Automated alignment systems

Engineer Live News Desk

Due to the increasingly critical process steps in the quality assurance, as well as in the assembly and packaging of SiPh chips, PI is constantly expanding its range of mechanical alignment systems to support customers worldwide in increasing productivity and throughput in SiPh production. At Photonics West 2024, PI presents new solutions with air-bearing stages and a new entry-level system in addition to established systems.

Silicon photonics is an increasingly mainstream field, central to applications as varied as hyperscale data center interconnects to wearable biosensors to quantum computing. Accompanying these emerging applications are significant challenges for manufacturing and especially scaling to meet escalating demand. And the biggest cost contributor is the exacting, often nanoscale alignment requirements for the mutual positioning of photonic elements such as optical integrated circuits, fiber optics and arrays, lenses, diffractive elements and more. Addressing this since 2016, PI's award-winning technology for high-throughput industrial alignment of photonic components (Fast Multi-channel Photonics Alignment, FMPA) and special high-precision mechanics enable the alignment of photonic components within fractions of a second.

Sharp Rise in Demand Expected

The global demand for SiPh components continues to rise dramatically. Leading market research companies unanimously predict that by 2030 the market for SiPh components will quadruple to around ten billion US dollars. Productivity, throughput, and manufacturing costs are therefore increasingly at the focus of interest. The precise alignment of photonic elements and structures on chips plays a major role here. This task is carried out several times in quality control during production as well as during assembly and packaging with optical fibers.

Both at wafer level and after separation, the functionality of the photonic structures and elements must be checked repeatedly, in order to remove defective chips from production as early as possible. In the final assembly and packaging of SiPh chips with optical fibers for connection to the outside world, the alignment with submicrometer precision is also a decisive process step.

Depending on the complexity of the end products, alignment must be repeated up to two dozen times in the production process. In SiPh production, the time required for this is therefore crucial in terms of both costs and productivity.

Comprehensive Solution Portfolio

For these tasks, PI presents its newly expanded spectrum of automatic alignment systems at Photonics West 2024 and on a dedicated webpage. The systems are driven by advanced intelligent controllers that integrate the FMPA suite of functionalities. These enable alignment within fractions of a second, typically a hundred-fold improvement over all previous approaches. The proven solutions, consisting of a hybrid combination of hexapods and piezo-based nanopositioners, are now supplemented by an alignment system with ultra-clean, high-dynamic compact air-bearing linear stages.  Another new system solution also provides cost-effective functionality with long travels for less demanding applications. With its deep toolkit of motion technologies, PI offers suitable solutions for every possible requirement.

For the testing of SiPh components on large-area substrates such as PCBs, trays, or special carriers, PI provides modular, scalable gantry systems that can now also implement the advance FMPA technologies. PI’s solutions range from compact units with mechanical bearings to granite-based systems with air bearings that are tailored to the respective application. In addition, PI’s modular system architecture supports the combination of different drive and motion types so that an optimum component can be selected for the respective axis.

Controllers with predefined software, including expandable EtherCAT-based controllers from ACS, a company of the PI Group, control the motion of these axes.

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