Imec offers silicon photonics prototyping
mec and its partners have completed a three-year programme to make a number of silicon photonics technologies accessible for industry and academia.
Within the ‘ESSenTIAL’ programme (Essential) funded by the EC, Imec has worked with CEA-Leti (France), Tyndall Institute (Ireland), VTT (Finland), IHP (Germany), TNO (the Netherlands) and CMC (Canada), to develop advanced multi-project-wafer services as well as packaging services for silicon photonics.
The services were made accessible to industrial players – both small- and medium-sized companies – enabling them to testtest is test silicon photonics.
Silicon photonics is a key enabling technology for a wide range of markets, from optical interconnect networks in data centers to disposable biosensor chips for immunoassays. In essence, silicon photonics builds on the technology portfolio and economy of scale of CMOS fabs to manufacture sophisticated photonic integrated circuits with a combination of passive devices – in particular wavelength and polarisation selective devices – and active devices such as optical modulators and detectors.
The Essential program has expanded the services of ePIXfab, an alliance of European entities set up in 2006 to support the emergence of a fabless silicon photonics ecosystem. ePIXfab has provided affordable multi-project wafer (MPW) services to fabless R&D teams that are developing photonic circuits. European users received some benefits based on EU funding, but the ePIXfab services were provided globally.
Within the Essential project high speed active devices (up to 25Gbit/s) were added to the MPW offering. ePIXfab has also started to organise extra MPW runs on two silicon photonics technology platforms with unique features, at IHP and at VTT.
In total over 200 silicon photonics circuit designs were prototyped at imec, Leti, IHP or VTT, including close to 50 designs from companies.
Another major achievement of the project was the creation of silicon photonics packaging services at Tyndall Institute.
Given the shortage of skilled engineers in silicon photonics, especially at the design level, Essential has spent considerable resources on training activities. Over 110 experts were trained in regular six-monthly training events and several hundreds more were reached through webinars. And Essential has conducted 80 feasibility studies with European SMEs, which resulted in at least 22 new projects and over 30 project proposals.
During Essential the MPW operation for silicon photonics has been integrated into Europractice IC service, marking a milestone for the further growth of Europe’s silicon photonics.