Image: II-VI Epiworks is ramping up manufacture of III-V epitaxial wafers to target several markets [II-VI Epiworks]
Late last year, II-VI Epiworks, the epiwafer production arm of US-based photonics business, II-VI, announced it had 'broken ground' on its state-of-the-art production facility in Champaign Illinois.
II-VI acquired Epiworks alongside Anadigics in February 2016 to boost production capacity for semiconductor lasers and target up and coming VCSEL markets in sensing, consumer electronics and data centre applications. Clearly the Epiworks expansion - intended to quadruple Champaign capacity over the next three years - can only help.
"We want to build the world's leading state-of-the-art MOCVD factory and more capacity is a part of this," highlights II-VI Epiworks co-founder, David Ahmari.
"After the acquisition, II-VI immediately purchased three new MOCVD production tools," he adds. "These systems are now installed, and we are currently adding more cleanroom space to enable rapid production scaling over the next five years."
II-VI Epiworks is manufacturing III-V epitaxial wafers to target several markets including 3D sensing, already earmarked for massive growth by VCSEL manufacturers such as II-VI and Lumentum. Other key markets include photonics communications, industrial photonics and next-generation RF communications.
As part of this, Ahmari is adamant that the very latest wafer characterisation tools will be instrumental to success. Once complete, the Champaign expansion will provide standard capabilities, such as photoluminescence and photoreflectance wafer characterisation for VCSELs, as well as in-situ MOCVD monitoring, but new tools will also be available.
Ahmari won't yet be drawn on the types of tests that will be provided but says: "We asked ourselves what direction is the industry heading and can we build ourselves a characterisation capability with a set of unique tests that can be used to meet the challenges ahead?"
"So we have anticipated the new types of test that will enable the materials and devices of the future," he adds. "We will also be using automated steps in our epi-process and the infrastructure will be in place to enable the next generation of scaling."
But as the co-founder emphasises, the expanded facility will not just serve VCSELs, but also encompass high power edge emitters, DFB lasers, photodetectors, HEMTs and more. And plans are in place to scale all wafer production from three and four inch platforms to six inch production.
"Most of our GaAs production volume is already on a six-inch wafer platform, but with the expansion, we'll have more of it," says Ahmari.
Right now, II-VI Epiworks has a strong presence in the US, but looking to the future, the company will extend its global reach. According to Ahmari, the wafer production business can take advantage of II-VI's global infrastructure, and will grow business aggressively in Asia Pacific.
"Foreign semiconductor companies are receiving strong financial backing from government or related entities, making them competitive from an equipment capacity standpoint, but in the end, the efficiency and output of the equipment is the key manufacturing differentiator, and it is our objective to stand apart with our leading epiwafer technology, facility and capacity," highlights Ahmari's colleague and fellow II-VI Epiworks co-founder, Quesnell Hartmann.
"We will combine that with the most advanced characterisation and strongest technical team in the world," he adds. "You can't just throw equipment at the challenges associated with epiwafer growth and scaling up production, but by having the best people, technology and yields, the rest falls into place."
Expansion of the facility is scheduled for completion by mid-2017 and new equipment will then be installed. Crucially II-VI Epiworks is continuing to act as a global external foundry, with its primary business focusing on serving external customers rather than II-VI alone.
And as capacity scales, so will II-VI Epiworks' workforce. According to Ahmari, the company is set to hire engineers and technicians 'from PhD level through to equipment operators'.
"In early 2016, we employed 60 employees, but our hiring plan is very aggressive and in the relatively near future we expect to have grown our workforce to approximately 150 people," he says. "How quickly we recruit beyond this depends on exact business circumstances and how quickly manufacturing ramps."