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White Paper

Nanometer Scale Industrial Automation for Optical Device Manufacturing

RJ Hardt
President of Peak Metrology

Manufacturers of optical devices know the importance of mature industrialized processes built around the cost savings of automation. These processes have made manufacturing optical devices economical in a number of speed and bandwidth-sensitive markets such as data communications, telecommunications, and commercial sensing. The technology that goes into these devices is constantly evolving to meet the future needs of these markets, and this forces product manufacturing practices to follow suit.

Disruptive technologies, including the advancement of chip-level optical functions and the miniaturization of device interconnections, have forced the adoption of new and unproven manufacturing processes in mass production environments. Component assembly and alignment tolerances that were once measured in tens of micrometers are now scrutinized in terms of nanometers. For example, chip-based photonics are commonly designed with waveguides that are only a few hundred nanometers wide and have alignment tolerances to external components or fibers that can be tens of nanometers. Not achieving these tolerances during the assembly process causes attenuation and signal loss that affect device functionality. Optical research laboratories have made many process advancements at the nanometer scale, but taking these same techniques and applying them to an industrial automation process is no small task and carries significant risk. Fortunately, the risks of developing production platforms with enough robustness and throughput can be mitigated by choosing the appropriate automation equipment.