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The AIM Photonics TAP facility will be located in Rochester, at a former facility of Eastman Kodak, now occupied by ON Semiconductor. [Source: Governor Cuomo Flickr]

The American Institute for Manufacturing Integrated Photonics (AIM Photonics)—a major U.S. public-private partnership based in Rochester, N.Y., working to foster advanced-manufacturing technology in integrated photonics—has received the green light on a grant of US$81 million from the state of New York. The funding, announced in late May, will support equipment and operations for the project’s testing, assembly and packaging (TAP) facility, a linchpin of AIM Photonics’ research mission. Stakeholders in the project hailed the funding as both a milestone in the evolution of AIM Photonics and a boon to the regional economy.

Finding funding—and a home

AIM Photonics’ origins trace to fall 2014. At that time—after a significant information and support effort by the National Photonics Initiative, OSA and other organizations—integrated photonics was selected as the theme of a new Institute for Manufacturing Innovation (IMI) under President Barack Obama’s National Network for Manufacturing Innovation initiative. In the year that followed that announcement, several U.S. regional consortia placed bids to host the IMI; in July 2015, the nod went to the AIM Photonics group, a 75-partner consortium led by the Research Foundation for the State University of New York. The initiative’s total pledged funding amounts to a hefty US$600 million from academic, industry, federal and state government sources, with the state of New York alone contributing US$250 million.

The TAP facility represents a key component in AIM Photonics’ plan for boosting end-to-end advanced manufacturing technology in photonic integrated circuits. The facility will include what the project bills as the “first and only open-access” installation for testing photonic devices on 300-mm-diameter semiconductor wafers. Additionally, to further support integrated-photonics R&D, the facility will house wafer fabrication and multiple-project wafer assembly tools and equipment, and a TAP manufacturing execution system, so that state-of-the-art photonic integrated circuits can be produced in volume.

Six months before unveiling the new TAP funding, in December 2016, AIM Photonics had announced that the TAP site would be located in the 260,000-square-foot building that formerly housed the physics lab of the iconic Rochester firm Eastman Kodak. Currently occupied by ON Semiconductor, the site already holds a 20,000-square-foot cleanroom as well as various semiconductor manufacturing facilities for both CCD and CMOS sensors.

AIM Photonics at an "inflection point"?

The new round of TAP funding comes after two previous funding tranches totaling US$106 million, which covered basic tooling, equipment and licensing, as well as renovations of the ON Semiconductor facility. The new US$81 million state grant will propel the project forward, according to AIM Photonics, by supporting expenditures on key equipment and ongoing operating costs.

Concurrent with the late-May funding announcement, AIM Photonics hosted a meeting for potential respondents to the project’s third call for proposals, which began in April and which expires on 19 June. More than 100 AIM Photonics members and partners attended the meeting. Tom Koch, an OSA Fellow and the chairman of the AIM Photonics Technical Review Board, characterized these developments as an “inflection point for AIM Photonics growth,” and suggested that the projects that result from the latest proposal call could lead to “new capabilities that will provide members with new integrated photonics solutions and help drive institute sustainability.”

Political stakeholders in the region, meanwhile, stressed the potential benefits of both AIM Photonics and its TAP facility the economy of New York State’s Finger Lakes region, which includes Rochester. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, in introducing the latest funding, said the new investment is “critical to the completion of AIM Photonics’ cutting-edge TAP facility that will create new jobs and new opportunities for the community.” And New York state senator Joseph Robach, whose constituents live in the region surrounding Rochester, said that progress on the TAP plant “means jobs for members of our community in the innovative fields of optics, photonics and imaging.”