The hunger for data is increasing by the day and now even faster due to Covid-19 virus measures requiring extra bandwidth to allow people to work from home. Netflix and YouTube had to reduce the resolution of streaming video because of bandwidth limitations. Last year, the world population generated 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day. To feed the hunger for ever increasing data consumption and for fast internet, integrated photonics technology (optical) is the future. It transports data faster, over longer distances and consumes significantly less electrical power.
Growth of integrated photonics hampered by a missing link in the assembly chain
Despite all the developments in these optical applications, companies in the field of integrated photonic devices are facing problems when introducing new optical devices. Why?
The growth of photonics is hampered by the high investment cost of essential infrastructure for producing these photonic applications. The front-end manufacturing of integrated photonics can benefit from the existing micro-electronics infrastructure. However, the infra-structure for back-end processing, packaging and assembly of optical elements is limited and requires new and different processes than are currently available for the micro-electronics packaging world. For example, attaching an optical fibre to the photonic chip is a process unknown to the micro-electronics industry. There is thus a missing link in the assembly chain of photonic devices, leading to high cost which hampers growth. The market needs fast, accurate, modular assembly equipment that facilitates assembly at the same pace as the existing micro-electronics process flows.
TEGEMA’s modular machine platform for micro-optical elements: a breakthrough in cost and cycle time
TEGEMA, which has been active for many years in micro-assembly, challenged itself to develop a modular machine platform for the assembly of micro-optical elements to fill in this missing link. The result is a production platform that is capable of aligning two small optical elements with high accuracy, has a short cycle time and is modular, in order to meet the requirements of the various optical applications. The cycle time is up to ten times shorter than current solutions on the market, significantly reducing the assembly cost and thus the cost price of integrated photonics devices. As Pim Kat, CTO of Technobis, states: ‘Very compact, very well thought out and a lot faster. We look forward to installing the first system.’
A modular approach that can grow from the R&D phase to high volume
The system can be configured for use in R&D (start-up) environments, enabling accurate assembly of optical elements at relative low investment cost. If the production volume increases the system can be reconfigured by simply adding modules; the machine can grow with the production demand. This approach balances the investment costs over the product life, confirms Boudewijn Docter, CTO of Effect Photonics: ‘I am very excited about the modular structure of TEGEMA’s system.’ Of course, customers who already have larger production quantities can opt right away for an automated system.
Key features of the assembly platform are:
· Speed: cycle time < 30 seconds; the smart architecture offers a breakthrough in cycle time, up to 10x shorter than current solutions;
· Accuracy: high accuracy < 100 nm / 17 µrad (typ. 0.02 dB), active alignment;
· Operation cost reduction: decreased machine footprint reduces clean room floor space requirements by 50%;
· Flexibility: easy to modify for running several applications;
· Robustness: machine comes with developed process to meet the application requirements.
Business model innovation might be even more important than the technical breakthrough
With its innovative technical approach, TEGEMA developed a break-through in the market in terms of cycle time, floor space and costs. It not only represents a technical innovation, but also a business innovation: due to its modular building block design the machine can grow with the customer, starting from R&D samples to full production. As there is as yet no standardisation in integrated photonics, TEGEMA also takes on the development risk.
Teaming up for success with Physik Instrumente
The assembly platform was developed in close cooperation with Physik Instrumente (PI). Once again, it shows that working together in high tech environments is extremely fruitful. This inno-vation makes use of PI’s technology for the active alignment hardware and software routines to achieve the high accuracy and ultra-fast alignment.
TEGEMA: innovative by tradition
The common factor for photonic packaging is: a need for auto-mation, positioning of devices at high accuracy and permanent fixation of the aligned optical elements, in terms of optimum optical throughput. This is historically the strength of TEGEMA’s expertise. The company has extensive knowledge and experience in development and realisation of automation systems, bonding technologies and micro-manipulation of small components.
Medtech, automotive, sensors, and vision can profit from this innovation
Data communication is currently the largest market, but new optical applications ïn sensor, vision, automotive and medical products are also enabled by the developments in integrated photonics. The TEGEMA modular machine platform is suited to the automated assembly of optical elements with sub-micron accuracy: Fibre Optic module assembly, Micro-lens assembly, Photonic Integrated Circuit (PIC) packaging, Optical interconnect assembly for fibre optics and waveguides, Pigtailing, Planar waveguide coupling, Chip-to-chip alignment. Ewit Roos, CEO of PhotonDelta considers this a valuable addition to the Dutch photonics ecosystem.
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We have obviously not the absolute solution for the ever increasing hunger for data. With a 10x faster cycletime it is a significant contribution.