NIST funds optical manufacturing research

Dec. 1, 1998

NIST funds optical manufacturing research

By STEPHEN HARDY

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Commerce, recently announced funding of three programs designed to improve optical manufacturing processes. In particular, the programs are expected to benefit the manufacture of components and systems for wavelength-division multiplexing (WDM).

The first program will focus on new robotics, soldering, laser, and other technologies to enable batch processing of integrated optoelectronic components. The effort, entitled "Advanced Processes for Photonic Manufacturing," will concentrate on the construction of a universal fixture holding 10 to 100 mounts, a robotics system to handle and position the components, and new methods of attaching the components in place. A laser with an expanded beam shape will be used to relax the normally tight alignment tolerances necessary in such applications. Simulation tools will model the laser designs, while automated test equipment will measure the optical and electrical characteristics of the packages quickly. New integrated optoelectronic chips will also be engineered as part of the program. The chips will be designed to require fewer components, as well as smaller components that can be handled by robots. The companies will develop and manufacture a laser module to demonstrate the program`s concepts.

SDL Inc. (San Jose, CA) will lead the four-member industry team that received $2.9 million for the three-year effort. Other team members include Adept Technology Inc. (San Jose, CA), RSoft Inc. (Ossining, NY), and Newport Corp. (Irvine, CA). The team members will further fund the effort with $3 million of their own money.

The second project, also running for three years, covers "Optical Polymers and Manufacturing Processes for Low-Cost WDM Devices and Systems." Lightwave Microsystems (Santa Clara, CA) will lead the project team, which also includes B.F. Goodrich Performance Materials (Cleveland, OH), the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and Kent State University. The team will seek to develop new materials, device structures, and fabrication process for low-cost manufacture of integrated photonic assemblies. The project will cover new classes of passive, active, and amplifier polymers, as well as manufacturing processes designed to decrease the cost of WDM equipment sufficiently to make it cost-effective for use in metropolitan and urban networks. NIST believes the program could result in at least a threefold decrease in the current cost of WDM systems. The team received $5.1 million of the program`s estimated total expenditure of $10.4 million through the NIST award.

GenOA Corp., a startup in Berkeley, CA, will lead the third and final effort, "Low-Cost WDM Optical Amplifier and Switch Manufacturing Technology." The company will use the $2 million it received from NIST to develop a proprietary technology that promises high-speed and high-efficiency amplification, including the amplification of signals outside of the traditional amplifier bands. While sources at GenOA declined to reveal specifics of the technology, NIST states that the company will use principles borrowed from the electronics industry to achieve these results. GenOA will both model the amplifier and build a prototype integrated with a "special circuit" in a geometry that will optimize performance. The total project cost is approximately $5.3 million over three years. The University of California at Berkeley will supply research equipment and facilities to the project; custom fabrication services will come from several U.S. foundries. q