Photonics roadmap projects awarded $1m grants to boost US manufacturing

Two photonics institutes have been awarded around $500,000 each by the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Advanced Manufacturing Technology Consortia programme (AMTech) in order to strengthen US manufacturing.

The University of Rochester’s Center for Emerging and Innovative Sciences (CEIS) and the International Electronics Manufacturing Initiative (iNEMI) were among the 19 grant winners, with CEIS given funding to lead the development of a national roadmap for photonics, while iNEMI is addressing hardware challenges of integrated photonics manufacturing.

NIST announced $9 million in awards for industry-driven consortia ‘to develop technology roadmaps aimed at strengthening US manufacturing and innovation performance across industries’.

CEIS will work with its partners and with the National Photonics Initiative (NPI) to forecast the introduction of new technologies and identify manufacturing challenges, which, if solved, can strengthen the competitiveness of domestic photonics companies and expand photonics manufacturing to the United States.

The US has been the world leader in developing photonics technologies, including fibre optics, lasers, digital imaging and flat panel displays. However, the US’s share of photonics manufacturing has dropped to less than 10 per cent of photonics components sold worldwide. The roadmap to be developed under this programme will identify key priorities and lay out a plan for addressing this.

‘The roadmap will address critical gaps to increase our nation’s competitiveness in photonics manufacturing,’ said Robert Clark, senior vice president for research at the University of Rochester and dean of the Hajim School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. ‘Our Congressional delegation fully understands the importance of bringing photonics manufacturing back to the US, and I want to thank them for their leadership and persistent efforts in support of this initiative. We are excited to be able to lead this effort in partnership with industry and other key stakeholders.’

Meanwhile, the Consortium for Integrated Photonic Systems Manufacturing (CIPSM), led by iNEMI, will also put together a roadmap, in this case to address the technology gaps and challenges that are limiting the advance of hardware technology for use in integrated photonic system manufacturing.

With the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Microphotonics Center, iNEMI will establish a consortium of academics, technologists, and companies that will define gaps and roadblocks for an integrated photonic technology roadmap. The roadmap will be used to guide manufacturing research and address systems requirements for networks that fully exploit the power of photonics.

Photonics is one area of advanced manufacturing the AMTech programme will be supporting. AMTech was designed to address the gap between research and development activities and the deployment of technological innovations in the domestic production of goods. This gap is economically damaging and it has been highlighted by the National Science and Technology Council, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, and other bodies.

‘The National Academies’ report, “Optics and Photonics, Essential Technologies for our Nation”, shouted about the abysmal state of data on optics and photonics jobs and investment in the US. Roadmapping should help address this deficit and illuminate the enormous potential the field holds for world-changing innovation and jobs creation,’ said SPIE CEO Dr Eugene Arthurs.

Commenting on the funding, the Optical Society’s (OSA) CEO, Elizabeth Rogan, said: ‘The success of these winning proposals is also due, in part, to the public expression of support in Washington, DC from the US photonics community, particularly from the National Photonics Initiative (NPI). OIDA – an OSA division – is aligned with the goals of the NIST grants, and has been working closely with key public-private stakeholders to emphasise the need for government support of these consortia and other specific photonics programmes.’

The CEIS-led group of partners, the New York Photonics Manufacturing Initiative, will aim to lay the foundation for a national consortium devoted to advanced manufacturing in photonics.

‘The University of Rochester and our partner organisations are honoured to be given the task of organising the development of a national technology roadmap for photonics manufacturing,’ said Paul Ballentine, CEIS’ deputy director. ‘By working with domain experts across the country and by leveraging the considerable expertise in the Rochester region, we will help the industry identify key technical barriers that need to be overcome to strengthen photonics manufacturing in the US.’

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