Applying lessons learned

June 1, 2004
The optoelectronics manufacturing landscape has changed radically since the telecom boom ended a couple of years back.

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.

About the Author

Stephen G. Anderson | Director, Industry Development - SPIE

 Stephen Anderson is a photonics industry expert with an international background and has been actively involved with lasers and photonics for more than 30 years. As Director, Industry Development at SPIE – The international society for optics and photonics – he is responsible for tracking the photonics industry markets and technology to help define long-term strategy, while also facilitating development of SPIE’s industry activities. Before joining SPIE, Anderson was Associate Publisher and Editor in Chief of Laser Focus World and chaired the Lasers & Photonics Marketplace Seminar. Anderson also co-founded the BioOptics World brand. Anderson holds a chemistry degree from the University of York and an Executive MBA from Golden Gate University.    

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