Standing on the shoulders of giants

An interview with Nazanin Shafiee, Business Development Manager at SMART Photonics

In this interview series, we discuss a broad range of PIC Technology topics with our users, partners and other members of the JePPIX community. Where do the challenges and opportunities lie for JePPIX and PIC technology?

Nazanin Shafiee is the Business Development Manager at SMART Photonics. From the Photonics Valley, Eindhoven, she talks to us in an online interview about how SMART Photonics has grown over the years and how it’s helping its customers grow.

“SMART Photonics is an independent pure-play foundry: we manufacture photonics components, more specifically indium phosphide-based components and integrated circuits. Being a pure-play foundry puts us in a very unique position in the industry. We don’t produce our own products or components. Rather, we provide a service: we are 100% focused on manufacturing our customers’ devices.” explains Nazanin.

Photonics Valley

“We have a fairly long history in photonics, even though we’re a young company. Our roots are in the Dutch multinational corporation, Philips, in the ‘80s and in Eindhoven University of Technology in the ‘90s. That’s how we got started with a strong foundation in our two main pillars: research and manufacturing proficiency. And of course, we are quite proud of our heritage and what we have done.”

Nazanin explains that it wasn’t until 2012 that SMART Photonics actually became an independent entity: “That’s when we started growing: expanding our team, our tool base and our manufacturing facility. The Netherlands has been a pioneer in photonics research over the last two decades. And specifically, Eindhoven has been a photonics hotspot. We’ve gained global recognition, being called the Photonics Valley, comparable to Silicon Valley for microelectronics. And to have such a great history and to belong to such a continuously supportive and engaging community is something we take pride in.”

Customer focused

“Intellectual property (IP) is the most important thing for our customers. It’s invaluable to the success of their business. And because we’re a pure-play foundry, our customers can count on our product development expertise, our value add with respect to time and cost saving and not worry about their IP being taken away. We take our customers along their journey, from the very early stages of proof of concept, all the way through the development cycle and volume manufacturing. Because we also have the ability and capacity to manufacture in high volumes, our customers don’t need to worry about transferring their processes and technology after prototyping. They can grow with us from beginning to end.”

Nazanin explains how open access helps their customers manage risks: “Open access creates room for innovation. As someone who’s spent most of my career in start-ups and scale-ups, that’s something that I highly value and believe is essential for the livelihood of the technology community. Besides offering our platform to all kinds of teams and market segments globally, we also have the expertise to foresee what things may go wrong. We have access to groups of experts, both within our company and in our network, increasing confidence in product success, and ultimately lowering risks for our customers.”

“SMART’s collaborations with software vendors, design and test houses and equipment manufacturers brings further benefits for our customers. It’s extremely reassuring for them to see that the process design kits they use are validated by a group of independent partners from across the value chain. Our customers can have more confidence through collaboration with the entire value chain. Essentially, they can have higher performing devices with better tolerances and higher throughput, and at lower costs.”

Integrated photonics in every facet of our lives

“Platforms like JePPIX create opportunities for small teams and larger companies to do more product development by further de-risking such projects in a host of different markets: telecom and datacom, automotive, healthcare, virtual or augmented reality, just to name a few. Companies in these markets need to pay very close attention to integrated photonics and indium phosphide platforms to increase their product performance. For me, what is interesting is that integrated photonics will make more direct and indirect impact that we realize. And knowing that our technology can make an incredible amount of difference in almost every facet of people’s lives in the next 10 to 20 years is absolutely fascinating.”

“This past year has shown us, almost overnight, how much the world’s demand for bandwidth has increased. You can just look at the increased percentage of the population working from home over the last year. The fact that we’re able to have this interview online is an indication of the ever-increasing demand for data transfer. Though, the datacom and telecom market is only one segment of the market we tap into, where we can make huge impact. Another interesting thing is that the higher demand for bandwidth, in this case, has significantly changed the types of technologies, products, specifications. And as a result, important issues such as cost, reliability and needing to fit all the required complex components in smaller space rise. And of course, the indium phosphide platform stands out on all fronts.”

“We’re not just seeing more innovation or demand for innovative products and technologies, what we are seeing is an acceleration of these innovations. The next generation of devices is going to need improvements that indium phosphide can bring. Think of better network connectivity, higher sensing demands in medical, automotive, AI and robotics. It’s nice to see that we can have an impact on all of these aspects of life in the future. Integrated photonics will really be infused in every facet of our lives. And it makes me happy to say that we will see a better, greener, and safer future.”

“Technology development has gotten a real boost, partly because of the strange time we’re living in right now. If you look at the predictions of what we can expect in a decade, that timeline has come closer. In a way it’s a bit scary, and in a way it is exciting. We’re getting pushed into the future a little bit faster.”

On the shoulders of giants

SMART Photonics is nearing its 10-year anniversary, and they’ve come a long way. “It is because of the recognition we’re getting by the community and the demand from our customers, that we’ve been able to get so far in such a short time. Thanks to a recent funding of 35 million Euros, we’re able to grow faster and further. We’re expanding our cleanroom and becoming more independent from external vendors. This gives us and our customers more control and confidence to achieve predictable results. With all the new tools we have brought in and plan to in the coming period, I feel like a little kid in the chocolate factory. Even though I don’t get to play with the new tools, I know how much each of them mean to our engineering and operation teams, so I get super excited.”

“It’s easy to see where we’re ahead of the curve and where we can still grow and improve, but we’re a young company with about a hundred people on board. Our management team has a clear plan for growth of the company, what they want to create and implement for our company to run as smooth as they envision.”

“We’re standing on the shoulders of giants. There are a lot of people in our network and community whose hard work we are benefiting from and they have so much of our appreciation. These men and women lift us up and support us in pushing our technology and platform forward. We have challenges ahead, but with the technology we offer, the team at SMART Photonics and the support of the network and community, it’s no surprise to see so many established organizations and extremely promising teams wanting to work with us. Just as I see ourselves standing on the shoulders of giants, I believe we enable so many others to have a leg up, by using our technology and platform and developing their own unique product in so many different market segments. It’s nice to see so many organizations push their innovative ideas further and faster because of us. And all this makes me really thrilled.”

Interested to read more about potential opportunities of integrated photonics in different application areas? Make sure to request our Roadmap 2021-2025 here.