More than just “packaging”: a leap forward in photonics miniaturization

Good things come in small packages, goes the saying, and back in 2015 we reported on G&H’s development of an innovative photonics packaging solution for a Government-funded project to produce compact, eye-safe laser transmitters for sensing applications.

These transmitters are critical for current and future laser-based sensor systems, but the specification was highly demanding, requiring an extraordinary packaging balance of small size and weight, optimized power output and efficiency, and cost-effectiveness.

Six years ago, this is exactly what G&H delivered. Fast-forward to 2021, and we are not only deploying the latest manufacturing techniques to deliver innovative photonics packaging solutions at scale, but making our expertise in this area available to our customers to help them solve packaging challenges in new contexts too.

In fact, we are helping to miniaturize packaging to take it to places it has never been before – and changing the world with photonics in the process.

Recap: optimum performance in a fraction of the footprint

The 2015 project is a good illustration – amongst many – of how G&H’s expertise has risen to the challenge of taking photonics packaging to the next level, so let us remind ourselves of the detail briefly.

The conundrum G&H resolved centered on the relative benefits and disadvantages of two competing transmitter sources: solid-state, which can deliver high performance but scores poorly on SWaPC (size, weight, power, and cost), and direct diode, which is low-cost and compact, but offers lower performance compared to solid-state sources.

Essentially, we were able to combine the benefits of both in one reduced form-factor comparable to direct-diode in size, at a weight half that of solid-state, and a peak power four orders of magnitude higher than direct diode, at a cost comparable to it – a leap forward by any standards.

The resulting laser transmitter comprises fewer components, so is simpler to precision-manufacture, operates at lower power levels, and generates less heat. All these factors also improve the performance and reliability of the final device.

In short, we solved an industry-wide photonics packaging challenge to support the production of compact sensing solutions for use in ever more diverse deployments (more on these later on) – and it can do the same for customers in 2021.

What gives G&H the packaging edge?

G&H’s expertise in photonics packaging stems from a long pedigree of developing solutions for use in truly rugged environments, where reliability is crucial, including undersea applications, avionics, and space.

Critical to these deployments are form factor (footprint), hermetic sealing, accuracy of alignment, robustness of adhesion, and resilience to shock, vibration and temperature.

We lead the way in form factor innovation, lowering size and weight by, for example, arranging diode arrays on single chips, and using 4 x 4 fiber optic couplers to reduce the space taken up by the traditional approach of networking two 2 x 2 components together (as explored in this Fiber-Q® article).

To achieve hermetic sealing, we seal glass optical fibers in a vacuum within a low-profile steel box, typically no bigger than a large matchbox, which reduces loss by eliminating the air-to-glass interface.

Alignment is critical in any laser application, so G&H uses laser welding to fix the active components in place – a much more precise and robust solution than adhesive.

Arguably, all these approaches combine to improve resilience to challenging environmental conditions, but we also specifically make use of wirebonding to ensure reliable, low-loss connections that are resistant to shock, vibration, and temperature. 

Of course, the finished product is ultimately dependent on three critical factors: the quality of the materials, the precision of the manufacturing, and the stability of the manufacturing environment.

We have invested heavily across all these areas. A very high proportion of the materials and components we use are designed and produced (and in the case of tellurium dioxide crystals, grown) within the G&H organization, and our new additional clean room facility has enabled us both to expand our recruitment of skilled manufacturing and R&D talent, and increase the speed and scale at which innovative new photonics packaging solutions can be brought to market.

In fact, you could say we are doing with our R&D and manufacturing expertise exactly what we do with our packaging products – ensuring we deliver maximum performance within the environment available.

Packaging in the future: where will the applications take us?

Much has changed since 2015.

The opportunities for effective photonics packaging solutions – and the companies who develop the devices built on them – have multiplied, particularly in the sensing space.

To the “traditional” sensing applications of surveillance and linear asset monitoring can now be added fuel sensing, traffic and congestion control, pollution detection, the brave new(ish) world of the Internet of Things (IoT), and the much newer world of warehouse robotics, as practiced by Amazon and others.

In short, wherever photonics packaging can make a difference, there are conversations with customers to be had – and G&H is always pleased to share the expertise that has made it a leader in this field.

For further information regarding G&H’s photonics packaging services, please contact our sales team.