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European pilot lines get ready for action

03 Mar 2016

Three newly launched projects funded through the Photonics21 public-private partnership begin looking for collaborators.

Three European projects to set up new pilot manufacturing lines for making photonics-based devices and miniaturized optical systems have officially opened for business.

With collective funding of more than €35 million, the “PIX4LIFE”, “PI-SCALE”; and “MIRPHAB” partners are now inviting potential collaborators to submit their ideas, with initial proposal deadlines set for the end of this year.

Outgoing European Commission photonics chief Wolfgang Boch said at the Photonics21 annual general meeting (AGM) in Brussels that the pilot-line projects, which represent a new attempt to bridge the “valley of death” between research and commercial production, would report back on an annual basis.

PIX4LIFE: (bio)photonic integrated circuits
Introducing the “PIX4LIFE” effort at the same Brussels meeting, project co-ordinator Wolfgang Eberle from the IMEC electronics development institute in nearby Leuven said the focus would be on health and life science applications.

PIX4LIFE will provide open access to CMOS-compatible silicon nitride (SiN) photonic integrated circuit (PIC) production technology, with a specific focus on biophotonics techniques including optical coherence tomography (OCT) and cytometry.

Initial open access production runs are scheduled to begin before the end of 2017, but Eberle emphasized that ideas were already being sought. The €8.5 million project aims to showcase PIC-based application demonstrators as advanced as 3D tissue imaging and super-resolution microscopy in miniaturized forms.

“It is our ambition to develop an end-to-end supply chain reaching from design to packaged and characterized chip components,” state the partners, who include major player Bosch alongside the Spanish OCT-focused start-up MedLumics, PIC design house Luceda Photonics and laser firm Toptica, among others.

PI-SCALE: flexible organic lighting
With €14 million in funding, the PI-SCALE project to advance the production of flexible organic LED (OLED) lighting technology will provide open access services based on a variety of OLED manufacturing techniques to a wide range of external users.

Introducing the concept in Brussels, program co-ordinator Joanne Wilson from the Holst Centre in Eindhoven, The Netherlands, extended an invitation to other companies to join lead partners including household names Audi and Pilkington in developing the potentially disruptive lighting technology.

“At the end of the project, the goal is to have a self-sustaining pilot line,” she told the Photonics21 AGM, adding that the project brings together existing production infrastructure across Europe that covers a variety of printed, vacuum and roll-to-roll manufacturing concepts.

MIRPHAB: QCL-based sensor packages
Sergio Nicoletti from the CEA Leti development center in France then described the €13 million MIRPHAB project, which is aiming to shrink mid-infrared photonics technology into tiny packages suited to volume production.

Involved in the effort are quantum cascade laser (QCL) specialists Alpes Lasers and mirSense, along with Cascade Technologies – now a subsidiary of the giant US-based process technology firm Emerson – leading compound semiconductor wafer foundry IQE and Polish IR detector maker Vigo. Bosch and IMEC feature in both the MIRPHAB and PIX4LIFE projects.

The team of 18 partners is aiming to exploit the “chemical fingerprint” nature of the 3-12 µm wavelength range with a variety of semiconductor-based components including type II superlattice detectors and silicon germanium (SiGe) waveguides, in tandem with the QCL sources.

The tiny spectroscopic systems envisaged will be able to identify specific chemicals in gases and liquids, according to their vibrational molecular absorption frequencies. “MIRPHAB will offer open access to design, prototyping and fabrication of miniaturize photonics devices,” said Nicoletti. “The goal is to make [this technology] available for large-scale manufacturing.”

As with PIX4LIFE and PI-SCALE, prospective partners around Europe are already being sought, with the first call for proposals deadline scheduled for the end of this year. The two proposals selected each year will receive up to €230,000 worth of services.

• For further details on potential collaboration, and full partner information for all three pilot-line projects visit the respective PIX4LIFE, PI-SCALE and MIRPHAB web sites.

Schaefter und Kirchhoff GmbHPhoton Engineering, LLCScitec Instruments LtdEKSMA OPTICSBRD Optical Co., LtdAlluxaESPROS Photonics AG
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