NIST awards $539,990 grant to photonics consortium

    MIT Microphotonics Center joins iNEMI for 19-month project to develop technology roadmap. 
    Kimerling Web
    Lionel C. Kimerling
    Pfahl Headshot Web 
    Robert C. Pfahl Jr.
    Olivetti Web
    Elsa A. Olivetti
     Kirchain bw Web
    Randolph Kirchain

    A Roadmap for building a common research and manufacturing infrastructure will be the goal of the Consortium for Integrated Photonic Systems Manufacturing (CIPSM), a partnership of the International Electronics Manufacturing Initiative Inc. (iNEMI) and the MIT Microphotonics Center announced Thursday, May 8, with funding from the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

    The $539,990, 19-month grant to CIPSM is one of 19 awards  totaling $9 million to develop technology roadmaps aimed at strengthening U.S. manufacturing. The grant was announced Thursday through NIST’s Advanced Manufacturing Technology Consortia (AMTech) Program. Funding begins June 1. 

    Project brief

    Co-directors are iNEMI Senior Consultant Robert C. Pfahl Jr. and Lionel C. Kimerling, Thomas Lord Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at MIT and director of the MIT Microphotonics Center. Former iNEMI CEO Jim McElroy will serve as the Executive Director of CIPSM.

    Elsa A. Olivetti, Thomas Lord Assistant Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at MIT, and Randolph Kirchain, Principal Research Scientist, Engineering Systems Division, will conduct process-based, cost modeling analyses of the economics of integrated photonics manufacturing. CIPSM will look at costs of both packaging and chip manufacturing as well as scaling up to high-volume manufacturing and standardization. The work will involve five to ten faculty at MIT associated with the Microphotonics Center as well as about 30 of its Industrial Consortium companies.

    Photonic links transmit data using light waves (photons) instead of the electrons used to move data in standard electronic circuits. "While photonic data transmission through fiber optic cables currently serves as the long haul pipeline for Internet and telecommunications traffic, photonic links will increasingly be employed at shorter and shorter distances, interconnecting equipment in data centers and chips in computers," Kimerling says.

    A recent Microphotonics Center technology working group report, "On-Board Optical Interconnection 2013," estimates that by 2017 optical links will be on printed wiring boards connecting chips or connecting packages of chips. "This transition is dictated simply by the fact that you need more and more bandwidth at shorter and shorter distances to handle modern computation and communication needs," Kimerling says.

    New manufacturing technologies are needed to reduce the cost as the system demand for more optical links increases. "The number of optical interconnects in a large Data Center or High Performance Computer installation rivals the typical annual component count for the whole network," Kimerling says. "We have to figure out a way to make these components at lower and lower cost as these links move closer and closer to the chip."

    Manufacturers will need to scale up to producing tens of millions instead of 10,000 to 100,000 photonic components. "We recognize that probably the biggest challenge aside from the technology is getting a meeting of the minds of the companies in the industry around the value of hardware standardization," Kimerling says.

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    Grand Challenges Web

    Olivetti and Kirchain previously worked on technology transitions within the optoelectronic and electronics industries. Kirchain was co-chair of the 2009 release of the MIT Communication Technology Roadmap and led the Technical Working Group that wrote the Industry Economics chapter. Olivetti also participated. “The report contained the first process-based cost analysis of monolithic silicon photonic integration and a comparative evaluation of off-shore vs. state-side manufacturing of photonic components,” Kimerling explains.

    “Both iNEMI and the Microphotonics Center are very excited about their involvement in pulling together the research components of this first year of activity,” Kimerling says. During its first 18 months, the center hopes to lay out a plan for an additional five years. “We expect if that plan is successful, then at the end of that five years, we’ll have an industry which is united on a low-cost, high-volume manufacturing platform for integrated photonics.”

    The partners will develop a roadmap to guide manufacturing research and address systems requirements for networks that fully exploit the power of photonics, according to the project brief. Follow-on steps will focus on building a shared manufacturing platform for cost-effective, high-volume manufacturing and to fostering growth of a stable technology supply chain in the United States.

    "The AMTech awards provide incentives for partnerships to tackle the important jobs of planning, setting strategic manufacturing technology goals, and developing a shared vision of how to work collaboratively to get there,” said NIST Director Patrick Gallagher. "These are essential first steps toward building the research infrastructure necessary to sustain a healthy, innovative advanced manufacturing sector – one that invents, demonstrates, prototypes and produces here in the U.S.”

     Written by Denis Paiste, Materials Processing Center