Europe’s integrated photonics firms call on EU to support building resilient supply chain for PICs

CEOs from eight of Europe’s largest integrated photonics companies have presented Thomas Skordas (deputy director-general of DG Connect), Lucilla Sioli (director for artificial intelligence & digital industry at DG Connect) and Werner Steinhögl (head of sector, Unit for Microelectronics & Photonics for the European Commission) with a plan to build a resilient European supply chain for photonic integrated circuits (PICs).

The plan calls for €4.25bn in funding over eight years and a range of recommendations to enable the European integrated photonics industry to become a global leader and have the ability to supply EU customers autonomously. Enabling the creation of smaller, faster and more energy-efficient devices, photonic integrated circuits are already being used in high-speed telecoms and datacoms, data security, autonomous vehicles, quantum communication and agriculture.

The group states that the low level of EU manufacturing capacity and over-reliance on Asia threatens the EU’s economic security and resilience. Currently, less than 6% of the manufacturing of indium phosphide (InP) and silicon nitride (SiN) PICs is undertaken in the European Union (EU) and less than 4% of global assembly, testing and packaging capacity resides in Europe. Furthermore, research by Dutch photonics ecosystem PhotonDelta highlights that competitor nations are making concerted efforts to acquire EU PIC technologies and assets along with seeking stakes in EU SME companies in the EU PIC supply chain.

The CEOs Rudi de Winter of XFAB (Germany/France), Johan Feenstra of SMART Photonics (The Netherlands), Felix Grawert of Aixtron (Germany), Albert Hasper of PHIX Photonics Assembly (The Netherlands), Inigo Artundo of VLC Photonics (Spain), Jean-Louis Gentner of Almae (France), Thomas Hessler of Ligentec (Switzerland/France) and Ewit Roos of PhotonDelta (The Netherlands) unveiled the plan at PIC Summit Europe in front of more than 500 members of the global photonics and semiconductor communities. The proposal makes a number of recommendations including:

  • providing over €2bn in incentives for industrial-scale InP and SiN PIC manufacturing capacity in Europe;
  • providing EU PIC SMEs access to industrial PIC test and experimentation facilities (TEFs) that partly mirror commercial lines, with the latest commercial wafer processing equipment and tools, at the relevant industry-standard wafer sizes;
  • establishing an industrial PIC ‘manufacturing supply chain’ resilience fund of €200m to support the investments needed to strengthen linkages and minimize vulnerabilities;
  • providing a €360m fund to stimulate application development through offering design tape-outs, leading to industrial photonic design IP creation and validation based on hardware testing;
  • promoting and incentivising collaboration among vertical clusters and the European PIC ecosystem.

“Over the past few years we have been repeatedly reminded that the world is becoming a more volatile and unpredictable place. Global supply chains have been shown to be fragile, and over-reliance on one country for critical components is an economic and security risk. This is particularly true of the semiconductor industry,” says SMART Photonics’ CEO Johan Feenstra.

“Photonic integrated circuits have the capacity to transform a huge range of industries. It is also fundamental to the advancement of some of the most exciting new technologies. Currently, the EU has a vibrant and growing integrated photonics industry. However, without volume manufacturing, testing & packaging capacity, we are incredibly vulnerable to global events and the policies of competitor countries,” he adds.

“Our proposal outlines a number of practical steps that the EU can take over the next decade to ensure the continued growth and security of the integrated photonics industry. For just over €4bn we can build our supply chain and ensure the future of an industry which has the capacity to generate hundreds of billions of Euros each year for decades to come,” Feenstra concludes.