August 21st 2022 What Is A Process Design Kit (PDK)?

By Thomas Merelle

As a foundry for photonic integrated circuits we make the next generation chips. These photonic chips work with light instead of electrons. Yet, the world of photonics is relatively unknown. That’s why in this blog series we want to explain more clearly what we do here at SMART Photonics. Today’s topic is about… The Process Design Kit (PDK).

What is a Process Design Kit (PDK)?

In integrated photonics, a Process Design Kit (PDK) is a library of photonic components which enable designers to access a foundry’s process for fabrication. The components within a PDK are the building blocks of PICs (Photonic Integrated Circuits).

When we work with our customers to create photonic chips, we make the process quicker, cost-effective, and more efficient by re-using proven building blocks – photonic components which have already been tried and tested. These building blocks are like generic Lego blocks which can be assembled in different configurations to create new photonic chips.

SMART Photonics was one of the first photonics integration foundries to implement a PDK for each generation of its generic process.

What are the benefits of a PDK?

There is a clear time and cost efficiency attached to re-using a pre-designed photonic component. Our Process Design Kit (PDK) offers a library of these blocks for re-use, each one the result of years of research and development. 

Every building block in our library is extensively measured and tested, so the PDK allows every current and future customer to benefit from shared knowledge and expertise. A designer can use these blocks to build different types of photonic circuits for a variety of applications. This removes the need for customers and designers to understand the in-depth technology behind each and every component. Not only that, using already-proven building blocks accelerates the process of prototyping and enables lower cost development – without compromising on performance or functionality.

In our Process Design Kit, you’ll find every proven building block that SMART Photonics has to offer. Together with our customers, this library of blocks is being continuously expanded and improved. And to make it even easier to access this library, our building block catalogue lists the performance of each generation of every photonic component.

Why is a PDK important?

The concept of a PDK is nothing new – it was introduced decades ago by the semiconductor industry. However, the reason for its uptake in integrated photonics is the added value it brings. For the wider photonics industry, the concept of PDK plays a pivotal role in commercial breakthrough, for two key reasons:

  • Firstly, access to a PDK means PIC designers don’t have to start from scratch. They can choose from building blocks which have already proven their efficacy and functionality, resulting in a shorter time to market and at lower development costs. 
  • Secondly, a PDK is crucial in the design phase. PDK-based designs follow a series of rules which makes them compliant with our generic foundry process. In other words, we know what components chosen from our library can be processed by our foundry.

What’s inside our PDK?

SMART Photonics’ PDK contains the following documents and data:

  • A building block library 
  • Technology data (including layers and material parameters) 
  • Simulation data, compact models, and measurement data
  • Die templates and coating information
  • Design rule files and guidelines
  • A design rule manual

Software partners

The SMART Photonics PDK is available from various software partners, each with their own expertise in designing and simulating PICs. Here’s a list of software vendors working with the SMART Photonics PDK:

Vendor Products and Services types
Nazca Layout
Synopsis Design/Layout
Luceda Photonics    Design/Layout
Ansys Design
VPI Photonics Design
Photon Design Design/Layout


SMART Photonics PDK release strategy

Prior to advertising the release of a new generic process, SMART Photonics is working towards the annual release of a new PDK. This will include regression testing to ensure that previously defined building blocks are not affected by any PDK updates.

Interested to learn more about our PDK? Download our free two-page guide to using our Process Design Kit.

About SMART Photonics

Today, technology is everywhere around us and part of our everyday lives. Technology like integrated photonics plays an essential role in finding and developing solutions for the world’s problems, such as reducing energy consumption, improving healthcare, fighting food waste and our continuous hunger for information. SMART Photonics offers solutions for data and telecommunication, as well as for sensing – such as Lidar – and medical applications. And it doesn’t stop there.

SMART Photonics aims to improve people’s lives and create a better world with the help of integrated photonics. We are an independent foundry – producing high-end photonic integrated circuits for customers. One that thinks along. Our goal? To always look for innovative solutions that make a difference for our customers. From proof of concept to full production, we add value at every step of the way. And no matter what the challenge is, we make it happen.

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Thomas Merelle, PhD MBA Sr Product Manager LiDAR applications

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