Molding makes miniature structures massive

Micro- and nanoscale structures in plastics technology

Attached to Heilbronn University, the “Plastics Center” Steinbeis Transfer Center explores the replication of micro- and nanoscale structures on the surfaces of macroscopic plastic substrates. Take a cost-effective and efficient technology for special injection molding procedures – developed to shape the smallest structures as plastic components are being injection-molded. This opens up undreamed-of opportunities in creating the right structures when assigning functions to plastic components.

One potential area in which micro- and nanostructured surfaces could be put to use: applying anti-reflective coatings to plastic surfaces. The idea takes its cues from nature – a moth’s eye, to be precise. A nocturnal moth’s cornea has a very special kind of surface topography which features structures the size of nanometers. These structures produce a broad yet efficient anti-reflective coating. And the optical effect we see is because the structure bends the light hitting it.

Until now, scientists could reduce reflection only by way of thin layers of “interference”. However, the relatively high costs (among other issues) proved the main stumbling blocks in applying this anti-reflective method on a wider scale. Communications electronics in particular is experiencing increased demand for low-glare and cost-efficient display slipcovers which still allow for enough contrast – even in poor lighting – so users can read what’s on their screens. Anti-reflective surfaces are also used in solar cell covers, projector lenses and illumination optics. Since these applications call for high translucency, synthetic glass with anti-reflective coating – like the one now being developed – could unlock a new dimension of efficiency.

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