Applying lessons learned

The optoelectronics manufacturing landscape has changed radically since the telecom boom ended a couple of years back.

Jun 1st, 2004

The optoelectronics manufacturing landscape has changed radically since the telecom boom ended a couple of years back. As component production volumes have fallen, so too have the number of players involved. And after an initial spate of trying to "repurpose" technology developed for telecom, many of the smaller firms have either sold off their intellectual property or combined forces with others in order to survive. Of those that remain, as the online auctions of unused and unneeded equipment fade away, many component makers have realized that in-house manufacturing may be a luxury they cannot afford.

"There is an increasing realization that the net worth of a company lies much more in factors such as R&D, intellectual property, and branding than in manufacturing," notes EM4 (Bedford, MA) CEO Basil Garabet on page S5. Consequently some design and manufacturing services firms have actually fared quite well in the aftermath of the bubble bursting. Meanwhile low-cost offshore manufacturing has also moved center stage and John Ellis president of Optics for Hire (Arlington, MA) discusses its impact on the photonics industry on page S8.

All these developments notwithstanding, the issues that remain for firms that do actually manufacture optoelectronics components have not changed substantively, despite the smaller markets. Standardization is a critical issue related among other things to reducing costs and improving yields. The cost of packaging the components remains high, and various approaches are being targeted at this particular challenge. In one example, established electronics-production processes are the underpinning of an attempt to simplify optical manufacturing using assemblies that look more like semiconductor products than optical devices. Al Benzoni, VP of engineering at Xponent Photonics (Monrovia, CA), explains on page S16.

Another challenging area is automation. Cost-effective automation is typically considered for production volumes that are currently only a distant memory—but there are exceptions. Automation brings with it improved and consistent process control and the better yields with higher throughput can still justify the up-front cost. The automated handling and testing of edge-emitting laser diodes is described on page S11 by Lisa Gerbracht, head of applications engineering at Royce Instruments (Napa, CA).

A theme common to both these articles—and to the photonics industry in general—is how to apply lessons learned in production of electronics and semiconductors to photonics devices. To this end, the National Electronics Manufacturing Initiative (NEMI) includes an optoelectronics working group and will host an open workshop on June 23 to review its 2004 manufacturing roadmap. For more information visit www.nemi.org.

Stephen G. Anderson
Associate Publisher/Editor in Chief
stevega@pennwell.com

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