Site: United Technologies Photonics (UTP)(Footnote
1289 Blue Hills Ave.
Bloomfield, CT 06002
Date Visited: October 6, 1994
Report Author: S. Forrest
United Technologies Photonics (UTP) was a small subsidiary of United Technologies Corporation (UTC) [see footnote]. UTP concentrated on broadening the portfolio of its parent company in the photonic technology area, specifically in the area of LiNbO 3 modulators, waveguides, and associated integrated optics (IO) devices. UTP was spun off from United Technologies Research Center (UTRC) in 1992. The parent, UTC, is a giant corporation with such well-known subsidiaries as Pratt and Whitney, Sikorsky Helicopter, and Otis. For the most part, the R&D needs of these larger subsidiaries are met by the approximately 800 employees of UTRC. UTRC not only served the R&D needs within the company, but also did some government contract work. In the case of UTP, roughly 5% of this small operation's employees worked at UTRC, where LiNbO 3 wafer fabrication was accomplished. With the business success of UTP, it appeared to be self-supporting, with approximately 60 employees and annual revenues of somewhat less than $10 million.
The rationale for the initial split of UTP from its parent was to allow for more streamlined procurement and other operational processes, which would then allow it to have reduced overhead so that it could more readily meet the needs of its customer base. This move toward partial independence was made with an eye to developing a healthy business that would allow for future self-funding of all photonics-related business to UTC. The parent also established a unique incentive plan for those employees who chose to make the move into this small business venture. UTP currently provides standard and custom LiNbO 3 IO devices and modules. Its funding base is approximately equally split between government and commercial customers. However, it was noted that the 1 to 1.5 year delay between submitting a white paper and receiving government funding does not make this particular funding vehicle attractive for developing commercial products.
The JTEC panel received a thorough presentation of the company's objectives and products from General Manager, Dr. Fred Leonberger. This presentation was followed by a complete tour of the facilities for designing, post-clean-room processing, packaging, and testing of the wide range of planar waveguide devices offered by UTP. As noted above, most of the wafer fabrication occurs at UTRC.
Because it is a small, entrepreneurial photonics business, UTP has found its niche by being a major supplier in the United States of high-performance, custom LiNbO 3 waveguide type devices and associated modules. In particular, modulators of varying degrees of sophistication are designed, fabricated, packaged, and characterized at UTP to the customer's particular set of needs and specifications. To allow for this flexibility, sophisticated modeling and CAD tools have been developed and are routinely employed by the UTP engineering staff. Mask fabrication is expedited after design by direct transfer of the CAD designs from UTP to the mask supplier using e-mail. High yields are obtained, since the finished devices can often be trimmed to meet customer requirements.
The overall product philosophy is that bare chips will not be offered as products, since they are of minimal value compared to fully packaged, pigtailed, planar waveguide devices. Hence, a considerable amount of resources (both monetary and intellectual) are devoted at UTP toward packaging issues. As an indication of progress made in this regard, coupling losses in UTP's epoxy-bonded fiber/waveguide pigtailing technology have been reduced from 5 +/- 1 dB a couple of years ago to only 3.5 +/- 0.5 dB at the time of the JTEC visit (as compared with 2.5 dB theoretical loss). Electronic interfacing to the waveguide-based devices is also accomplished by a staff of electrical engineers at UTP. The engineering staff expertise is thus apportioned as follows: 33% are in optics, 33% are circuit designers, and 33% are packaging engineers. A large fraction of this staff have advanced degrees, including PhDs.
To ensure good product acceptance by the customer, UTP has also concentrated on developing a thorough understanding of device reliability. The company has instituted a rigorous burn-in and aging program of its modulators. Current technology involves UV-cured epoxy bonding, nonhermetic packaging, and device fabrication using 3 in. wafers. However, as 4 in. LiNbO 3 wafers become available, UTP intends to incorporate them into its product line. Between 5 and 10 wafers are currently processed each week, yielding 50 to 70 devices each. A particular emphasis is placed on sales and marketing forces to try to forecast the future prospects in this rather specialized, small-volume market that appears to be the niche of LiNbO 3waveguide devices. In the past few years, the largest markets have been for fiber-optic gyros and CATV, which create a volume of modulators and couplers ranging to several thousand per year. The gyro market, however, has the potential for explosive growth if automotive manufacturers incorporate such devices into their products. Another potential large-scale customer is CATV. Currently, UTP sells several hundred modulators per year to these customers. However, whether or not CATV develops as a major market for LiNbO 3 based devices is critically dependent on the final architectures that are adopted for transporting video and other high bandwidth services to the home. In 1995 and beyond, high-speed digital modulators (>=2.5 Gbit/s) offer a comparable or larger market opportunity for long-haul telecommunications systems. To help understand these markets, UTP tries to work with its customer's customer. Indeed, it is of particular importance not to overestimate the size of the markets, since two of the device customers for UTP might be serving the same systems customer.
UTP is a typical, entrepreneurial photonics company that grew out of a focused effort in a larger company that wanted to obtain a foothold in the photonics industry. By concentrating its focus in the area of custom waveguide devices based on LiNbO 3, UTP is filling an important and largely unoccupied domestic niche in this enabling technology area. There appear to be continued excellent prospects for growth in LiNbO 3 technology, depending on the directions that the market takes in the coming one or two years. Since UTP is a device and subsystem supplier, the company will have little effect on the ultimate direction taken by its systems customers. However, by working closely with its customers, UTP will maintain an ability to respond to needs as they arise, thereby building a business on its existing foundation. The growing volume in LiNbO 3 devices for fiber gyros, CATV, and telecommunications should continue to reduce the costs of the devices being produced. By attending to reliability and packaging issues, UTP hopes to retain and increase its domestic market leadership in planar waveguide technology.
1) UTP was acquired by Uniphase Corporation in May 1995 (after the JTEC panel's visit), and is now known as "Uniphase Telecommunications Products (UTP).