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AIM Photonics reports progress at Photonics Europe

07 Apr 2016

CEO Michael Liehr gives overview of new American Manufacturing Institute for Integrated Photonics.

Following last July’s launch of the American Institute for Manufacturing for Integrated Photonics (AIM), in New York state, this week’s Photonics Europe conference provided a good opportunity for its CEO Michael Liehr to review what has been happening.

The conference on Wednesday moderated by Stephen Anderson, SPIE’s Industry Development Director, focused on industrial activities and included an update on Europe’s Horizon 2020 as well as several commercialization stories from new companies.

Liehr, who also works as Executive Vice President for Innovation and Technology and Vice President for Research at SUNY Poly in Albany, NY, said that AIM Photonics is “an industry-driven public-private partnership focused on the US's capabilities to achieve manufacturing leadership in photonics technology, because it is both essential to national security and now positioned to provide a compelling return on investment to the American economy.”

AIM’s so-called “consortium concept” is to adapt many of the practices that have been developed in the semiconductor industry to photonics product development, which Liehr believes is similar enough in style to be usefully transferred. Examples of these procedures include: cost-driven wafer manufacturing at 300mm; optimizing the packaging and test supply chain; using a multi-project wafer infrastructure.

Semiconductor model

“AIM’s staff include many experienced semiconductor professionals as well as outstanding integrated photonics experts,” he said. Asked whether he believed that the semiconductor development model extended beyond technology development to the sales and marketing aspects of the photonics business, Liehr commented, “The semiconductor industry has found many ways to reduce its costs; reduction has been relentless. With its equivalent suppliers and multiple choices, that model will work well in photonics, too. If you want to make optics or integrated photonics pervasive you really need to take the costs out.”

Commenting on challenges faced by AIM, Liehr identified one that has long been debated by the Europe’s Horizon 2020 project managers and the previous collaborative product developments: how to cross the “valley of death” between product development and achieving successful market penetration.

He said, “One objective of the AIM is to close the gap between university research, which are typically at Manufacturing Readiness Levels 1-4, and constructive commercial investment, with its MRLs at 7-10.”

The range of challenges currently under consideration by AIM partnership members includes: the non-standard nature of silicon photonics processes ; the need to integrate optically active materials like indium phosphide; the “immature” state of the current US foundry structure; and the lack of open-access, US-based validation and production capability so far.

So for the Europeans gathered in Brussels for Photonics Europe, were there any partnership opportunities, asked James Regan, CEO of Effect Photonics. Liehr explained, “If you already have a US subsidiary, or open one, then we will be able to deal with that company. At that point you would be eligible to receive development funding. But I cannot send you US taxpayers’ money if you are only in Europe; there has to be a US partner. It’s mandatory for AIM projects to have US industry participating – not optional.”

About the Author

Matthew Peach is a contributing editor to optics.org.

LaCroix Precision OpticsHÜBNER PhotonicsBerkeley Nucleonics CorporationAlluxaLASEROPTIK GmbHTRIOPTICS GmbHUniverse Kogaku America Inc.
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