“An interview with Maksym Plakhotnyuk.”
This is another post in a series of blogs in which we will share exciting information about companies or other organizations within the atomic scale processing industry. Through an interview, we aim to get insight into the kind of projects the companies have and in what way they see these projects developing in the future. We also try to dive deeper into what drives these companies and what makes them so enthusiastic about the atomic scale processing industry. In addition, we will address topics like how the company implements science communication and which student opportunities exist.
|Facts and Figures about ATLANT 3D|
|Company location||Taastrup, Denmark|
|Markets||Advanced materials Sensing & Actuating Optics, Photonics and Novel Displays Emerging applications including 2D nanoelectronics, quantum devices, superconducting devices, energy conversion devices|
|Main collaborations||DTU, VDL, TNO, NASA, ESA, STMicroelectronics, MERCK, FAU|
|Number of employees 2023||30|
|Number of employees 2022||18|
|Student opportunities||Welcoming students and recent graduates to join the team!|
|Goal for 2023||Engage new customers with our technology and sales of equipment, the establishment of application development.|
For this third post we got the opportunity to talk with Dr. Maksym Plakhotnyuk, founder and CEO of ATLANT 3D Nanosystems. The start-up company based near Copenhagen, Denmark, created the smallest Atomic Layer Deposition (ALD) reactor in the world, enabling atomic layer direct processing. Their microscale reactor, combined with a substrate on a highly accurate movable stage, is capable of harnessing the wide range of ALD-compatible materials, and depositing these materials in a selective way, thereby inherently patterning materials used for micro- and nanodevices. This microreactor’s size is what defines the lateral feature size of the deposited material, while the vertical feature size is defined by the ALD process itself, i.e. a sub-monolayer per pass of the printhead. It is the first-ever, atomic layer 3D printing technology.
The History of ATLANT 3D
In March 2018, the COST Action HERALD workshop in Barcelona provided the perfect platform for Maksym Plakhotnyuk, the CEO and founder of ATLANT 3D, to present his innovative idea on a spatial ALD system. The idea caught the attention of some attendees, including Ivan Kundrata, a PhD student at the Slovak Academy of Science in Bratislava. The two men connected over a beer and began brainstorming on how to bring this idea on direct spatial ALD processing to fruition.
It was during this conversation that Ivan suggested a professor who could provide them with a lab and support. This professor turned out to be Julien Bachmann of the Friedrich-Alexander University (FAU) in Erlangen, who was eventually invited to join the project. With each member bringing their unique expertise to the table, the team began developing the first concept of the whole system.
By the end of 2018, ATLANT 3D was officially registered as a company and had already raised enough funds to start building the first prototype. Within a year, the team was able to demonstrate that the prototype was functional, which was a significant milestone. Since then, ATLANT 3D has grown significantly, and they recently moved to their new state-of-the-art facility near central Copenhagen, which houses all their departments under one roof. The new facility provides the company with ample space to expand their operations and innovate on their already impressive technology.
Which products are being developed by ATLANT 3D?
ATLANT 3D has achieved a remarkable feat in the world of ALD technology by developing the smallest ALD reactor in the world. The picture below shows the nozzle forming the reactor. The reactor can be seen as a spatial microfluidic ALD reactor. The precursors are brought in, via micro channels, to the surface and the nozzle is mounted to the head above the substrate. By placing the substrate on an advanced moving stage, that can move in the x, y and z-direction, any wanted pattern can be created. This revolutionary fabrication technology is called Microreactor Direct Atomic Layer Processing (μDALP™).
At the moment, their machine, called the NanofabricatorTM,is capable of producing lateral feature sizes as small as 400 µm with a very high reliability and a nozzle for 50 µm is currently under development. The ultimate goal is to achieve a precision of 1 µm within the next few years as that would cover most of the microfabrication needs. The speed of the processing depends on a range of parameters such as the complexity of the desired pattern, the thickness and on how many materials one wants to deposit. The speed varies somewhere between 0.1 up to 100 mm/s.
The first prototype that was built in 2019 is still operational as of today. Out of the five machines built by ATLANT 3D, three are in continuous operation, one just finished assembly and the other was sold to NASA. The company is now focused on finding ways to bring this technology into industry and manufacturing, rather than just in R&D. One of the approaches which they are exploring is integrating a set of sensors in order to automize processes and enable a user-free operation that minimizes user-based errors.
What is the unique expertise of ATLANT 3D?
ATLANT 3D has a diverse range of areas of expertise. All the people working there, 22 at the time of the interview and growing towards 30 this year, each contributing with their own skills and knowledge, making the company stand out. One area of expertise that sets them apart is the gas system that they use for their ALD processes, which differs quite a lot of from conventional ALD. This is due to their reactor being way smaller in volume. With this smaller value, new challenges arise.
In standard spatial ALD, there is a high pressure in the chamber and high volatility precursors are being used to have a stable process. However, at ATLANT 3D, low volatility precursors are required in order to have control over milliliter quantities. This lower amount of precursor being used comes with two advantages: a lower amount of precursor waste making the technology more environmentally sustainable and less cross contamination.
Moreover, their expertise in microtechnology is impressive. Their team has developed a unique nozzle for their ALD process that is unlike those created using standard silicon-based microfabrication techniques. The nozzle, designed with precision and attention to detail, is an essential component that allows for the spatially localized ALD process to take place. Their high precision motion systems, developed through expertise in mechatronics, have also enabled accurate deposition during the process, this is a feature commonly seen in 3D printing technology.
What is the target audience of ATLANT 3D?
At the moment, the goal is to bring the technology from lab to fab. This would be done to serve both R&D and industrial applications. Their entry market consists mainly of the ALD community, academic and industrial research institutes, as well as R&D departments of big companies who are familiar with or who use ALD on a daily basis. For them the technology is easier to comprehend.
The technology offered by ATLANT 3D has a broad range of applications. ALD itself is a precise technology that can be used to deposit a required thickness of materials with high conformality and uniformity. The additional benefit that ATLANT 3D offers is that they can do this process in a localized manner. Some of the primary applications of this technology are: sensors and actuators, advanced materials, optical and photonic devices, and energy harvesting and storage devices.
One of their noteworthy customers is NASA. ATLANT 3D developed the first-ever direct atomic layer processing compact machine for micro and zero gravity, also known as Nanofabricator 0GTM , which is able to process high-quality films and patterns in harsh conditions. The technology platform could potentially automatically manufacture macro and micro parts, like microelectronics and sensors, while being in orbit to help development in outer space and eventually interplanetary exploration.
Furthermore, ATLANT 3D collaborates with a lot of universities such as: the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) where part of the nozzle development was done, Slovak Academy of Sciences (SAS) who help with the application development and the Friedrich-Alexander University (FAU) who help with precursor processes. Besides the universities, there are also a lot of ongoing collaborations with companies. One of these is Sony who offered them their Startup Acceleration Program and help them to validate the technology with industry. They provide valuable insights into commercializing the technology.
Does ATLANT 3D actively pay attention to science communication?
Last year, ATLANT 3D published a paper called: “Additive Manufacturing in Atomic Layer Processing Mode”. In this work it is shown that the spatially localized delivery of ALD precursors can generate material patterns with a vertical resolution of about 1 nm. Besides their paper, some smaller works have been published such as conference abstracts. However, in the beginning the focus was on developing the technology and getting patents to protect the technology and not so much on publishing results. At the moment, some results are being prepared to demonstrate the applications and once the application team will grow, more articles will start to show up.
To ensure that their work reaches a wide audience, ATLANT 3D actively updates their website and social media with news and information about their breakthroughs in the technology. By actively paying attention to the community, such as partaking in these interviews, they hope to find talented individuals with a passion for ALD who would like to join their team and work on this revolutionary technology.
At the time of the interview, ATLANT 3D was 22 individuals strong with plans to expand to 30 in the near future. These employees can be divided into five sub-teams: management, innovation, operation, fund raising, and commercial teams, all working together to drive the company’s success. What makes this team particularly impressive is the diversity of expertise and backgrounds that they bring to the table. Due to the various employee backgrounds, there is a good mix of academic and industrial experience. On top of that, after a long week of work, it’s not uncommon to hear the word “cheers” in up to 15 different languages at the bar, highlighting the multinational and inclusive nature of the company.
In addition to their permanent employees, ATLANT 3D is committed to welcoming students and recent graduates to join their team. They recognize the value that students can offer, as demonstrated by a master’s student who was able to develop a new type of nozzle for the machine. This project shows the important contributions that students can make to critical projects. As such, ATLANT 3D is looking to engage with more students in the future in areas such as application development and technology development. This approach not only helps to develop the next generation of experts but also ensures a fresh and innovative perspective to the company’s projects.