The future of photonics, electronics, and additive

The Future of Photonics, Electronics, and Additive Manufacturing

By ZM Peterson • Dec 10, 2019

For anyone interested in what the future of photonics and electronics looks like, I'd like to invite you to read an interview I gave to PCB007 at this year's PCB West event in San Jose, CA. You can read the interview at IConnect007, or you can download the full issue from this link (see page 34).

I'll summarize some of the important points around the future of photonics, electronics, modular design, and additive manufacturing here. These four technologies are set to converge in major ways, which will enable more advanced devices with high mix, low volume manufacturing.

Future of Photonics and Electronics Devices

Photonics and electronics has already been converging in the research community for decades. Thanks to fundamental engineers like Richard Soref and large semiconductor manufacturers, silicon photonics manufacturing capacity is nearly ready to scale in order to accommodate new design methodologies. The future of photonics can't be considered in isolation as electronic circuits will still be fundamental. Electronic-photonic integrated circuits (EPICs) will provide integration at the wafer level and the board level. Expect to see commercialized EPIC and fully photonic integrated circuits (PICs) come to market in the near future.

There are a number of open-source tools available for designing EPICs and PICs, which can then be produced in multi-project wafer (MPW) runs. These tools can be found online. I've compiled a short list in a recent article on Upverter's blog. You can also read more about the design challenges in PICs in my recent article on Altium's PCB Design Blog. For more information on possible integration solutions at the board level, take a look at this article.

Additive Manufacturing

Fully functional PCBs can already be produced with a number of 3D printing systems. The range of available materials in these systems is set to expand to include a range of organic and inorganic polymers, which will provide the ability to produce PCBs with tunable materials properties and thin film semiconductor devices. You can read more about this on Nano Dimension's blog.

Modular Design Technologies

I've discussed modular design in an earlier article. This is already enabling design and manufacturing of single board computers, but it is now filtering down to the IC level with system-on-chip (SoC) design. The photonics design tools I mentioned above also provide a modular approach, where standardized components can be easily laid out on a single chip. As more advanced devices are standardized, both for electronics, photonics, and additive designs, modularity will enable design of advanced systems with less development time and cost.


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