3D printing process connects optical microchips

March 27, 2018 // By Christoph Hammerschmidt
3D printing process connects optical microchips
Researchers at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) have developed a flexible and efficient concept for combining optical components into compact systems: They use a high-resolution 3D printing process to produce tiny beam-forming elements directly on optical microchips or fibers, thus enabling low-loss coupling. This approach replaces complex positioning methods, which today represent a high hurdle for many applications.

Communication with light is rapidly gaining in importance in view of constantly increasing data traffic. Photonics is currently facing the challenge of miniaturizing components and assembling them into compact and powerful integrated systems that are suitable for a wide range of applications from information and communication technology to metrology, sensors and medical technology.

Of particular interest in this context are hybrid systems that combine a large number of optical components with different functions. These hybrid systems offer decisive advantages in terms of performance and design freedom compared to monolithic integration concepts in which all components are realized on one chip. For example, hybrid integration allows all components to be individually optimized and tested before they are combined into a more complex system. Up to now, however, the construction of optical hybrid systems has required complex and expensive methods to precisely position the components in relation to each other and to connect the optical interfaces to each other with low loss.

KIT scientists have now found a new solution for coupling optical microchips to each other or to optical fibers: They use tiny beam-forming elements that can be applied directly to the facets of optical components using a high-precision 3D printing process. These elements can be manufactured in almost any three-dimensional shape and thus allow a wide variety of optical components to be combined with low losses and high positioning tolerances.

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