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Solving the PIC Packaging Dilemma

EuroPhotonics
Mar 2017
These SMEs and startups face major challenges establishing a supply chain, and do not have the resources to invest in their own internal manufacturing capabilities.

ANA GONZÁLEZ AND JOSE POZO EUROPEAN PHOTONICS INDUSTRY CONSORTIUM (EPIC)

Since the European Commission identified photonics as one of the drivers of the industrial transformation of Europe, significant investments have been earmarked for advancing photonic integrated circuits (PICs). In this context, the region has witnessed the rapid growth of highly innovative PIC-based solutions for a wide range of applications and markets. Yet much of this activity has focused on the PIC chip, and an assembly and packaging bottleneck now exists that blocks users from commercializing full systems.

To bridge this gap, the world’s first open access PIC assembly and packaging pilot manufacturing line, PIXAPP (Photonic Integrated Circuits Assembly & Packaging Pilot Line), was launched in January. It serves as a one-stop-shop for small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Europe, with the objective of covering missing links in the technology chain. The pilot line will offer an early rollout of services in 2019, with interested companies encouraged to connect now to maximize the success in the packaging and assembly of their PICs devices.

PIXAPP will develop packaged modules for fiber sensing applications for use in a wide range of markets, including aeronautics.

PIXAPP will develop packaged modules for fiber sensing applications for use in a wide range of markets, including aeronautics. Courtesy of EPIC.

The knowledge and facilities required to overcome assembly and packaging challenges are dispersed throughout Europe, found in leading research institutions and specialized companies. PIXAPP seeks to combine Europe’s technology packaging leaders and offer industry easy access to a wide range of assembly options. To that end, the pilot line is establishing standards and test protocols that move packaging technology to the level of maturity required for mass manufacturing, including the right choice of materials, process, equipment and so on.

Another key objective of PIXAPP is the validation of established PIC assembly and packaging technologies using prototypes selected from areas addressing emerging socioeconomic challenges. All of these prototypes advance the state of the art significantly, principally by using standardized assembly and packaging technologies operating at TRL7 and through the latest photonic and electronic devices to develop novel manufacturing processes. These processes enable higher-performance, lower-cost packages and new product designs. Finally, PIXAPP will offer training and dissemination programs to increase its visibility.

A standard PIC package for fiber sensing interrogation, including stabilized fiber coupling and thermal control.
A standard PIC package for fiber sensing interrogation, including stabilized fiber coupling and thermal control. Courtesy of Technobis IPPS.

From advanced assembly to equipment optimization

PIXAPP capabilities will meet the requirements of all the main photonic integrated circuit platforms: Si, InP and Si3N4, and cover design to materials sourcing, advanced assembly and packaging, through to test and equipment optimization. With partners distributed across the full value chain, PIXAPP can target a wide range of application domains addressing major societal challenges for Europe, including three core markets that are of great importance to the continent: communications, health care and security.

The largest market for PICs is optical communications, including long haul, access and short-reach datacom networks that account for over half of PIC market revenue. Many companies serving these sectors tend to be large multinationals, such as IBM, Alcatel-Lucent, Samsung, Huawei, Macom, Oracle and Finisar.

Packaged PIC with optical fiber input and free space output.
Packaged PIC with optical fiber input and free space output. Courtesy of LioniX International.

However, there is a growing number of SMEs and startups, such as Luxtera, Kaiam and Rockley Photonics, developing innovative PIC technologies. These companies face major challenges establishing a supply chain, and do not have the resources to invest in their own internal manufacturing capabilities. For these firms, PIXAPP will provide a means to develop suitable manufacturing processes in addition to being an early contact point for unbiased advice on technology and manufacturing.

Communications and health care

To demonstrate PIXAPP technology in the communication area, a telecom and a datacom transceiver prototype will be developed. For telecom, the packaged modules are designed for 1550-nm, 400-Gbps telecom transmitter and receiver applications capable of housing leading-edge InP-based PIC components. For datacom, packaged modules are designed for short-reach 400-G datacom applications, with a particular focus on minimizing the channel count and its associated cost through increasing the per-channel bit rate.

The health care sector is also of great importance to Europe, with revenues of €95 billion per year1. Within the sector, new detection tools are in development aimed at improving patient care while reducing the cost associated with inaccurate treatments.

Evaluation board for RF PIC Testing. Courtesy of Linkra.
Evaluation board for RF PIC Testing. Courtesy of Linkra. Work funded by European Commission under FP7 program.

Miniaturized biosensors for point-of-care diagnostics is a key application in which PIC technology is already having an impact. PIC technologies promise to make an enormous impact across a wide range of health care applications, especially where system miniaturization is a driving force.

Advanced assembly and packaging technologies will address the manufacturing challenges of biosensors and other medical devices, especially small, minimally invasive, wearable and disposable medical devices, where PIC technologies provide unique technological, size and cost advantages. In this context, PIXAPP plans to develop a generic biosensor model (IMEC BioPIX), in which the packaged modules are designed for disposable biosensing applications supporting a variety of sensing protocols (refractive index, absorption spectroscopic and Raman spectroscopic sensing).

In this case, the sensing functionality will be enabled by a compact Si3N4 PIC that will be functionalized with molecules that interact chemically with the analyte.

Fiber optic sensors for security

The third core market in which PIXAPP will focus on is security. Fiber optic sensors, IR sensors and sensors that detect ambient light and proximity are all critical to the sector. PIC technologies are key in the development of new fiber optic sensors because they can replace more expensive and bulky free-space optical systems.

 Telecom and datacom transceiver demonstrators developed by PIXAPP will allow the effective production of new tools for advanced telecommunication applications, reducing costs and increasing performance.

Telecom and datacom transceiver demonstrators developed by PIXAPP will allow the effective production of new tools for advanced telecommunication applications, reducing costs and increasing performance. Courtesy of EPIC.

The global fiber optic sensor market is set to grow at 10 percent CAGR between 2015 to 2019, reaching €4 billion by 20182. These sensors can be applied to a multitude of applications including aviation; security; industrial process and factory automation; civil engineering and structural monitoring; medical devices, such as surgical implants; wind energy turbines; and oil and gas exploration.

A model will be developed in which the packaged modules are designed for distributed fiber sensing applications used in extreme or harsh environments. The device is intended for a wide range of target markets, including medical, aeronautic, space and nuclear monitoring systems.

In addition to these internal models, several precommercial pilot runs will be processed. The early rollout of services in the third year of the project will promote early user adoption. This, in turn, will increase visibility and market size, enhancing Europe’s industrial competitiveness and leadership in advanced photonic technologies.

PIXAPP will be fully established by 2020, turning R&D results into innovative products in high-growth emerging markets. The PIXAPP project partners are Tyndall National Institute, as project coordinator, and Eblana Photonics of Ireland; Argotech of the Czech Republic; Microfluidic Chipshop, Ficontec, Fraunhofer-HHI and KIT of Germany; IMEC of Belgium; Linkra of Italy; PhoeniX Software, TU Eindhoven, Technobis IPPS and LioniX International of the Netherlands; VTT of Finland; Randox Laboratories of the U.K.; III-V Lab and CEA-LETI of France; and EPIC as dissemination manager.

Meet the authors

Jose Pozo is the director of technology and innovation at EPIC (European Photonics Industry Consortium). He has 15 years’ background in photonics technology, market knowledge and a large network within the industrial and academic photonics landscape. Jose is a member of the board of the IEEE Photonics Society Benelux. He holds a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from the University of Bristol in England and a M.Sc. and B.Eng. in telecom engineering.

Ana Belén González is currently project leader at EPIC. Her expertise is related to the development of systems based on integrated photonic circuits including the engineering of the devices and optical arrangements, the chemical surface modification and the investigation of bioapplications. She completed her Ph.D. at the Catalan Institute of Nanotechnology (ICN2). She has published more than 15 papers in peer-reviewed journals and has participated in technology transfer processes.

References

1. Eucomed Medical Technology. Medical Technology Innovation: Driving efficiencies of health care systems. https://ec.europa.eu/research/health/pdf/event04/john-wilkinson-31032011_en.pdf.

2. ReportsnReports. Global Fiber Optic Sensors Market 2015-2019. http://www.reportsnreports.com/reports/319948-global-fiber-optic-sensors-market-2015-2019.html.

PICphotonic integrated circuitsEuropean CommissionAna ConzalezJose PozoEPICPIXAPPIR sensors fiber optic sensorsAlcatel-LucentKaiamIBMHuaweiMACOMOracleFinisarIMECBioPIXEPICinsights

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