JePPIX: Making Photonic Integration Easy
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JePPIX: Making Photonic Integration Easy

This article originally appeared in the June 2016 issue of PIC International Magazine.

by Valentina Moskalenko, Katarzyna Ławniczuk, Meint Smit, Kevin Williams


JePPIX is the joint European platform for photonic integration of components and circuits. It is playing a leading role in the industrialization of generic integration technology by providing open access to InP and Si3N4 integrated photonics. InP integrated photonics is a powerful platform combining laser sources, amplifiers and efficient optoelectronic devices with multiplexers, filters, splitters and interferometers in one chip. Si3N4 TripleX technologies offer low loss circuits with highly complementary material properties. Photonic integrated circuit technology is already established for premium telecommunications solutions and is now poised to revolutize market segments from metrology and process control through to safety systems and precision imaging. In this article we highlight the powerful process design kits (PDKs), affordable open access using the multi-project wafer (MPW) shuttle runs, and the new opportunities for the PIC community.

Generic Integrated Photonics

Generic manufacturing enables open access to highly standardized, high performance, photonic integration processes by defining components at the building block level. Complex circuits can then be configured to create new, application-specific PICs without having to know the details of the underlying chip technology. Designers can base their designs on the functional description that is provided in the process design kits (PDKs). This provides a natural fire-wall between the know-how required for chip production, and the intellectual property associated with product development.

InP integrated photonics offers a particularly powerful platform due to the monolithic integration of light-sources, amplifiers, detectors and modulators with a range of other devices such as interferometers, multiplexers, filters, splitters and mode adaptors. In the MEMPHIS and PARADIGM projects, these components have been implemented as basic building blocks to create the PDK-orientated platforms.

Multi-project shuttle runs

Multiproject wafer (MPW) shuttle runs using stable building blocks are the key enablers for affordable PIC prototyping. MPWs can typically support ten independent designs, enabling not only cost sharing on design tools and fab processes, but also at the mask and wafer level. The wafer example in the figure below shows multiple instances of the cells from a number of designers. The gold electrodes indicate a high density of active electro-optic devices. Smart Photonics, Fraunhofer HHI and Lionix all arrange MPW runs with JePPIX.

New design methods and software tools have been developed to bring the design of photonic integrated components to a higher (circuit) level of abstraction. Commercial software tools for circuit design and simulation such as PICWave (Photon Design) and Aspic (Filarete) contain a full complement of ready-to-use building blocks which are calibrated to each of the platforms. The MaskEngineer layout tool from PhoeniX Software contains automatic design rule checking to assist the designer in making a correct design quickly. The library modules also enable complex composite building blocks such as arrayed waveguide grating devices and multimode interference filters.

Figure 2: From concept to prototype

Generic prototype packages have also been developed with the principle of designing the chip to fit the package. JePPIX offers package solutions from Technobis and Linkra which are configured to standardised pin-outs. The positions of optical and electrical ports are predefined and standard chips sizes are used to enable affordable standardized packages for low numbers of samples. The Linkra-TEO ‘gold box’ package is now offered semi-commercially through JePPIX. This new PIC Optical Sub Assembly measures just 15.5mm x 18mm x 5mm, and supports up to 12 optical interfaces with 10x25Gbit/s RF lines, up to 36 DC connections and temperature control.

Figure 3: PIC chips for fiber-optic sensor readouts in precision metrology

PICS in fiber sensing

Technobis TFT-FOS is a leading provider of ASPIC-based fiber sensing systems for demanding market segments such as high tech, aeronautics, space, medical and automotive testing industries. The application of the superior technology of integrated photonics has proved to be capable of supporting both new and existing sensing and monitoring solutions for challenging situations using generic integration. Technobis is on the frontline with the development of extreme performance in fiber sensing and able to measure wavelength changes at the femto-meter scale for high sensitivity fiber readouts in distributed temperature and strain systems. Packaging solutions are being devised for fast and affordable ASPIC evaluation with standard electro-optic and RF connectivity, and thermal control (TEC).

PICs in telecommunication

Effect Photonics started out by prototyping PICs on MPWs and is now launching its first product family. Its optical ‘System-on-Chip’ technology platform integrates all the active and passive components of a DWDM system within a single chip, without traditional gold box packaging. This launch is the culmination of five years work to bring the technology to market–readiness. The product family addresses the soaring demand for affordable bandwidth between Data Centers and back from mobile cell towers by bringing DWDM technology to the edges of the network. By using the high levels of integration, port density can be increased by over 6-times and operational expenses reduced by 40% when compared with existing approaches. The product family includes transceivers for transmission of 100Gbps over 80km at the lowest cost and power, together with high density solutions containing many wavelengths for emerging WDM access markets.

Figure 4: The PIC chip at the heart of Effect Photonics new DWDM system-on-chip technology

Figure 5: European network of Application Support Centers established in 2016

Open access technology

JePPIX bridges the gap between technology and new markets by providing open access and technology support. A European network of Application Support Centers (ASCs) was established in January 2016 with the PICS4ALL project to support photonics innovators. The network, shown in the figure below, provides local support on technical and economic feasibility, design and measurement support.

This one-stop-shop, brings designers and innovators into contact with experts from leading photonics research centers. Links with PhotonDelta and ActPhast also provide additional business support which can further lower barriers for entrepreneurs applying PICs in new products. Know-how and design capacity is also enhanced through JePPIX training events and design businesses such as VLC and Bright Photonics.

New opportunities

To provide visibility on future technology developments, JePPIX has been publishing roadmaps and JePPIX partners are actively pursuing joint research programs to enable the technology nodes of the future. Research programmes include electronic-photonic convergence in the WIPE project through to more energy efficient building blocks in the GETPICS project.

JePPIX brokers access to design, design tools, MPW runs and packaging facilities and organises workshops and training activities. JePPIX brokering provides users with support, licenses and design tools. JePPIX engages with more than 250 members in the application of PICs spannng from medical diagnostics, metrology, fiber sensors, microwave photonics and quantum cryptography, as well as in data communications and telecommunications. Over three hundred designs have now been produced, including many complex, high-functionality circuits, with a sustained year on year increase in chip production. Front-runner businesses now move into pre-production with single project wafer runs and product launches.

The current focus is now on developing the commercial offer and expanding support. The JePPIX MPW service has regular tape-outs across the JePPIX foundries and a new network of application support centers is being rolled out. The next phase will involve pilot manufacture for larger volume production.

Further reading

Links to the businesses mentioned in this article may be found at the JePPIX website. JePPIX is an industry platform coordinated by the Technical University Eindhoven. Additional information may be found at the resources below.