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ficonTEC is enabling high volume automated PIC assembly and testing

With numerous reports placing PIC market growth at a CAGR [1] upwards of 20% until 2022 and beyond, advanced automation for assembly and testing are crucially needed to enable high volume production at viable costs per part. By: Ignazio Piacentini, Gregory Flinn

Photonics technology is undergoing a transition toward greater integration, with multiple functionality and components being combined onto a single chip or within a small hybrid assembly "“ also known as a photonic integrated circuit, or PIC. In catering to the burgeoning telecom and datacom demands (internet communications and data centers for cloud services, respectively), development has been directed at meeting requirements in terms of bandwidth density and power dissipation. That is, absolute processing power is no longer the main concern, but moving data in and out "“ efficiently "“ is of paramount concern. Having found a solution in photonic integrated circuits, these sectors have been the driving force behind their advancement.

With photonics being widely recognized as an essential enabling technology for a broad spectrum of industrial processes and applications, the PIC idea has naturally "˜trickled over', simultaneously providing greater breadth to the growing infrastructure needed to support PIC eco-systems. Many now consider the technology infrastructure as mature enough to become mainstream.

The emerging PIC applications

Aside from telecom and datacom PIC applications, there a number of other strong market opportunities exploiting similar IR wavelengths (thus benefiting from the existing development maturity at those wavelengths), as well as a broad selection of applications that have traditionally sought to utilize miniaturization at more visible wavelengths.

Figure 1: LIDAR and other optical sensor applications for automotive are set to grow significantly (iStock.com/pixelfit)

Some of the former include the increasingly sophisticated optical sensing devices designed for (progressively autonomous) automotive applications. A growing number of optical sensing devices, including LiDAR [2], are being integrated into diverse automotive transport platforms, entering into a sector that is expected to experience a significant upheaval [3] over the next 15 to 20 years.

Other markets to consider include augmented and virtual reality applications, in particular where they impact consumer markets; biophotonics, OCT and other biomedical sensing devices for decentralized testing (point-of-care diagnostics enabled by optofluidic and/or BioMEM devices); making more "˜sense' of the environment around us via a multitude of networked sensors, typically referred to as Internet of Things (IoT) applications; as well as RF photonics for aerospace and defense, quantum systems, terahertz technology, and others.

If the market forecasts are to be believed, the integrated opto-electronic devices feeding into these applications will need to be manufactured, assembled, tested and ultimately suitably packaged at high volume.