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Building the Photonic Integration Technology Centre

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Why the PITC is key to scaling the European Photonics Industry

Manufacturers, integrators and end users all have the same goals. They want reliable, tested, stable systems at the lowest possible cost.

PhotonDelta's PITC will play a leading role across Europe helping companies accelerate in these very important packaging and reliability-engineering phases to retain and grow volume manufacture of photonics devices in Europe. 

Companies and researchers in the PhotonDelta ecosystem have developed procedures to ensure that they can scale production. So, if you make 10000 instead of 100 chips, a sufficient number will be within a tight specification demanded by the client.

There are very clear cycles in chip development and production. The first cycle produces chips that the customer wants but only has an 80% reliability. The next stage is "beta"; there comes a point where the reliability has been ramped up where large scale production makes commercial sense and the failure rate has been brought down as low as possible.

There is an immediate need for an independent European-based organisation (which we are calling the PITC) that can help scale companies to a point where they become a volume manufacturer of commercial end-products. This would be the European public-private partnership equivalent of the American Institute for Manufacturing Integrated Photonics (AIM Photonics).

High-tech Companies would benefit from working with the PITC as follows:

  • Sharing of relevant high-end facilities and equipment- reducing individual company’s financial risks,
  • accelerating product and system development, earlier time to market,
  • getting R&D support of leading research organizations, achieving results they could not do alone,
  • early access to IP before that intellectual property is published gives competitive advantage
  • cooperating and sharing knowledge with other companies as well as the opportunity to build strong strategic collaborations which may qualify for EC funding under Horizon2020 and its successor

Academic Institutions

Academic bodies such as Universities and their associated NanoLabs would also benefit from understanding technology challenges associated with volume production.

Product Cycles – The Cradle to grave is now 5 years.

Product life cycles in high-tech are so short now, there often is not the time to transfer a process or a product to another fab. A typical product development lifecycle is 18 months. That product will probably be viable in the market for just 3 years after launch. What used to be a product with a lifetime of 20 years has now been reduced to that of a commodity. Since it is the use of the technology which defines success, the PITC will identify bottlenecks and find much faster roads to market.

Staying Light Years Ahead

The Netherlands is fortunate to have built a very strong track record in all 6 of the EC defined key enabling technologies (KETs); micro and nanoelectronics, nanotechnology, industrial biotechnology, advanced materials, photonics, and advanced manufacturing technologies. However, there is a growing risk of this knowledge dispersing outside the EU, thereby weakening Dutch Industry. There are already examples of foreign manufacturers cherry-picking what they need but scaling-up production elsewhere.

There is an urgent need for an independent European-based organisation (which we are calling the PITC) that can help scale companies to a point where they become a volume manufacturer of commercial end-products.

The rise and rise of photonics

For the last fifty years, the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit has doubled approximately every two years. This observation in 1965 is named after Gordon Moore, the co-founder of Fairchild Semiconductor and Intel. His prediction proved accurate for several decades. But in 2015 even Moore foresaw the economic end of his law within the next decade.

We can still scale further but the cost per function is no longer going down. The benefit has become so small that we must look elsewhere to different technologies.

In communications fibre-optic cables have replaced copper. Because Photons (particles of light) have two important advantages over electrons.

  • Electrons are sluggish. They interact with one another and the copper wires through which they travel. This limits how much information can be transmitted. In contrast, photons move at the speed of light with no interference or latency, allowing many discrete pieces of information to be transmitted at once.  
  • Electronic currents flowing in a wire generate wasteful heat; photons can transmit great amounts of information, releasing only a fraction of the energy they carry.

Photonics is an instantaneous light-based technology. Applications like LIDAR navigation systems for autonomous vehicles will only work in environments where there is with very little or no latency. Photonics is already starting to impact the basic computing infrastructure, responding to market demands for ever faster processing (think High-Frequency Trading).

Success of “Systems on a single chip”

Integrating more photonic devices in micron-scale proximity on a computer chip enables more of its components – transistors, memory, modulators, detectors – to work seamlessly together. These advantages enable information to move across a chip faster and more efficiently, consuming considerable less power. This is extremely important to the datacentre industry.

To reduce fabrication costs, European researchers and tech-companies are developing new fabrication methods to integrate more photonic components into chips. There are challenges in packaging which need to be solved to increase yields and reliability as well as cutting manufacturing costs.