Dutch University makes major step towards a broad application of photonics

August 14, 2018 | 02:23
Phonics will play a key role in fast and energy-efficient communications. Chips that operate with light will be used in, for example, internet data centres, the new 5G mobile standard and countless other applications. However, until now it has not been feasible to fabricate photonics chips in large numbers. The Fraunhofer Project Center at the campus of de University of Twente now presents a machine that can automatically join glass fibres to a photonic chip. This is a major step towards mass production, for which the UT spin-off PHIX sees great opportunities.

Advance

Photonics chips are making a rapid appearance. They are expected to tap into a world market for the new 5G mobile standard: chips that operate with light are fast, have a wide bandwidth and are energy-efficient. In many other applications too, photonics has significant advantages, such as in sensors for medical applications. However, its success depends on the ability to manufacture and assemble the chips in large numbers. The new machine that Fraunhofer and PHIX Photonic Assembly present, is a decisive step. Large-scale production of photonic chips will also provide thousands of new jobs, that is the expectation of PHIX.

Making the connection

The machine developed for PHIX is able to make the connection between the chip and the 'outside world' through sixteen ultra-thin glass fibres (fibre array), which are placed one-by-one in the correct position. The feeding of the glass fibres and the holders for the chips are the next steps in the automation process. Until now these have all been labour-intensive, end therefore costly, production steps, which get in the way of large-scale manufacturing.

The machine is based on an assembly platform developed by the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology (IPT) in Aachen. At the Fraunhofer Project Center at the UT – a collaboration between the UT, the Fraunhofer IPT and Saxion focussed on advanced manufacturing – this platform is further developed for applications in photonics. The Fraunhofer Project Center therefore works closely with PHIX Photonics Assembly. Albert Hasper, director of PHIX: “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.”

Photonics cluster in Twente

The new assembly technology will strengthen the existing photonics activities in Twente, ranging from basic research to new business. Photonics is strongly represented in a cluster of research groups at the University of Twente, in the MESA+-institute for Nanotechnology; in the program ‘Applied Nanotechnology’ at Saxion University; some ten photonics companies in Twente, including LioniX International, Phoenix Software, DEMCON, Thales, PANalytical, IDEX Optics & Photonics, Lightmotif and Sumipro; and a number of photonics spin-offs from Twente, such as Dovideq Medical, Next Scan Technology, HyBriScan and Solmates. The high-tech Twente region is an integral part of PhotonDelta, the (inter)national ecosystem for integrated photonics.

In the video below you can see how a small glass fibre is positioned extremely accurately and glued to a chip. Until now this was mainly a manual operation, with a significant risk of large quality variations.
 
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