For this edition of our “Ask an Expert” series, we interviewed Frank E. Tolic, chief marketing officer for the American Institute for Manufacturing Integrated Photonics. AIM Photonics, managed by SUNY Polytechnic Institute, was established in 2015 as part of the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation, a federal initiative designed to foster innovation and deliver new capabilities that can stimulate the manufacturing sector on a large scale.
What is AIM Photonics’ mission?
AIM is an industry-driven public-private partnership that focuses the nation’s premiere capabilities and expertise to capture critical global manufacturing leadership in a technology that is both essential to national security and positioned to provide a compelling return on investment to the U.S. economy. The Institute’s goal is to emulate the dramatic successes experienced by the electronics industry over the past 40 years and transition key lessons, processes, and approaches to the photonic integrated circuit (PIC) industry.
New York State is known as a global leader in technology innovation. Governor Andrew Cuomo has established SUNY Polytechnic Institute as the cornerstone of the state’s innovation ecosystem, and SUNY Poly’s experience and expertise—specifically in nanotechnology and managing public-private partnerships—are significantly beneficial to its leadership of AIM Photonics.
AIM Photonics supports small and medium-size enterprises providing practical access and on-ramps to newly developed technologies. We are creating a nationwide PIC manufacturing infrastructure, widely accessible and inherently flexible to meet the challenges of the marketplace with useful, innovative solutions.
How will AIM’s work accelerate the development of new photonics technologies and their use by industry?
There are many pieces to the photonics puzzle. Until now, there have been sporadic and fragmented innovations in PIC technology. So Company A would solve one piece of the puzzle, and Company B would solve another. But those companies didn’t talk, and certainly didn’t share information. Using the revolutionary public-private partnership model created by SUNY Poly’s Albany Nanotech complex, AIM Photonics is bringing together all those companies—all those pieces of the puzzle—to accelerate the development and delivery of new PIC technologies to the marketplace.
Which areas of AIM’s technological focus are most relevant to adoption/advancement by smaller manufacturers?
The Multi Project Wafer (MPW) program is specifically aimed at lowering the barriers to entry of hardware access for small businesses. The Test, Assembly, and Optical Packaging (TAP) program operates in a space where small company approaches and small supplier companies dominate. And the Electronic Photonic Design Automation (EPDA) effort relies currently significantly on small companies for innovation.
What is AIM doing to help ensure that the integrated photonics industry has the workforce it needs?
A key tenet for AIM Photonics is to develop and ensure a well-trained workforce. To that end, we’ve established the AIM Academy, an organization within the Institute that fosters education. The goal is to attract and retain community college students, undergraduate and graduate students, and veterans to the field and help them prepare for careers in the photonics industry.
AIM Photonics believes its collaborative approach will put in place an end-to-end photonics “ecosystem” that includes domestic foundry access, integrated design tools, automated packaging, assembly and testing, and workforce development, plus create a standardized platform to make it easier to scale the technology across multiple markets for companies of all sizes.
How can small and mid-sized NYS manufacturers engage with AIM Photonics?
SUNY Poly maintains a wide array of specialized outreach programs to small and medium size companies, with emphasis on minority- and women-owned businesses. AIM will also coordinate efforts with SUNY Poly’s Center for Advanced Technology in Nanomaterials and Nanoelectronics to enable further outreach to these same target groups. Additionally, AIM Corporate Outreach Executive Ed White was brought onto the team in part due to his experience working with many companies in the Rochester area in particular. He’ll be assisting with organizing regular local outreach events to help AIM reach more of the small companies that constitute New York’s strong optics, photonics and imaging cluster, especially in the Finger Lakes region.