapidly. This makes our mobile devices smarter, more intuitive, more sensitive and more energy-efficient. And the sensors they contain are becoming smaller and more precise. 

The market in this area is driven simultaneously by two factors: on the one hand, there are many high-end solutions in highly specialized areas such as cutting-edge medicine or space exploration; and manufacturers are finding ways to make these solutions accessible to normal consumers by scaling production. On the other hand, such offers create increased demand on the part of end consumers –once a technology has reached the consumer sector, they want it all. And they want it at a reasonable price. This in turn prompts manufacturers to produce even greater quantities at the same time in order to lower prices.

Multiple functions in the smallest space

Under the leadership of ams AG, a leading global supplier of high-quality sensor solutions, a consortium of technology companies, including Bühler Leybold Optics, has developed a new high-end solution for the production of such optical sensors. It is the world’s first light sensor that combines multiple filters and optical elements such as lenses and apertures in a very small space. These miniaturized sensors are especially suitable for use in smartphones or wearables, such as fitness trackers or intelligent headphones.

Due to the high accuracy of these optical filters, sensors can also be implemented for precise diagnostic applications. “In principle, this innovation allows the integration of several optical components in a very small space,” says Rainer Minixhofer, Head of Technology at ams AG. “In this way, new types of miniature cameras or fingerprint sensors can be implemented, for example.”

The project of the participating technology companies is called HIOS (Highly Integrated Optoelectronical Sensor) and was co-financed by the European Union under the Horizon2020 grant agreement no. 720531 (Fast Track to Innovation).

 

“The main contribution of Bühler Leybold Optics to this project was to further adapt the existing coating technology of the HELIOS 800 to the requirements of the semiconductor industry and to further improve productivity,” says Klaus Herbig, Head of Product Management at Bühler Leybold Optics. “In addition, new optic filters have been developed for future sensors. In this area in particular, Bühler Leybold Optics with its experience in the production of optical layer systems for precision optics has made a significant contribution to the success of the project.”

 

In principle, this innovation allows the integration of several optical components in a very small space.

Rainer Minixhofer, Head of Technology at ams AG

The HELIOS can coat several workpieces simultaneously, enabling higher production volumes. The HELIOS can coat several workpieces simultaneously, enabling higher production volumes.
With the latest generation of HELIOS technology, silicon wafers up to 300 millimeters in size can be coated. With the latest generation of HELIOS technology, silicon wafers up to 300 millimeters in size can be coated.
Bühler Leybold Optics has been able to further develop its coating technology for this special and rapidly growing market.

Klaus Herbig, Head of Product Management at Bühler Leybold Optics

 

Sensors learn to perceive their environment with Leybold Optics coatings. The nanometer-thin layers allow the camera in the smartphone to regulate light irradiation or the intelligent car to view its surroundings at night using infrared radiation.

“The technology is based on a vacuum coating process known as sputtering. The coating material, usually a metal such as silicon or tantalum, is inserted into the cathode as a tube or disk (target),” explains Klaus Herbig. “In a plasma discharge, individual noble gas ions are generated and accelerated onto the cathode. They then knock out individual metal atoms from the cathode, which are deposited on the filter. The addition of oxygen makes these layers become oxidized and transparent. This creates several nanometer-thin layers of different materials. Depending on the composition, this filter reflects different wavelengths.”

HELIOS technology is now so advanced that the filters produced are able to sort out light waves in a highly differentiated manner. They work in the light spectrum from ultraviolet to infrared by applying up to 800 layers of different optical materials to a filter. Another decisive factor is that a HELIOS system can coat several parts simultaneously, thereby increasing production volumes. This makes the production of the filters much more cost-effective. 

 

Three times as many filters

Bühler Leybold Optics has further developed its HELIOS technology in the past three years. The existing HELIOS 800 system has been upgraded to Generation II to enable coatings with virtually no particle contamination. 

In addition, the new HELIOS 1200 system has been developed in a way that allows a significantly greater throughput and the coating of larger substrates with about three times as many filters per substrate. With these new developments, Bühler Leybold Optics is able to respond to changing market needs and strengthen its position as an innovator in vacuum thin-film technology. The developments of the HIOS consortium, including the use of the latest Helios technology, have produced outstanding results in terms of the quality of the optical filters, so that the technology can now be implemented in new sensors for applications with UV, visible and infrared wavelengths. 

 “Thanks to the participation in this project and the excellent cooperation of all companies involved, we have been able to increase the speed of innovation significantly,” says Herbig. “New sensors were developed to the point of marketability in a shorter time, and Bühler Leybold Optics has also been able to further develop its coating technology for this special and rapidly growing market, thereby enhancing its competitiveness.”

After coating, the filters can emit light waves  in the UV, visible and infrared range. After coating, the filters can emit light waves in the UV, visible and infrared range.
  • More information can be found on the HIOS Project website at www.fti-hios.eu
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