Prototype AIXTRON epitaxy reactor for open innovation pilot line OIP4NWE
A new AIXTRON epitaxy system has been delivered to Nanolab@TU/e for the open innovation program OIP4NWE. This prototype epitaxy reactor has a capacity for twelve 4-inch wafers per batch and will feature automatic wafer handling for the production of Indium Phosphide (InP) Photonic Integrated Circuits (PICs). The epitaxy reactor is a big step forward in equipment development suitable to cope with increasing demands and more complex specifications of next generation PICs.
AIXTRON is a worldwide leading provider of deposition equipment to the semiconductor industry. Their technology solutions are used by a diverse range of customers to build advanced components for electronic and opto-electronic applications based on compound or organic semiconductor materials. Such components are used in a broad range of innovative applications, technologies and industries, for example 5G-networks and e-mobility. Their collaboration with the Open Innovation Pilot line for North-West Europe (OIP4NWE) partners in an open innovation framework acknowledges the importance of InP integrated photonics and the excellence of the PhotonDelta Dutch-centered integrated photonics industry cluster. The Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e), a worldwide pioneer and leader in InP PICs with a strong photonics research portfolio and multiple PIC-related spin-off companies, is well positioned to host joint technology developments to move photonics manufacturing forward.
The new AIXTRON MOCVD epitaxy reactor, which was delivered on November 2nd, is the first of its kind for the epitaxial growth of 4-inch InP wafers with automatic cassette-to-cassette loading. Epitaxy is the first major step in the fabrication of PICs. It is thus a very crucial step. Improving this step in the fabrication process will impact the outcome of the entire process.
“These developments will support the AIXTRON market leader position in PIC production. Higher yield and lower cost enabled by new developments open new market perspectives for PIC applications,” argues Prof Dr Michael Heuken, Vice President Corporate Research and Development at AIXTRON.
The infrastructure at Nanolab@TU/e provides a solid basis to develop and evaluate state-of-the-art equipment and processes in a PIC manufacturing pilot line. By collaborating with AIXTRON on PIC manufacturing equipment, the TU/e acts as a bridge for technology improvements to flow to partner foundries such as SMART Photonics. As a consortium, OIP4NWE is developing tools and methods to increase the technology readiness level (TRL) of PICs manufacturing and facilitate cooperation with fabless components suppliers.
“This is a clear example of open innovation in photonics, where a PIC foundry, a leading equipment manufacturer and applied researchers cooperate to jointly enable the next-generation PIC manufacturing, thereby sharing risks and maximizing the exploitation of this increasingly complex technology,” says Dr. Victor Dolores Calzadilla, project coordinator of OIP4NWE (TU/e).
“This milestone shows the leading role of the north-west Europe Integrated Photonics supply chain in rapidly increasing this industry’s capabilities to reliably design, develop, fabricate and assemble InP-based PICs in scalable production volumes,” says Giuseppe Coppola, Chief Strategy and Business Development Officer at PhotonDelta.
The larger wafer sizes open the doors for the scalability of InP PICs production to cope with the increasing demand foreseen in the coming years. The automatic handling of wafers is expected to drastically reduce surface contamination (e.g. particles), thereby increasing the yield of PICs. The MOCVD reactor allows for more control over the fabrication process, resulting in more accurate and uniform growth of semiconductor layer stacks with reproducible characteristics such as layer thicknesses, doping levels and material composition. These aspects together mean better performance and higher reproducibility of PICs. An important step for volume production of PICs with tight requirements, thereby facilitating their deployment in diverse applications such as Data and Telecom, Medical Devices and Life Sciences, Infrastructure and Transportation.
“Pursuing our ambition to be the leading independent foundry for photonic integrated circuits, we always strive for the best people, processes and equipment. Currently, we are working hard to ramp up our capacity. OIP4NWE plays a very important role in this. The technological advancements of the new AIXTRON epitaxial reactor enable us and our customers to reach our goals of scalable, reproducible and cost-effective indium phosphide PICs,” says Luc Augustin, CTO at SMART Photonics.
 MOCVD stands for metalorganic chemical vapor deposition. It is used to produce single- or polycrystalline thin films for growing crystalline layers to create complex semiconductor multilayer structures that make up the PICs.
 Photonics21. Europe’s age of light! How photonics will power growth and innovation. Strategic Roadmap 2021-20217. https://www.photonics21.org/download/ppp-services/photonics-downloads/Europes-age-of-light-Photonics-Roadmap-C1.pdf