The silicon photonics market is growing fast in data centers, and more applications are looming on the horizon.
The total market for PIC-based transceivers will grow from around US$4B in 2018 to around US$19B in 2024, according to Yole Développement’s (Yole’s) report, Silicon Photonics and Photonic Integrated Circuits 2019. Si photonics will have the highest CAGR (44% in volume), which will grow from around US$455M in 2018, equating to 1.3M units, to around US$4B in 2024, equating to 23.5M units.
In this buoyant context, Eric Mounier PhD, Fellow Analyst at Yole Photonics & Sensing Division, met Dr. Choon-Leong Lou – Chairman & CEO at STAr Technologies during the Executive Forum on Silicon Photonics. STAr Technologies, a company developing a total silicon photonics test solution, was also the main sponsor of the forum. Their conversation is transcribed below.
Eric Mounier (EM): Can you introduce our readers to STAr Technologies?
Choon-Leong Lou (CL): STAr Technologies (STAr) was established in 2000 and specializes in semiconductor tests with products ranging from ATEs (automatic test equipment), instruments, software, and accessories, to probe cards for parametric and reliability tests, product burn-in, wafer-sort, and final tests. STAr has grown from a startup company to a medium enterprise with a presence in seven countries and annual revenue exceeding USD50M. STAr is at the forefront of technology and product innovations, with more than 15% of revenue reinvested in R&D and possessing hundreds of international patents. STAr’s mission is to revolutionize semiconductor tests and provide the highest-quality turnkey semiconductor test systems, services, and knowledge to satisfy our customers’ diverse needs.
EM: Can you describe STAr’s product portfolio and competitive advantages?
CL: As a turnkey test solution supplier, STAr’s expertise extends to parametric electrical tests (E-test), wafer-level and package-level reliability (WLR & PLR), mixed-signal automated test equipment (ATE), optical devices and silicon photonics tests, probe cards for wafer-sort and E-tests, final-test and burn-in boards, engineering probe stations, anisotropic conductive elastomer, and more.
Our total solution enables us to provide one-stop test products, consumables, and technical services throughout the semiconductor supply chain, including design houses, foundries, GaAs wafer manufacturers, optical device manufacturers, testing houses, and assembly & packaging companies. We serve varied departments within the supply chain: R&D, technology development, quality & reliability assurances, failure analysis, manufacturing, and tests.
EM: What Si photonics market opportunities await STAr?
CL: Silicon photonics is a disruptive technology poised to revolutionize a number of application areas, such as data centers, high-performance computing, and data transmission. Silicon photonics is an integrated mix of several technical blocks – lasers, optics, MEMS, high-speed digital, and RF SOCs. Testing such complex systems requires extreme integration expertise, with knowledge in the fields of precision mechanics, optical characterization, and RF measurements.
STAr has nearly 20 years of integration test system experience and is able to design and manufacture a total silicon photonics test solution, comprising instruments, probe stations, automatic coupling stages, probe cards, and application test software in order to meet customer requirements for R&D, engineering, high-volume production, and reliability qualification.
EM: Photonics testing is very specific. How does STAr differentiate in Si photonics testing technologies?
CL: Progress in silicon photonics integrated circuit technology and applications is accelerating with the onset of an industrial ecosystem comprised of foundries, commercial modeling tools, and photonics test capability. Bringing optical testing deeper, from package-level in to the wafer-level semiconductor process, is an important step to assure performance and yield.
To meet the specific test requirements, STAr has developed a semi-automated (upgradeable to full automation) all-in-one wafer-level test system, called Sagittarius-SPT, for characterization and acceptance tests of silicon photonics devices. This system is an on-wafer RF/DC electro-optics silicon-photonics tester enabled by smart-automated directional opto-coupling algorithms, advanced instrument controls, and complex test methodologies, with the key advantage of testing at the wafer-level and generating fast, reproducible, accurate test results.
Sagittarius-SPT further enables different types of silicon photonics devices to be tested for electrical-optical DC-RF and dynamic high-frequency performance in temperatures from -55C to 300C. The inclusion of an equipment front-end module (EFEM) for automatic wafer loading/unloading positions Sagittarius-SPT as the leading industrial high-volume manufacturing test system for silicon photonics devices and integrated circuits, even for extreme operations environments. The Sagittarius-SPT enables production of silicon photonics devices for our customers at the lowest possible cost-of-tests, with minimal operator interactions.
The Sagittarius-SPT value proposition includes:
- Value-based Functions
- Dynamic Resource Allocation and Smart Switching
- Interactive, Engineering & Automation Test Modes
- Flexible User-defined Decision-based Test Flow
- Unified Algorithm Editor and Debugger (C++ )
- More than 500 Instrument Drivers
- Key Silicon-Photonics Test Functions
- Silicon Photonics Test Mode
- Automatic Fiber Alignment
- Electro-Optical Device Test Library Suite
- Automated Probe Station & Motorized Manipulator Control
EM: How do you foresee the growth of Si photonics for your activities?
CL: Attributed to the optical devices made by using standard semiconductor fabrication techniques that are integrated with microelectronic chips, the silicon photonics market is expected to grow significantly in the near future. We believe the Sagittarius-SPT will raise our customers to the forefront of the silicon photonics industry and enhance countless devices with accurate calibration routines and reliable test performance.
EM: Can you share any current collaborations you have in Si photonics?
CL: We have received multiple orders from major Korean and Chinese semiconductor manufacturers and design houses for our automatic test system (Sagittarius-SPT) to manufacture their future fiber-optic devices. This order reflects STAr’s successful approach to silicon photonics wafer/device tests. STAr also has plans and agreements to collaborate with leading silicon industry photonics suppliers to provide PDKs (process development kits) for ensuring best practices – from design-to-manufacturing, manufacturability, from manufacture-to-tests, and finally from tests-to-reliability and product qualification. Sagittarius-SPT is capable of meeting the needs of electro-optical industry manufacturers, and we believe our system will enhance efficiency, throughput, and quality at the customer’s end.
Dr. Choon-Leong LOU, Chairman & CEO, STAr Technologies
Choon-Leong LOU (Ph.D.) joined Hewlett-Packard as an engineering consultant in 1997 and was promoted to Group Business Manager in 2000 – a year in which he also received the Agilent President’s award. Since founding STAr in 2000, Dr. Lou has served as Chairman, CEO, and CTO. He is responsible for charting overall strategies, research, and product developments within the group. STAr has grown from a startup to a medium enterprise with a presence in seven countries and annual revenue exceeding USD50M. Dr. Lou earned a B. Eng. and Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from National University of Singapore in 1994 and 1997, respectively. He also obtained an EMBA degree from Golden Gate University in 1999, and is a Board Member of Innotech Corporation.
With almost 20 years of experience in MEMS, Sensors and Photonics applications, markets, and technology analyses, Eric Mounier, PhD provides deep industry insight into current and future trends. As a Fellow Analyst, Technology & Market, MEMS & Photonics, in the Photonics, Sensing & Display division, he is a daily contributor to the development of MEMS and Photonics activities at Yole Développement (Yole), with a large collection of market and technology reports as well as multiple custom consulting projects: business strategy, identification of investments or acquisition targets, due diligences (buy/sell side), market and technology analysis, cost modelling, technology scouting, etc.
Previously, Eric Mounier held R&D and Marketing positions at CEA Leti (France).
He has spoken in numerous international conferences and has authored or co-authored more than 100 papers.
Eric has a Semiconductor Engineering Degree and a Ph.-D in Optoelectronics from the National Polytechnic Institute of Grenoble (France).
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