Building bridges from lab to fab
After years of basic research, a functioning photonic chip exits the academic lab. But that is not enough for a company to develop a new product. To bridge the gap between a working proof of principle and a manufacturable, functional photonic chip or module, last June, TU/e, UT, TNO and PhotonDelta launched the Photonic Integration Technology Center (PITC).
‘Our main aim is to help companies scale up promising photonic technology,’ PITC’s scientific director Sylwester Latkowski strongly summarizes the purpose of the new organization. ‘Even though some of the prototypes developed in academia might be very advanced already, still a lot has to be done before such a chip is ready for mass production.’
Latkowski gives some examples. ‘Many of the current photonic chips are produced in so-called multi-project wafer runs. That means that fabrication processes are optimized in general, not for that individual chip’s specific application.’ The PITC focuses on what is needed to optimize a specific chip with specific functionalities. ‘We address issues like: What are the main specifications for this chip to function properly? How should we combine different chips on a wafer? How can the chip be turned into a fully functional module? What additional electronics, micro-optics, and fiber technology is needed in the context of the ultimate system?’
“Testing is a keyword here. For example, when you are developing a chip for automotive applications, you need to comply with specific qualifications for that sector. Not every scientist or engineer is aware of those.”
Sylwester Latkowski | Scientific Director
Testing is a keyword here, he emphasizes. ‘When you combine five different building blocks, each individually meeting its specifications, the combination still might lead to unacceptable deviations. We define and develop quality assurance methods for particular applications, bearing in mind the envisioned application area. For example, when you are developing a chip for automotive applications, you need to comply with specific qualifications for that sector. Not every scientist or engineer is aware of those.’
The Center has two locations, at TU/e and at UT. ‘Both universities have ample experience in the development and production of photonic technology,’ Latkowski says. ‘Traditionally, Eindhoven has more expertise on Indium Phosphide and Twente has focused more on Silicon Nitride based technologies, but both locations harbor world-class equipment and expertise.’
Essentially, the PITC is a shared R&D facility that accelerates the maturation of photonic technology on multiple facets. ‘By combining forces, companies are able to engage in long-term programs that are either too extensive or too risky for the individual partners to endeavor on their own. And besides, on the technological side, we also focus on educating the future workforce. Companies are in desperate need of well-trained people who know what photonics is about. Together with Fontys, we are developing courses and internships to help train the necessary future talent.’
Technology and well-trained people: a golden combination to pave the way for a bright future of integrated photonics.
More information: pitc.nl