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Challenges in Photonics Testing: Overcoming Hurdles to Ensure Accurate and Reliable Results

Photonics devices are essential components of many advanced technologies, ranging from biomedical imaging to quantum computing. Photonics technology has made significant strides in recent years, enabling a variety of emerging applications such as data communications, biomedical sensing, and quantum computing. To ensure that these devices perform as intended, they must be thoroughly tested to ensure that they meet the desired specifications.

However, with the increased complexity of photonic devices, testing these devices has become a significant challenge. In this blog article, we will discuss some of the key challenges in photonics testing and potential solutions to address them.

For deeper understanding of photonics testing principles and applications please visit: Photonics Testing Handbook: Techniques, Tools, and Troubleshooting

There are a number of challenges associated with photonics testing. One challenge is the small size of photonic devices. These devices can be as small as a few micrometers, which makes them difficult to handle and test. The tolerances involved increase the severity of that challenge. For example, photonics interconnect is about 1,000X smaller than a typical on-chip interconnect.

Proper alignment is crucial for the optimal coupling of light into photonic circuitry on the wafer. This requires precision in terms of position and angle along the optimal axis to achieve optimal coupling. The tolerances are very tight, with the alignment needing to be correct within a few tens of nanometers.

Physical alignment is a significant problem that many companies are working to solve, as it is essential to attach optical elements to the optical engine to get light in and out. This alignment process is the most significant cost driver in photonic integrated circuits, accounting for about 80% of the total cost. Although there are active and passive testing methods available, active testing is the most common method used today. In general, the industry is poised to produce billions of units, but the testing practices used today are not scalable, and new solutions are needed.

  1. Testing in the Optical Domain

One of the main challenges associated with testing photonics devices is that they operate in the optical domain, which can be difficult to measure accurately. Unlike electronic devices, which can be easily tested using standard electrical measurement techniques, photonics devices require specialized equipment that can measure optical signals with high accuracy and resolution.

To overcome this challenge, specialized test equipment such as optical spectrum analyzers and optical power meters can be used to measure key parameters such as optical power, wavelength, and polarization. Additionally, specialized test setups and procedures may be required to ensure that the measurements are accurate and repeatable.  Furthermore, these measurement tools must be calibrated with extreme accuracy to ensure reliable test results.

  1. Precision

In the field of photonics, the precise placement of optical components within a package is crucial for efficient and accurate performance. This is because the mode diameter in photonic ICs is typically on the order of a few microns (1 to 3µm), which is much smaller than the mode diameter in fiber. The mode diameter is the size of the optical mode that carries the signal through the waveguide.

When connecting a photonic IC to a fiber, it is necessary to align the small mode of the photonic IC to the larger mode of the fiber. This requires the use of lenses or a series of precisely aligned lenses to map and align the modes. The mode size scales with the refractive indices of the materials, and not just their size or diameter. As a result, sub-micron precision is required in the placement of optical components within a package to ensure that the chip is correctly aligned to the fiber or other optical elements.

This precision is difficult to achieve and maintain during testing, particularly as the number of components on a chip increases. Additionally, there is a need to ensure that the chip is properly aligned and mounted in the test fixture to avoid any misalignments or movement during testing. These challenges make testing of photonics ICs more complex and time-consuming than testing of traditional electronic ICs.

  1. Power Budget

In photonics, power budget refers to the amount of optical power available to transmit data through a fiber optic link. In other words, it’s the amount of power required to successfully send and receive data without errors. When designing a photonics system, it’s important to take into account the power budget, and any losses that may occur in the system.

Twan Korthorst, group director of photonics solutions at Synopsys, is cautioning that in many areas of photonics, there is no margin for error. This means that any losses in the system, whether it’s in the fiber chip coupling or laser chip alignment coupling, can have a significant impact on the overall system performance.

For example, if the power budget is tight and there are losses in the system due to poor coupling, the system may not be able to transmit data accurately or at all. This is because losses in the system reduce the amount of optical power available, which can result in errors or a complete loss of signal.

Therefore, it’s important to carefully design and test photonics systems to ensure that they meet the required power budget and have minimal losses. This is especially important in applications where there is no margin for error, such as in telecommunications, medical devices, and other critical systems.

  1. Environmental Sensitivity

Another challenge associated with testing photonics devices is that they can be highly sensitive to changes in temperature, humidity, and other environmental factors. These sensitivities can affect the accuracy of the measurements and can lead to errors in the characterization of the device.

To overcome this challenge, environmental control chambers and other specialized equipment can be used to stabilize the testing environment and minimize the impact of environmental factors on the measurements. Additionally, specialized test procedures may be required to account for environmental factors that cannot be completely controlled.

  1. Complex Test Setups

Testing photonics devices can also be challenging due to the complex nature of the test setups required. Photonics devices often require complex optical setups that can be difficult to align and stabilize, leading to measurement errors and inconsistencies.

To overcome this challenge, automated test setups and advanced alignment tools can be used to simplify the testing process and reduce the likelihood of errors. Additionally, specialized test fixtures and mounting techniques may be required to ensure that the device is properly aligned and stabilized during the testing process.

  1. Active and Passive Testing

In the field of photonics testing, there are generally two types of tests used to determine alignment: active testing and passive testing. Active testing is a feedback loop process where a fiber is brought in, powered up, and moved around with an XYZ and rotation system while measuring the coupling from the fiber to the chip. The feedback loop allows for measuring while fixing by glueing or soldering, and is typically part of the actual assembly process. This type of testing is either done in-house by the company creating the photonics IC, or through a third-party testing tool vendor.

Passive testing, on the other hand, is a self-contained, self-diagnosing system that eliminates the feedback loop. Broadcom has recently announced a passive testing system that supports high-volume manufacturing of co-packaged optics (CPO). With detachable fiber CPO, active alignment steps are still required to attach the passive optical components to the optical engine. However, once the engines are fully assembled, they can be tested at both the engine and CPO level by passively inserting fiber cables, enabling a robust test flow at various levels of the assembly.

Both active and passive testing have their advantages and disadvantages, but as volumes keep increasing in the optical industry, there is a need to get the testing time down. Over the last decade, there have been more standard solutions for testing and evaluation of optical sub-assemblies and packages. Companies are striving to decrease testing time from hours to minutes, and there is a need for high-speed alignment technologies in order to support high-volume manufacturing.

  1. Testing at High Frequencies

Finally, testing photonics devices can be challenging at high frequencies, as the response of the device may be limited by the bandwidth of the test equipment. This can lead to inaccurate measurements and incomplete characterization of the device.

To overcome this challenge, specialized test equipment such as vector network analyzers and time-domain reflectometers can be used to measure the device response at high frequencies. Additionally, specialized test fixtures and connectors may be required to ensure that the high-frequency signals are properly transmitted and measured.

The cost of photonics testing. Photonic testing equipment can be expensive, and the cost of testing can be high, especially for high-volume production.

Overcoming the Challenges

To address these challenges, several solutions have been proposed. One approach is to develop standardized testing procedures and measurement methods for photonic devices. These standards would help ensure consistent and reliable results across different testing environments and equipment.

Another solution is to use automation and machine learning to streamline the testing process. Automated testing platforms can help reduce the time and cost associated with testing by enabling high-throughput and reliable testing of large volumes of photonic devices. Furthermore, machine learning algorithms can be used to optimize the testing process, improving accuracy and efficiency.

Here are some additional tips for overcoming the challenges of photonics testing:

  • Use a test methodology that is tailored to the specific device being tested.
  • Use a test environment that is controlled for temperature, humidity, and other environmental factors.
  • Use high-quality test equipment that is capable of accurately measuring the performance of the device.
  • Use experienced and qualified personnel to perform the testing.

By following these tips, you can help to ensure that your photonic devices are accurate and reliable.

Finally, it is important to use experienced and qualified personnel to perform photonics testing. Experienced personnel have the knowledge and skills necessary to identify and resolve problems that occur during testing.


In conclusion, while photonics technology has many exciting applications, testing photonic devices remains a significant challenge. The need for specialized equipment, the complexity of the devices, and the impact of environmental factors all contribute to the difficulty of testing photonic devices. By understanding the challenges associated with testing photonics devices and implementing appropriate strategies to overcome them, researchers and engineers can ensure that their photonics devices perform as intended and meet the requirements of their intended applications.

In conclusion, testing photonics devices can be a challenging task, but with the right equipment, procedures, and expertise, it is possible to overcome these challenges and ensure accurate and reliable results. With the development of standardized testing procedures and the use of automation and machine learning, these challenges can be overcome, enabling the continued growth of photonics technology.


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