Major breakthroughs expected for the optics and automotive industries

The project will pilot the mass production of anti-reflective, scratch and abrasion resistant surfaces that can be applied on camera lenses, car components and mobile phones

Dr Parvaneh Mokarian, Senior Research Fellow at AMBER, the Science Foundation Ireland funded materials science centre based at Trinity College Dublin, will coordinate a major European project valued at €8.2m to pioneer the mass production of anti-reflective, scratch and abrasion resistant surfaces. The team’s new generation surfaces will offer enhanced functionalities to a range of products including anti-reflective surfaces for eyewear, video glasses, image sensors, electronics displays such as mobile phones and tablets and anti-fingerprint and soft-touch plastic parts for the automotive industry. Industry partners that are involved have committed to piloting the technology upon completion of the research project.

The 4-year SUN-PILOT (Piloting of Innovative Subwavelength Nanostructure Technology for Optical and Injection Moulding Applications) collaborative project has been awarded €7.1 million through Europe’s Horizon 2020 programme, with the remainder of the €1.1 million coming from industry. The technologies developed by SUN-PILOT will focus on solutions for the Optics and Automotive industries, where these nano-patterned surfaces will have a significant impact. SUN-PILOT involves 13 partners from 6 European countries – 5 multinationals, including Coherent (Scotland - the world’s leading suppliers of laser solutions) and Grupo Antolin (Spain - one of the largest players in the car interiors market); 4 SMEs including Irish Precision Optics; 2 universities; and 2 research institutes. AMBER will receive €2.1m of the total research funding sum, which is the largest amount Trinity has ever been awarded for a collaborative Horizon 2020 project. The composition of this consortium will allow a full research-development-innovation cycle with the scale-up of part production on active pilot lines, including injection moulding for production of car parts and the scale-up of nanomaterials.

Dr Mike Mason, Director of Engineering, Coherent Scotland (the world's leading supplier of laser solutions) said, “As a leading supplier of lasers and photonics-based solutions for industry and science, Coherent is always keenly interested in exploring ways to extend both the reliability and performance of our products.  We’re no strangers to cutting-edge coating technology, as it is certainly one of the aspects of laser engineering that helps deliver those highly-desired characteristics. SUN-PILOT has some very intriguing aspects that we’re enthusiastic about testing in several particularly demanding applications.  We are pleased to be able to participate in endeavours such as this that seek to advance the state-of-the-art.

Mr Pablo Soto, Head of the Materials Research Department from Grupo Antolin (one of the largest players in the car interiors market internationally) said, “This project will deliver significant value for us as a business, allowing us to strengthen our position as market leaders in the car interiors and manufacturers industry. Through the implementation of these innovative surfaces in our products, we will be able to provide solutions to the issues associated with the current mobility trends, such as autonomous and electric vehicles.

Dr Parvaneh Mokarian, Senior Research Fellow at AMBER and Trinity’s School of Chemistry said, “For many devices, unwanted reflections of light can seriously compromise system performance and effectiveness, particularly with lasers and other optical systems. Current anti-reflection solutions typically rely on thin-film coatings comprising multiple layers of materials deposited onto each and every reflecting surface along the optical path. These coatings require careful design and engineering of the thicknesses and refractive index of the thin-films, and batch processes that involve relatively high temperatures. This is not commercially viable with plastic screens used, for example, in tablet and mobile phone screens. SUN-PILOT will look to reduce the cost of anti-reflective precision optics manufacture by at least 75% by replacing complex and demanding anti-reflective multilayer coatings with a single nano-patterned surface. We are confident that our research will have a major impact for both the optics industry and in the automotive industry.

We are delighted to have been chosen to lead on this major multi-million-euro European project and look forward to working with all of the relevant partners over the following 4 years. The preparation of this consortium was lengthy, and the team is incredibly grateful to Enterprise Ireland for their support, particularly through the Coordinator Support grant and their National Contact Points.

"We are confident that our research will have a major impact for both the optics industry and in the automotive industry".
Dr Parvaneh Mokarian

SUN-PILOT will develop the new anti-reflection and scratch resistant technologies using the “Zeroptica” surface nano-patterning process developed and patented by Dr Mokarian in AMBER and which can be applied across a range of materials. The surfaces will also provide superior wear resistant properties compared to current coated solutions and will offer new self-cleaning and anti-microbial properties. Dr Mokarian developed the technology with support from Enterprise Ireland’s Commercialisation funding.

Dr Parvaneh Mokarian continued, “AMBER’s Zeroptica technology is based on block copolymers (structured molecular units) that deliver self-assembled nano-patterned masks onto any substrate. The advantage of this technique compared to other existing patterning methods is that it is solution based which means it can be applied on curved surfaces (camera lenses) and large areas such as solar cells. It is also cheap and doesn’t require any expensive equipment. Other available techniques used today either use harsh chemicals for patterning which are not environmentally friendly or require expensive equipment or can only be applied on flat surfaces (lithography).”

The global market for antireflection coatings is projected to be worth more than US$6.1 billion per annum by 2021[1]. Antireflection coatings are used in multiple markets including technical optics, eyewear, electronics, architectural, solar, automobile, video glasses, image sensors. Despite the demand and the large market opportunity, these coatings are not common on electronic displays due to the high cost of the current technology and the lack of durability of the coatings in challenging environments.

SUN-PILOT will also benefit the automotive industry, which is a huge user of injected plastic parts e.g. for instrument panels, door panels, lighting consoles. The global injection moulded plastic market is expected to reach US$296 billion by 2022. SUN-PILOT will develop nano-patterning moulds for injection moulding of plastic parts for the automotive industry to achieve functionality such as soft touch or enhanced colour. The most demanded finishing in interior parts are either highly bright (like Piano-Black) or soft-touch surfaces. SUN-PILOT will provide anti-fingerprint bright parts and soft-touch parts in the injection moulding process in one step, compared to the multi-step process currently required.

At the recent Trinity Innovation Awards 2017 (27th November), Dr Parvaneh Mokarian was awarded a prize by Provost, Dr Patrick Prendergast in the “One-2-watch” category for her innovation research and entrepreneurship.