Imec and its partners have announced that they have successfully completed a three-year program (2012 - 2015) to leverage a variety of silicon photonics technologies by making them accessible for industry and academia worldwide. Within the ESSenTIAL program funded by the European Commission, imec has worked closely with CEA-LETI (France), Tyndall Institute (Ireland), VTT (Finland), IHP (Germany), TNO (The Netherlands) and CMC (Canada) to develop advanced multi-project-wafer services as well as packaging services for silicon photonics. The services were made accessible to industrial players – both small- and medium-sized companies – enabling them to test silicon photonics technology.
Silicon photonics is a key enabling technology for a wide range of markets, from optical interconnect networks in data centers to disposable biosensor chips for immunoassays. In essence, silicon photonics builds on the technology portfolio and economy of scale of CMOS fabs to manufacture sophisticated photonic integrated circuits with a combination of passive devices – in particular wavelength and polarisation selective devices – and active devices such as optical modulators and detectors. The ESSenTIAL program has extensively expanded the services of ePIXfab, an alliance of European entities set up in 2006 to support the emergence of a fabless silicon photonics ecosystem.
ePIXfab has provided affordable Multi-Project Wafer (MPW) services to fabless R&D teams worldwide developing photonic circuits. European users received some benefits based on EU funding, but the ePIXfab services were provided globally.
“ePIXfab was founded to provide the silicon photonics research community an access path to advanced CMOS technology with the goal of sharing cost and expertise. ePIXfab has helped to accelerate the field of silicon photonics and to let it move from a research field to a field of critical industrial importance,” said Ghent University professor Roel Baets, one of the founders of ePIXfab and research team leader associated with imec.
Within the ESSenTIAL project, the portfolio of silicon photonics services offered by ePIXfab has been extended in many ways. High speed active devices (up to 25 Gbit/s) were added to the MPW offering.
Furthermore, ePIXfab has started to organise extra MPW runs on two silicon photonics technology platforms with special unique features, at IHP and at VTT. In total over 200 silicon photonics circuit designs were prototyped at imec, LETI, IHP or VTT, including close to 50 designs from companies. Another major achievement of the project was the creation of silicon photonics packaging services at Tyndall Institute. ”Packaging is often seen as the Achilles heel of photonic component technology.
Tyndall Institute has developed a family of solutions, encompassing optical, electrical and RF packaging. These standardized packaging approaches for silicon photonic chips are available to industry through the ePIXfab-alliance”, stated Peter O’Brien, Head of the Photonics Packaging Group at Tyndall.
Given the shortage of skilled engineers in silicon photonics, especially at the design level, ESSenTIAL has spent considerable resources on training activities. Over 110 experts were trained in regular six-monthly training events and several hundreds more were reached through webinars. Last but not least, ESSenTIAL has conducted 80 feasibility studies with European SMEs, which resulted in at least 22 new projects and over 30 project proposals.
During ESSenTIAL the MPW operation for silicon photonics has been integrated into Europractice IC service, marking a milestone for the further growth of Europe’s silicon photonics. “Through the EUROPRACTICE service, more than 650 European academia and 300 companies world-wide have now access to Si Photonics technologies,” said Carl Das, chairman of the Europractice service. “ As we have implemented in electronics we will offer a complete silicon photonics ecosystem to users in open access thus accelerating product innovations”, he added. Towards this, Europractice-IC now offers periodic and low-cost access to advanced silicon photonics technologies, standardized photonics packaging and photonics design support (http://www.europractice-ic.com/SiPhotonics_general.php). Further, access to Europractice-ICs silicon photonics ecosystem can be financially supported for European small and medium-sized companies via EU-funded ACTPHAST project (www.actphast.eu).