Generic Photonic Integration

Generic photonic integration adapts the model of micro-electronics in which a large variety of integrated circuits (ICs) can be made with a limited set of predefined building blocks (BBs), all fabricated using the same integration process. SMART Photonics has developed a generic process for the production of photonics integrated circuits. This has been done together with the research division of the Institute for Photonic Integration of the Technical University Eindhoven. This generic integration technology has brought about a paradigm shift in the way photonic integrated chips are produced. 


Generic integration has a number of advantages. By using standardized industrial integration processes, a stable and reproducible performance is achieved. Because the building blocks are predefined, circuit design can be on functional level, leading to a more efficient design flow. The availability of Process Design Kit (PDKs) and design software enables fast and accurate design. 

Generic Photonic Integration

A generic integration process is a standardized process in which complex circuits can be created by integration of a small set of basic building blocks, like transistors, capacitors and resistors in microelectronics. By providing users with a so-called process design kit, which contains mask layout and accurate functional descriptions of the basic building blocks and more complex sub-circuits, users can design complex circuits without having to understand the underlying technology. This approach has proven extremely successful in microelectronics. The University of Eindhoven has pioneered this concept in photonics, by developing a process in which optical amplifiers, modulators and detectors can be integrated with a variety of passive devices in a single chip, as shown in the figure below.

An open-access foundry model

SMART Photonics offers open-access foundry service to an improved version of the process developed by TU/eindhoven. An important advantage of generic integration processes is that designs from different users can be combined on a single wafer, a so called Multi-Project Wafer (MPW). This leads to a large reduction in the costs of prototyping because these are shared by many users, and the number of design cycles is smaller because the process is mature and designers can use a library of proven components. Further, scaling up to larger volumes is straightforward, because the prototype has been developed in a industrial process. This leads to a large reduction of the entry costs for new PIC users and brings Photonic Integration within reach of SMEs.

Process Design Kit (PDK)

The SMART Photonics PDK comprises of a comprehensive building block library, build up out of active and passive devices for InP based photonic integration. The SMART Photonics PDK is available for various software partners each with their own expertise in designing and simulating photonic ICs. Each building block of the PDK is regularly tested and calibrated from measurements to ensure correct optical and electrical performance at a circuit simulation level. The PDK enforces users to obey certain predefined design rules set by the fab, thereby removing the necessity for the user to gain in-depth knowledge and expertise required to fabricate a functional device. Circuit designs can be exported to a layout tool. In our ongoing collaboration with our software partners we are working towards standardizing this interface. This opens up the possibility to exchange photonic circuit designs between different software packages. Check our handout about the Process Design Kit.

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Luc Augustin CTO

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