Major Step in Large-Scale Production Photonics Chips

Europe is at the threshold of a technological revolution – the application of the power of light to solve our greatest global challenges. As a fast, compact, energy efficient and therefore sustainable option, it is suitable for many applications and will be an essential component of the societal challenges of the future. An important future market is the photonic chip market. The new assembly machine presented by the Fraunhofer Project Center will allow large-scale photonic chip production to become a reality in Twente. This is a first, since this high-precision work has been performed by hand for small series until now. It is therefore an important step towards mass production of the fast and energy-efficient chips for telecommunications, among others. The machine has been developed in collaboration with Phix Photonics Assembly, an international innovator in the field of assembly and packaging services for the photonics industry.

Micro-assembly machine, automatically connecting glass fibers to a photonic chip and thus paving the way for larger-scale production of photonics chips. (Source: U. Twente)

Photonic chips are rapidly becoming widespread. They will probably tap into a world market in the new 5G mobile standard – chips that work with light are fast, broadband and energy efficient. Photonics offers great benefits in many other applications too, for instance in sensors for medical applications. But success depends on the possibility of producing and assembling the chips in large quantities. The new machine is a determining step. It places Twente at the forefront of technological development. Large-scale photonic chip production is expected to create thousands of new job opportunities.

The machine, developed for Phix, is able to make the connection between the chip and the “outside world” via sixteen extremely fine glass fibers (fiber array) which are placed in the correct position one by one. Placing the glass fibers and the chip holders is the next step in the automation process. Up to now these have all been labor-intensive production steps, the high cost of which has posed a barrier to large-scale introduction.

The machine is based on an assembly platform developed at the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology (IPT) in Aachen. This platform is being developed further for photonics applications at the Fraunhofer Project Center at the UT, which is a collaboration between the UT, the Fraunhofer IPT and Saxion focusing on advanced manufacturing. The Fraunhofer Project Center collaborates closely with Phix Photonics Assembly on this project. Albert Hasper, Phix director: “The market demand for equipment based on photonics technology will see an exponential increase. This is only the beginning. The new machine will facilitate the widespread use of chips in detecting, generating, sending, measuring and managing light.”

The new assembly technology will strengthen the existing photonics activities in Twente, from basic research to new business. Photonics has a strong presence in a cluster of University of Twente research groups, in the Mesa+ Institute for Nanotechnology; in the Applied Nanotechnology programme at Saxion University of Applied Sciences; in about ten Twente photonics companies, including LioniX International, Phoenix Software, Demcom, Thales, Panalytical, Idex Optics & Photonics, Lightmotif and Sumipro; and in some photonics spin-offs from Twente such as Dovideq Medical, Next Scan Technology, HyBriScan and Solmates. The high-tech Twente region constitutes an integral part of PhotonDelta, the (inter)national ecosystem for integrated photonics.

On Tuesday 19 June, the 12th edition of the Photonics Event has taken place in The Gallery on the UT campus. This event is the Benelux and German photonics community meeting point. Organized by branch association PhotonicsNL, it is the prime event for researchers, developers, designers and engineers working in photonics application and development. At the same time, companies can become acquainted with the latest developments in the photonics field by means of a varied programme. A demo of the high-tech assembly machine can be seen on the University of Twente campus during the national Photonics Event. (Source: U. Twente)

Link: Fraunhofer Center at the University of TwentePHIX B.V., Enschede, The Netherlands

Further reading: D. Geuzebroek, R. Dekker, P. van Dijk: Photonics Packaging Made Visible, Optik & Photonik 12(5), 34-38 (December 2017); DOI: 10.1002/opph.201700033

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