Moving to high-volume wafer-level assembly
Accelerating the transition from singular and discreet,
to many being processed in parallel
For a number of applications, photonics micro-assembly technology is currently undergoing a transition to a ‘micro-chip’ approach, much as that experienced by the electronics industry some four decades ago. Multiple functionality and components are integrated onto a single chip or a small hybrid chip assembly, utilizing so-called photonic integrated circuits (PICs), and where the underlying packaging technologies have been shaped by the need for fully-automated high-volume manufacture at a much reduced cost/part.
This transition to greater miniaturization and higher levels of integration is essential for the competitiveness of state-of-the-art photonics components and products. Instead of production in the 100s & 1000s, PIC approaches are designed for numbers in the 100,000s and millions.
This in turn means the adoption of wafer-level or at least in-line processes, both in assembly and in testing, and where equipment amortization is no longer measured via initial capital investment, but in cost/part. Cycle time and thus machine speed is therefore continuously being questioned and improved.
Where are we now?
Integrated photonics components are poised to experience
rapid acceptance and growth, across diverse applications
Over the last decade or more, there have been a number of international initiatives and projects that have addressed a number of different requirements, issues and goals surrounding implementation of varying PIC technology approaches. There are, for example, differing material systems that are individually best suited to specific optical tasks, there are standards issues regarding interfacing and testing that need to be addressed, and there are design-kit environments that need to be developed to safeguard capability and interoperability across diverse fab environments and services.
Naturally, assembly and testing are equally critical aspects of the PIC technology implementation, and ficonTEC has already long-served budding PIC applications with various stand-alone machine solutions. Additionally, supported by an active R&D team engaged in prominent international research initiatives, ficonTEC has played, and continues to play an active role in helping to develop a proper understanding of what the assembly, packaging and testing requirements of the manufacturing industry will actually be.
Now, with a newly introduced (early 2019), next-generation, configurable machine platform, we are addressing growing interest in more sophisticated and, after product retirement, reconfigurable machine systems. On the one hand, specific in-line machine configurations can be supplied as an individual and versatile production cells for existing production lines. On the other, multiple machines can be supplied as a task-optimized production segment comprising several differently configured systems. In principal, even entire production lines can be envisaged.
Our long-term and on-going machine design strategy thus already enables an in-line, high-volume automated approach to photonics assembly and testing.
What is the way forward?
Understanding how the assembly and testing needs
of industry will change over the next ten years
The market forecasts for integrated photonics applications are very positive. CAGR market growth is forecast to be somewhere in the region of 20 to 50% until 2022 and beyond. For telecom (internet communications) and datacom (big data, cloud services), this development is already very real. For all other photonics applications, with improving access and capability, interest and diversity of application are snowballing – the way forward for photonics integration is no longer a question of ‘if’ but is instead one of ‘how soon’.
A move to higher levels of photonics integration is associated with the need for increased miniaturization, higher yield, and better standardization all the way from early photonics design, to prototyping and through to assembly, packaging & testing, and leading to a lower cost/part at both low and high volumes. Silicon photonics already leverages some of the cost-efficient wafer foundry CMOS processes, while packaging and optical interconnects still have plenty of room for optimization.
Photonics might well be poised to be the next semiconductor frontier, from consumer to high-power computing. ficonTEC’s own contribution to the way forward is more advanced automation, having already gained valuable experience through the successful completion of comparable solutions for PIC applications with existing clients.
Nonetheless, the company additionally takes an active role in current international Projects & Initiatives – such as PIXAPP – that are designed to provide both infrastructure and ease of access. By better understanding the developing needs of the greater photonics community in this area as early as possible, the goal is to be able to provide the solutions as and when they are required.