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Dec 16th, 2011
3S Photonics’ optical components and modules
3S Photonics designs, manufactures, and markets high-reliability active and passive optical components and modules for the telecom, sensing, and laser markets. The company is also focusing on the development of ultra-reliable fiberoptic systems such as high-power fused components, optical sensors, and fiber laser components.
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Nozay, France-based 3S Photonics is a leading manufacturer of optical and optoelectronic components for telecommunication networks. The company’s pedigree is an impressive one: It got its start as Alcatel Optronics in 1994, and was subsequently sold during the telecom bust and renamed Avanex France in 2003, before finally being acquired in 2007 and recreated once again, this time as 3S Photonics, by Alexandre Krivine, president and CEO, and Didier Sauvage, chief technology officer.

The core of the business at the time was active optical components for telecommunications. 

3S Photonics Group’s headquarters are located in the center of Optics Valley, Nozay, France
(Courtesy of 3S Photonics Group)

From the beginning in 2007, we’ve defined our strategy as a diversification out of the telecom business by focusing on expanding our in-house technology,” explains Sauvage. “Our strategy centers on developing new products and improving the profitability of the company—expanding both our portfolio and growth. The key for us is to evolve the value chain not only inside the telecommunication market, but also to reach beyond it. Different applications are a clear target.”

Unique wafer fab
3S Photonics operates an optoelectronics wafer fab in Nozay, France, producing III-V wafers, and as Sauvage points out, this facility is unique because gallium arsenide (GaAs) and indium phosphide (InP) technologies are created under the same roof.

There are only three players in the world specializing in these technologies,” notes Sauvage. “This is a large market, and the reason there are only three players is because it’s very difficult and tricky to produce in terms of the reliability of the product—and reliability is everything. For the submarine applications 3S Photonics is involved in, at depths below 5,000m, the reliability requirements are even greater than those of space applications. We need to guarantee the reliability is strong; the failure rate must be below 1% during 25 years of operation.”

Based on these stringent requirements, 3S Photonics controls the entire manufacturing process of its products to guarantee the reliability of its components used specifically in submarine communication networks. The fab in France has 2,000 square meters of Class 1,000 and 10,000 cleanrooms, and an annual production that capacity exceeding 1,000 GaAs wafers and 1,000 InP wafers. The company also provides foundry services using its epitaxial and wafer processing expertise.

3S Photonics also is working with Fabrinet, a Thailand-based subcontractor that operates a 35,000-square-meter facility, with several manufacturing lines under its direct supervision there.

And in 2008, 3S Photonics purchased a significant holding in the South Korean-based Coset, which specializes in the packaging and assembly of pump modules for terrestrial applications. This move enabled 3S Photonics to purchase technologies adapted to the optics industry outside of the telecom market at a lower cost.

Product portfolio
3S Photonics’ product portfolio consists of five key lines: Transmission lasers and detector modules; pump laser modules for terrestrial and submarine applications; chromatic dispersion compensation modules; chromatic dispersion compensation modules; filters, gain equalizers, and pump stabilizers based on Fiber Bragg Gratings for terrestrial and submarine applications; and chip (lasers and detectors) and foundry services.

Moving up the value chain
3S Photonics recently acquired Manlight, a France-based globally recognized player in the field of optical fiber amplifiers and lasers. It is now a subsidiary of 3S Photonics Group.

We intend to move up in the value chain. Not so much in the optical amplifier field, because we don’t want to compete with our customers, but we’re planning to expand now that we’ve acquired Manlight, by moving into the fiber laser business,” notes Sauvage.

The Manlight product range should enable 3S Photonics to expand its products for its telecom customers, and to continue the diversification of their activities by promoting group components linked to the LIDAR and industrial fiber laser markets.

Sauvage describes the acquisition of Manlight as finding their “missing link.” This will enable 3S Photonics to grow their business and to offer new products in the optical amplifier business for telecommunications, as well as fiber industrial lasers for medical applications.

In terms of moving up the volume chain, another product we’re developing is silicon photonics technology, which is more dedicated to high-volume applications such as optical cables or FTTH products,” he says. “This will help us again expand our portfolio, because this is a field in which products need to be renewed roughly every 2 years. Roughly 15% of our revenue is spent on R&D.”

3S Photonics started out with revenues of roughly 10M Euro, and after 4 years has grown to 50M Euro. “This is clearly due to the introduction of products that we made from the start, but also a gain of marketshare and the growth of the market itself,” Sauvage says. “Our competitors who might not have taken us seriously when we started out now regard us as serious competition.

Eurazeo, an investment company, recently acquired the 3S Photonics Group’s holdings (83% of its capital), and has invested in a capital increase of 10M Euro to finance 3S Photonics’ growth—for a total equity investment of 37M Euro.

Published in Micronews #121 (Dec. 2011)


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