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Panelists see bright future with photonics

Rochester Business Journal
April 8, 2016

If done correctly, the Rochester region could become the go-to place for the testing, assembly and packaging of integrated photonics devices.

Integrated photonics has been the talk of the town since last summer’s announcement that the region would be the hub for the $600 million American Institute of Manufacturing Integrated Photonics.

Those in the industry are hopeful the development will further strengthen the already knowledge-rich optics and photonics base.

“It’s a good space to be in,” said Robert Clark, senior vice president for research and dean of the Hajim School of Engineering at the University of Rochester.

That success could draw other companies to the region that would like to work in that industry, he noted.

Clark was one of the panelists at Tuesday morning’s event, Rochester’s Photonics Future. It was part of the Rochester Business Journal Power Breakfast series.

Nearly 550 people attended the breakfast, held at the Joseph A. Floreano Rochester Riverside Convention Center, to learn more about AIM Photonics and the impact it could have on the region.

AIM Photonics is a manufacturing consortium that will focus on the design, manufacture, testing, assembly and packaging of integrated photonic devices. Among the lead universities are SUNY Polytechnic Institute, the University of Rochester and Rochester Institute of Technology.

The focus of the planned center will be on integrated photonics. That means photons, which are powered by light, would be used in place of electrons, which are powered by electricity.

The end result would be devices—from cell phones to computers—that are smaller and faster. Since photons carry information in a pulse of light rather than a pulse of electricity, there are fewer problems with overheating issues.

In addition to Clark, the other speakers were:

 Susan Houde-Walter, CEO of LaserMax Inc.;
 Ryne Raffaelle, vice president for research and associate provost at RIT;
 John Hamer, co-founder and chief operating officer, OLEDWorks LLC; and
 Dipak Chowdhury, division vice president, glass, ceramics and concrete, Corning Inc.

While AIM Photonics is a national effort involving universities, research centers and industries across the country, Upstate New York is poised for growth when it comes to integrated photonics, the panelists said.

“I feel this is an opportunity for upstate to build a photonics superhighway from Rochester to Albany,” Clark said, noting he believes the region can build a business and manufacturing base similar to what has been done in the Silicon Valley.

The testing, assembling and packaging arenas are where the Rochester area can excel, RIT’s Raffaelle agreed.

The area already has an established, experienced optics and photonics base, helped with assets that include RIT’s Semiconductor & Microsystems Fabrication laboratory, he said.

Clark presented a list of bullet items from AIM Photonics CEO Michael Liehr. They included activities, such as the signing of membership agreements and the awarding of 14 research projects— two-thirds of which already have begun.

The institute is also planning a proposer’s day, for businesses interested in getting involved with AIM Photonics, in Rochester in June; and a supply chain conference is to be held this fall in conjunction with the Optical Society of America’s 100th anniversary.

A key to the region’s success when it comes to Aim Photonics is having communication and collaboration among a variety of parties, including academia, government and industry, the panelists noted.

The region has more than 120 optics companies that employ some 26,000 people and generate total revenues of nearly $3 billion annually.

“If we’re prepared and know how to make profits off this (venture), that’s how we win,” said LaserMax’s Houde-Walter.

OLEDWorks’ success is due, in part, to the support of the local optics community, Hamer said.

The company began in 2010 out of research developed through Eastman Kodak Co. around organic light-emitting diodes.

Today, it is growing, currently working with Highland Hospital and the University of Rochester Medical Center on new lighting for the health care industry.

Last year, the business acquired the OLED assets and intellectual property from Koninklijke Philips N.V. Under the deal, OLEDWorks was granted a license by Royal Philips to market its OLED light source components under the Philips brand, the company said.

Along the way, the Rochester firm sought guidance and support from others in the optics community, Hamer noted.

“We benefited from the optics community around us,” he said.

A concentrated photonics base—strengthened by AIM Photonics—will further help attract suppliers, talent and services, all of which help foster innovation, Hamer said.

Large corporations also are interested in the region’s photonics assets and potential.

Chowdry said Corning—a glass, ceramics and optics company that logs annual revenues of some $10 billion—can benefit from AIM Photonics in several ways. Those range from using the AIM facility for cost-effective pilot scale-up to turning to the industry expertise in the region.

“I cannot imagine a better situation,” he said.

Some of the panelists said it is too early to tell how the center will evolve, but Clark believes it will take five years to get off the ground. Challenges include designing and building packaging equipment that will be needed at the site.

The number of jobs created, too, is not yet known, but could likely range from technicians to Ph.D.s.

And while it is also unclear how much of the money targeted for AIM Photonics will end up here, it is important to focus on what can be done after the initial investment is made.

“The technology and opportunity is here,” Clark said. “What we do with it after that initial investment is what counts.”

4/8/2016 (c) 2016 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email

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