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Photonics ‘in a very good place’

The American Institute for Manufacturing Integrated Photonics is gaining steam in 2017 and laying the groundwork for creating a sustainable model, its leaders say.

“We’re in a very good place right now,” said Robert Duffy, chairman of AIM Photonics Leadership Council and president and CEO of the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce.

AIM Photonics CEO Michael Liehr agrees the initiative has made headway over the past year.

“We’re making good progress,” he said.

First announced by federal and state leaders in July 2015, the $600 million AIM Photonics is a manufacturing consortium that will focus on the design, manufacture, testing, assembly and packaging of integrated photonic devices.

Among the lead universities in the public-private partnership are SUNY Polytechnic Institute, the University of Rochester and Rochester Institute of Technology.

Integrated photonics involves using photons, the power of light, in place of electrons, or electricity. The end result would be devices—from cellphones to computers—that are smaller, faster and more reliable.

Three of the most important applications of integrated photonics are high-speed data communication devices, which will be used to make data centers more efficient; high-speed radio frequency devices used in telecommunications and military systems; and sensors that rely on light.

Since being announced, those involved with AIM Photonics have been creating an organizational structure and taking preliminary steps to get the operation off the ground.

So far, nearly $200 million has been approved by the New York State Photonics Board of Officers for infrastructure, equipment and training initiatives related to AIM Photonics.

That includes an $81 million expense budget approved in March by the state Photonics Board of Officers. It is the second tranche of state expenditures approved by the board of the $250 million total over five years that the state committed to the project.

Last year, $106 million was approved by the board.  The total budget for AIM Photonics is some $612.9 million, with the federal government committing $110 million and the state and other parties, including private-sector companies, providing the balance.

New York’s $81 million, which covers April 1 through March 31, 2018, includes $71 million for capital tools and equipment and $10 million for operating and maintenance.

In addition to the funding allocations, the site of AIM Photonics’ national Testing, Assembly, and Packaging Facility was announced in December.

The TAP facility will be located at the ON Semiconductor site at Building 81 at the Eastman Business Park in Rochester. It also will house AIM’s administrative facilities.

Construction is slated to begin soon on the site, with the goal of having the operation fully up and running by year-end, Liehr said.

The facility will be used to test, assemble and package chips that use photons in place of electrons for increased performance of semiconductor circuits.

With up to 80 percent of the cost of an integrated photonics product coming from its packaging, the Rochester region has a key role to play in the initiative, those involved with the project say.

While it will not employ a large number of people—especially at the onset—the TAP facility has the potential to not only attract new companies to the region but expand those already in business here, AIM Photonics’ officials said.

Having the facility in the area is a reflection of the depth of talent and potential for development here, Duffy said.
“It bodes well for all of us,” he said.

Thomas Battley, executive director of New York Photonics, an industry association made up of more than 100 local optics, photonics and imaging companies that generate some $3.5 billion in annual sales, said the AIM initiative could put the United States at the forefront of scalable integrated photonics manufacturing.

The competition to do so is worldwide, and places, including Rochester and Albany, are leading that charge for the U.S.

“We are the captains of the American team in an international competition,” Battley said.

To further grow the manufacturing capabilities, AIM is partnering with companies around the country.

That list of partners includes General Electric Co. and Mentor Graphics Corp., which were announced as new AIM partners in March.

GE is working with AIM on a project on integrated photonic sensors, and a significant portion of the program will take place at the TAP facility here.

Mentor Graphics is an electronic design automation company that will be involved with integrated photonics design done through AIM Photonics.

Another component of AIM Photonics that leaders are working to develop is the AIM Academy, which is focused on three areas:

Education—preparing students, technicians, engineers and researchers to build careers in the photonic integrated circuit industry;

Workforce development—addressing skills gaps and employment needs identified by the integrated photonics industry to meet current and future workforce demands; and

Roadmap: preparing a vision of a future photonic integrated circuit industry based on an understanding on how technology, industry and policy dynamics interact.

While Liehr is pleased with the work that has been done to-date, he describes himself as cautiously optimistic, given the high hopes centered around AIM and its potential.

Ultimately, creating a sustainable model is the key, he said.

“We still have to be here when the state and federal funding ends,” Liehr said.

(c) 2017 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-363-7269 or e-mail madams@bridgetowermedia.com.

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