Startup Gets Clever With Cubes

Germany's Cube Optics has come up with a passive assembly process for making tiny optical components

December 11, 2001

2 Min Read
Startup Gets Clever With Cubes

Cube Optics AG (CUBO), a German startup making optical components, is expecting to deliver first engineering samples of its products to customers within the next few days, according to its CEO Thomas Paatzsch.

CUBO's first product, which it introduced in October 2001, is a four-channel coarse Wavelength Division Multiplexing (WDM) mux. It's based on thin-film filters, just like multiplexers from Corning Inc. (NYSE: GLW), JDS Uniphase Inc. (Nasdaq: JDSU; Toronto: JDU), and Oplink Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: OPLK). But at 15mm cubed, CUBO's package is a fraction of the size of traditional thin-film filter components.

No surprise then, that Paatzsch, his co-founder Ingo Smaglinski, and most of CUBOs staff hail from the Institut für Mikrotechnik Mainz GmbH (IMM-Mainz), a research institute that's expert in manufacturing things very small and with very high accuracy.

CUBO has developed a "precision optical bench" that contains alignment structures into which individual optical elements such as lenses can be placed. "We use passive assembly," explains Paatzsch. "And the nice thing about that is that you can pack a lot of functions into a very small space."

In contrast, components that are manufactured using active assembly require more space around each optical element in order to grip and move them during the alignment process.

Paatzsch is quick to point out that there's a second benefit of passive assembly -- it becomes much simpler to turn the product line over to automated manufacturing. "Most companies will tell you that they will do automated product, but only if they go to really high volumes, because only then is it worth it," he says. CUBO, on the other hand, plans to use automated production even for small quantities, using standard automation equipment. "We buy our equipment from the sort of company that sells to the automotive industry."

And the upshot of all that is significant cost savings, which can be passed onto the customer.

The optical bench itself is made from polymer using injection molding. Paatzsch wouldn't say how, since the exact recipe is basically the company jewels.

Going forward, CUBO plans to offer a wider range of components by integrating different micro-optic functions inside the package. It has also developed 1x2 up to 2x4 splitters and an electromagnetic switch; and it plans to have a wavelength switch, integrating the CWDM mux with the switch, sometime next year.

"There's plenty of space inside the cube," Paatzsch claims. "In fact, some of our customers have said 15mm is too high, and it would be easier to fit on the board if it was thinner." Of course, then the component would not be a cube anymore. Cuboids, anyone?

CUBO was funded by Star Ventures and Sevin Rosen Funds in October 2000. The amount hasn't been disclosed.

— Pauline Rigby, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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