Silicon Photonics and Photonic Circuits: Automating Assembly and Connection Technology

The assembly and packaging of photonic devices plays an important role for throughput and production costs. The highest possible automation degree is, therefore, very sought after; however, this is difficult to achieve. Because positioning accuracies in the submicrometer range — and in six degrees of freedom — are required. For example, for coupling glass fibers / fiber arrays to light-carrying structures or to photo / laser diodes or LEDs with little loss. The handling of the delicate glass fibers is also a complex task.

In order to technically realize this complex automation task, PI has developed various solutions that are essentially based on two pillars: High-precision mechanical positioning systems as well as algorithms developed by PI for tasks such as the search for first light or the gradient search, with which the maximum signal transmission can continuously be tracked.

One of the first companies that has developed complete systems based on this technology in order to automize the assembly of photonic integrated circuits (PICs) is the Dutch company TEGEMA B.V.

The Missing Link

TEGEMA B.V. (NL), the multidisciplinary system integrator, has developed a modular machine platform for the automated assembly of optical components, in particular of photonically integrated circuits (PICs). The system, which works with submicron precision, can grow from tasks in research and development of PICs up to their series production thanks to its intelligent architecture. It provides a breakthrough in cycle time, which is 10-times shorter than in current solutions on the market. Ultrafast and high-precision active alignment systems from PI are at the heart of this photonic assembly platform.

A real breakthrough for integrated photonic circuits

Arno Thoer, Director Technology & Engineering at TEGEMA

"The lack of such a solution has so far hampered the market for photonic components. In a way, with this platform we have now created the missing link between the front end and the back end – a real breakthrough for integrated photonic circuits," stresses Arno Thoer, Director Technology & Engineering at TEGEMA, the importance of the development.

Versatile Platform

>> TEGEMA's modular platform architecture is the basis for the machine; it makes it possible to connect hardware modules specific to the application at hand. For the test and packaging of PICs, the Machine Vision systems for rough positioning, an adhesive dispenser, a UV light source for curing of the adhesive, and a rotation platform are used to transport the individual elements and, later on, the finished components in the machine. And at the heart of the platform: The active alignment system.

Heart of the Platform

Hidden deep inside, the active alignment system from PI forms the heart of the platform. Motion and positioning mechanics and firmware routines from PI make an ultrafast alignment of the optical elements possible in the submicroscale. The tracking mode compensates for position changes of the optical elements induced by stresses occurring during the curing of the adhesive. This special mode is part of the algorithm for the gradient search.

While up until now, about five to twenty minutes where necessary for the test and packaging of PICs, the machine from TEGEMA provides a fully assembled component, including active alignment and fiber termination, in about 30 seconds. Positioning normally only requires fractions of a second.

Depending on the requirement of the actual application, different versions of the alignment systems from PI are used – even up to the >> F-712.HA2 double-sided alignment system.

Modularity Enables Growth and Low Cost of Ownership

The compact design and modularity is what makes the platform of TEGEMA special. With a space requirement of nearly one square meter, it takes up very little space – which reduces the overall cost when used in expensive cleanrooms.

The system can be configured for use in research and development environments, for example in startup companies, and so makes a fast assembly of PICs with signal-carrying glass fibers / fiber arrays possible, at a relatively small investment cost. If the production volume increases, modules can be added to reconfigure the system. Therefore, the machine grows with the production requirements.

Large-Format Alignment – Fast Alignment Technology Uses ACS Control

The algorithms and routines used for optimizing coupling that are implemented in the firmware of the hexapod controller have now been extended to include ACS controls. This means that the advantages of the groundbreaking productivity can be used for various large-format applications such as photonics wafer testing, packaging of components, and chip testing even up to the manufacturing of lasers and optical devices.


Learn More in Our Webinar: Assembly and Packaging of Photonic Integrated Circuits. A Modular Concept Towards a Fully Automated Process.

The cost of photonic components is dominated by assembly and packaging processes. This is a drag on adoption at a time when rapid global scaling of connectivity is required. Part one of the webinar covers the presentation of TEGEMA's new "Modular Machine Platform Enabling A Breakthrough In Photonics Assembly Speed."

Part two of the webinar puts us "Inside the solution: Intelligent Micro-Robotics for High Throughput Photonics Manufacturing Automation." It explains why the precise alignment of individual elements of photonic integrated circuits is so important for costs and yield. Learn about the technology and its utilization inside TEGEMA's modular-assembly platform.

Learn more about the "active alignment" technology and how the hardware and software work hand in hand for a superfast alignment and coupling

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