Optical components

Optical vs China

8:30 AM -- Thanks to the sources who tipped us off on the Xponent Photonics Inc. plight. (See Is Xponent Xpiring?.) One of them brought up an interesting point: Maybe Xponent, whose specialty was an automated manufacturing process for optical components, got done in by China's labor pool.

The theory goes that China's labor costs are so low, and the laborers so good at their jobs, that a manual assembly process still outdoes an automated one, despite the apparent cost advantages of passive alignment. In other words, human hands aren't that much more expensive than the machines, and they do a good enough job.

Well, acting CEO Jay Abbe says that is not what happened to Xponent. So much for my long-winded explanation.

But he does agree on the macro trend, that the availability and quality of labor is quelling the cry for automation. (Yes, I'm saying it that way just to get "quelling" in a sentence.)

Like a lot of people, I believed in 2000 that optics manufacturing was going to follow the footsteps of the semiconductor industry, creating automated processes that would eventually standardize. It's heading that direction, but very slowly. China's labor pool is one factor, but more importantly, the mass mass market that would spur the transition just hasn't arisen yet.

— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading

litereading 12/5/2012 | 3:01:21 PM
re: Optical vs China amazing how little you have to pay people when you refuse to grant them political liberties...
olsen 12/5/2012 | 3:01:23 PM
re: Optical vs China Diogene,
So what are you saying? Use TO until the ultimate integrated component is doable? Or could there maybe be a step in between? Why do you think Enablence is acquiring their suppliers? Maybe to ensure that their components can be customized to their product at a low as possible cost, and future supply is under their control? Nevertheless, I do believe that machines can assemble a tri-/diplexer faster than a chinese worker with a microscope. Wafer processing and automated assembly: There's a reason why Enablence only employs 15 people...

Regarding Vent's mention of survivors: Enablence's partner, and fab, is Ignis Photonyx. Ignis' operation and fab in Denmark is what previously was known as NKT Integration. These guys have been working together on this product since late 2003.
I believe it's about to see the light of day.

Diogene 12/5/2012 | 3:01:25 PM
re: Optical vs China Glass or silicon is just a substrate for the "hybrid" integration of all the other components (Laser, APD, etc...). It's not real "integration". That's the point.

I am also sure that MicroOptics performance are unbeatable. I am not happy with that, but it's true.

With TO you buy off-the-shelf component; with "planar" or "silicon bench-based " technologies you usually have to customize them for yuor proprietary process. This has a cost that the others have not.

Good night and good luck

Vent 12/5/2012 | 3:01:26 PM
re: Optical vs China Optical integration for comms often in the end doesn't make a lot of sense.
If you integrate lasers and PD's onto a glass(Enablence) or silicon (Xponent or the old bookham ASOC)you have the losses at the interface that build up + the fiber coupling losses. The costs don't make sense unless your vertically integrated. Enablance has bought albis for the PD's but will they every get back the investment (let alone the money that went into Albis /optospeed read bookham for another black hole) the only thing that may save them is if they get into defence type markets with better procing. Interesting that they have an agreement with Kotura (the inheritor of the ASOC technology) for joint development. The other integration survivors areGemfire and Neophotonics
(not much sign on neophotonics website of progress on integration.
The material (if only the technology was good enough) for intergation is InP but alas Mesophotonics and also the technology of Three-Five photonics is nowhere to be seen.
olsen 12/5/2012 | 3:01:28 PM
re: Optical vs China redface,
According to Arvind Chhatbar, CEO of Enablence, all mounting and alignment is done passively and all assembly and packaging is done in an automated process. Sanmina-SCI is currently doing 5-10k units a month. Completed Telcordia is aprox. a month away. They recently bought the company that is making the PDs used, and they are about to do another share issue in order to complete another acquisition to further integrate vertically. As we "speak", they are demoing the diplexer in a commercially available system (I'm guessing Samsung's EPON) at the FTTH-conference in Orlando, and an aerospace and defence ready 2.5 Gb/s bi-directional transceiver, at AVFOP 2007.

What makes you so sure Enablence will fold?

PS. Xponent's site is back up.
redface 12/5/2012 | 3:01:33 PM
re: Optical vs China I wonder whether Xponent has set up some form of insider news embargo rule, because no Xponent insider has offered why Xponent has failed.

I still think the performance of Xponent devices has a lot to do with their demise. Waveguides are intrinsically inferior to thin film filters at separating wavelengths, and that's what Xponent has got. Most likely Xponent devices are poor at both wavelength performance and fiber insertion loss. The same should be true for Enablence, the other FTTH supplier based on semiconductor processes. Xponent's major strength is the fiber passive alignment process which Enablence can not do. It will only be a matter of time before Enablence folds too.
Diogene 12/5/2012 | 3:01:34 PM
re: Optical vs China Dear Craig,

I think that cheap labor is not the explanation. I think that "TO" based micro-optics devices and packaging technology are already semi-automated. Chip labor & real estate add only more competitiveness. Actually, BOM is the main cost of micro-optic device.

The problem with exponent and in general with silicon based integrated optics... is that it is not integrated.

You need assembly procedures to integrate separated active/passive components (Laser, PIN/APD, filters, etc...).
- Long BOM (management of supplier, qualify separate parts, usually custom for your process)
- You need expensive packaging equipment;

TO-based micro-optics is, on the contrary, there for more than 10 years. It already developed economy of scale, and for simple functionalities, like diplexer, triplexer, tosa/rosa are also unbeatable in terms of optical performance.

Silicon it is far from being and integrated platform for optics as for electronics. InP is the real platform for optical integration. Today, still too expensive.

I love technology, but it is true that we are not there yet.

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