NEMI Unveils Optoelectronics Projects
Brent D. Johnson
The National Electronics Manufacturing Initiative, an industry-organized "virtual consortium" known as NEMI, has announced three new optoelectronics projects focusing on optical adhesives, fiber handling and fiber optic signal performance.
The initiatives are the result of a gap analysis performed as part of the Herndon, Va., organization's 2000 road-mapping plan. The planning session, held every two years, identifies gaps in the infrastructure and sets goals that must be met if the industry is to remain competitive.
"There is tremendous overcapacity and dark fiber," said CEO Jim McElroy, who is steering NEMI through one of the softest markets in years. The member companies realize that, if they are going to achieve low-cost, high-volume manufacturing, they must cooperate. "Now is the time," he added.
McElroy said that the organization is interested primarily in establishing industry standard solutions. Although he acknowledged that all competitive gaps are related to technology -- for instance, the state-sponsored programs that make the European Union and China strong competitors -- NEMI's roots are in technology, and it is more concerned with business practices than the policy side of the equation.
Because the industry is still in the embryonic stage, NEMI hopes to minimize wasteful and anticompetitive practices that result from differing standards. To avoid proprietary conflicts among its members, it focuses on precompetitive technologies, such as optoelectronic packaging, said Alan Rae, chairman of the NEMI optoelectronics technology integration group and vice president of technology for Cookson Electronics. For example, connectors are things all members can talk about, he said, unlike waveguides or diodes.
One concern, McElroy said, is that they don't want to standardize something that technology will do away with in a few years. Creating a standard is only the first part of the problem. However, as integration occurs, it may resolve some of the challenges they are now facing.
The primary problem is that people aren't buying, Rae said. The performance of copper-based electronics has gone up while the price has come down. Optoelectronics technologies must be improved before they can compete with copper. Although current programs examine the tools and techniques for advancing fiber optics, Rae envisions a need for chip-to-chip communication between optoelectronics and computers that could open up new possibilities for the industry.
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