Expansion paves way for European and North American PIC collaboration

July 9, 2024
$1.2 billion backed photonic chip accelerator seeks to speed up the creation and adoption of advanced semiconductors enabled by integrated photonics.

Dutch photonic chip accelerator PhotonDelta is opening a new office in North America as part of its goal to grow the photonic chip industry by promoting collaboration between European and North American organizations, both leaders in this emerging key enabling technology.

The initiative seeks to build collaboration between European and North American businesses in the photonic chip industry, with a focus on leveraging on the different strengths of the two regions in photonic chip technology to unlock optimal functionalities. The Netherlands, for example, is particularly known for the development of indium phosphide- and silicon nitride-based photonic chips, while the U.S. is paving the way in silicon photonics.

We had the opportunity to connect with Jorn Smeets, managing director of North America for PhotonDelta, to learn more about the organization’s expansion.

Obviously, the collaboration between U.S. and European organizations could play a meaningful role in driving photonics forward. What does a successful collaboration look like?

A successful collaboration between North America and the Netherlands in the field of integrated photonics leverages the complementary strengths to accelerate the industry. It would likely result in several significant outcomes:

Technological advancement. Collaboration would accelerate the integrated photonics industry by advancing innovation on topics like heterogeneous integration and application technology. This could include advancements in photonic integrated circuits (PICs), optical interconnects, sensors, and quantum photonics, among others. The pooling of expertise and resources from both regions would lead to faster innovation cycles and breakthroughs in photonics technology.

Market leadership and global competitiveness. Joint efforts would enhance the global competitiveness of companies and research institutes involved in integrated photonics. By combining North America's strong industrial base in silicon photonics and with the Netherlands' innovation ecosystem, collaborative projects could lead to the creation of new products and solutions that will contribute to solving societal challenges and generating long-term economic growth.

Economic growth and job creation. Successful collaboration would stimulate economic growth in both regions. It would attract investment in research, development, and manufacturing infrastructure, creating high-value jobs in areas such as engineering, research, manufacturing, and technical services. This growth would extend beyond direct collaborators to supply chain partners and supporting industries.

Standardization. Collaboration would promote the standardization of integrated photonics technologies, ensuring interoperability and compatibility across different systems and applications. This standardization is crucial for scalability and widespread adoption of photonics solutions in various sectors, including telecommunications, healthcare, automotive, agrifood, quantum, and aerospace.

Education and workforce development. Collaborative initiatives would strengthen educational programs and workforce development in integrated photonics. This includes joint training programs, student exchanges, and collaborative research projects between universities and research institutions in North America and the Netherlands. A skilled workforce equipped with the latest photonics knowledge and expertise would support ongoing innovation and sustainability.

Policy and regulatory alignment. Collaboration would facilitate alignment of policies and regulatory frameworks related to integrated photonics. This includes harmonizing standards, intellectual property protection, export regulations, and investment incentives. Such alignment creates a favorable environment for innovation, entrepreneurship, and cross-border collaboration.

Societal impact and sustainability. The outcomes of successful collaboration would extend to societal benefits, such as improved healthcare diagnostics, more sustainable food production and datacom infrastructure, and advancements in environmental monitoring and sustainability. Photonics-enabled technologies have the potential to address global challenges and improve quality of life worldwide.

What do you see as the keys to a successful collaboration?

Complementary expertise. Each organization brings unique strengths to the table. Leveraging these complementary strengths is essential to address the challenges and advance the industry, on topics such as heterogeneous integration, standardization, and the development of application technology.

Flexible and adaptive approach. Integrated photonics is a rapidly evolving field, so flexibility and adaptability are key. Collaborators should be open to adjusting strategies and plans based on emerging opportunities or challenges.

Long-term perspective. Successful collaborations often require a long-term perspective. Building lasting relationships and achieving meaningful outcomes in integrated photonics may take time and sustained effort.

Funding. Adequate financial support is essential for supporting research, development, and commercialization efforts in integrated photonics. Governments and industry stakeholders should collaborate to provide funding opportunities that incentivize innovation and foster collaboration between research institutions, startups, and established companies. PhotonDelta has funds from the National Growth Fund that can be used to stimulate this type of collaboration, but we should also look at how we can get access to additional funds from the EU and U.S. CHIPS Act for cross-border collaboration on next-generation chip technology for the next phase.

By focusing on these factors for successful collaboration, U.S. and European organizations in integrated photonics can effectively leverage their strengths to advance technology, drive economic growth, and address global challenges together.

What missing part of the value chain do you see the North American partners fulfilling?

Industrialization/scaling through integration with high-volume platforms such as silicon photonics and CMOS. North America has strong capabilities in the silicon photonics and CMOS domains. Their existing infrastructure, mature processes, and client base could help the European industry to scale production and find its way to mass markets.

Access to markets. North America is home to many markets in which PIC technology is or can be deployed. It is important to be close to those markets to understand the requirements and develop the application technologies that fit with those needs. Our ecosystem partners could help bring PIC-based technologies to the North American market, enabling new applications for North American firms that will help them to increase business.

What do you see as the biggest challenges going forward?

Concerns about IP protection could be a challenge, as American organizations are perhaps less familiar with working in open-innovation collaborations and require careful legal agreements. However, we globally see more and more collaborative initiatives/consortia emerging to accelerate innovation. Also, the research institutes we work with are very experienced in open-innovation and have frameworks that have been successful also for North American firms in the past.

Building trust and allowing strategic collaborations to help accelerate innovation, even when it has “not been invented here,” is another challenge. It requires a shift in mindset to build on each other’s strengths instead of keeping everything close to ourselves, especially in these times of growing geopolitical instability, leading to more emphasis on strategic autonomy. This might make foreign collaboration more difficult as opposed to the open-market approach that was common prior to COVID.

About the Author

Peter Fretty | Market Leader/Group Editorial Director, Laser & Military

Peter Fretty began his role as the Market Leader, Laser & Military in June 2023; the group encompasses the Laser Focus World, Military & Aerospace Electronics, and Vision Systems Design brands. He also serves as Group Editorial Director, Laser & Military (effective spring 2023) and served as Editor in Chief of Laser Focus World since October 2021. Prior to that, he was Technology Editor for IndustryWeek for two years.

As a highly experienced journalist, he has regularly covered advances in manufacturing, information technology, and software. He has written thousands of feature articles, cover stories, and white papers for an assortment of trade journals, business publications, and consumer magazines.

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