Why do we need an optical design kit for flat optics?

Today, as artificial intelligence becomes more prevalent, widespread adoption of technologies such as smartphones, smartwatches, assisted and autonomous vehicles, security systems, and VR/MR/AR headsets has led to a surge in the use of cameras and optical sensors. Nearly 10 billion cameras are expected to be manufactured by 2025, leading to unprecedented levels of production of ultra-small sensors and optical components such as cameras, metalenses, microdisplays, microlasers, and combination optics.

Introduction to semiconductor technology

The semiconductor industry is known for its mass production capabilities, with more than a trillion units shipped globally each year, playing an important role in meeting the growing demand for optical components. As miniaturization, integration, and ubiquity become key factors, efforts are focused on utilizing semiconductor processes for optical component manufacturing. These emerging optical components are often referred to as planar optics because they are produced on flat silicon or glass substrates, offering advantages over traditional manufacturing methods such as injection molding or glass polishing. Planar optics can be fabricated using semiconductor processes that allow large-area patterning with complex nanostructures, which can significantly affect optical performance.

As the field of planar optics continues to evolve, manufacturing challenges arise that need to be addressed. A new workflow combining optical design and manufacturing process simulation is proposed to address these challenges. This approach aims to develop optical process design kits to improve manufacturing yield and efficiency and provide insights into how manufacturing affects optical component performance. This virtual manufacturing process will be demonstrated using the example of an achromatic lens.

Optical devices manipulate light to change its path, direction, polarization, or intensity, and lenses are the basic components that deflect light by changing its path. Traditionally, lenses are manufactured using methods such as polymer injection or glass turning, grinding and polishing, resulting in 3D curved lenses.

The development direction of optical manufacturing

The evolution of optical manufacturing toward planar optics requires optical PDKs that can handle advanced designs, increased manufacturing volumes, smaller device sizes, and more stringent technical requirements. Optical manufacturers are turning to high-volume semiconductor processes to efficiently meet these demands. However, optical tolerances need to evolve with these changes. Current optical tolerancing approaches often ignore the manufacturing process, resulting in low yields, suboptimal performance, and costly design iterations. The improved design-make-test cycle facilitated by the Optical PDK can streamline the optical development process, benefiting designers, integration teams, and test engineers in time and cost savings.