Boeing introduces automated MEMS aligner

CHICAGO – The Boeing Company has engineered a MEMS device and soldering technique that provides rapid and precise alignment of single-mode optical fibers to laser sources, photodetectors and other single-mode optical fibers. This will enable high-volume, low-cost manufacturing processes for optoelectronic devices and optical fiber connectors.

The current alignment and packaging process is labor-intensive and expensive, representing an estimated 40 to 50 percent of product cost. Boeing's In-package MEMS Alignment (IPMA) device allows manufacturers in telecommunications and other industries to remove this bottleneck. Instead of having all packages pass through a single choke point, this technology enables massively parallel alignment and bonding, which reduces labor, testing and inspection requirements while also eliminating stringent cleanroom specifications and capital equipment.

After optical fibers are fed into the device package, they are attached to the aligner, which uses standard MEMS semiconductor fabrication technology (allowing hundreds to be produced per silicon wafer). Tiny actuators are heated and cooled to expand and contract inside the hermetically sealed MEMS package, pushing and pulling the fibers into alignment with the optical device. Once aligned, the fibers are secured with a proprietary solder preform and the actuators are turned off.

If the fiber were to ever come out of alignment, the actuators can be reactivated, the solder reflowed, and the fibers repositioned – all without opening the package.

A related, licensable technology called the Smart In-Micro Package Aligner (SIMPAL) has been developed for optical backplane interconnect applications. It includes built-in optical detectors and control circuitry that make it well-suited for optical network peripheral devices and backplanes requiring precisely aligned connections.

The patented IPMA technology has been successfully tested by Boeing's Phantom Works, and is being applied in the assembly of fiber components for avionics LAN systems aboard Boeing aircraft.


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