Photonics fabrication centre breaks ground as financing package completed
November 18, 2002
After years of planning and lobbying, the Canadian Photonics Fabrication Centre (CPFC) is now a certainty, with the official announcement of $43 million in federal and provincial funding over five years. The federal government is contributing $30 million — part of $110 million in cluster and regional innovation funding awarded to the National Research Council in the December/01 Budget — while the Ontario government is providing $13.1 million through the Ontario R&D Challenge Fund (CF) and the Ontario Innovation Trust (OIT).
The CPFC is a multi-purpose facility aimed squarely at overcoming a major gap in the innovation chain for Canadian industries that depend upon or use photonics and optoelectronics. In addition to providing prototype and fabrication facilities for unique photonic and optoelectronic components, it will also address the pressing issue of highly qualified personnel by offering specialized training facilities. The CF/OIT funding is being channeled through Carleton Univ to assist in the purchase of equipment and enable researchers to have access to the facility. That access also applies to the Univ of Ottawa and Algonquin College. In recent months, Photonics Research Ontario — one of four Ontario Centres of Excellence — has boosted its presence in the Ottawa region, reflecting the area’s growing critical mass in photonics.
The telecommunications sector is the dominant user of photonics in Canada and elsewhere, but many other sectors will benefit. They include applications for the medical and diagnostic industries, military and security applications, industrial systems, information technologies and consumer products.
Significantly bolstering CPFC’s potential are its strong linkages to the NRC, particularly the Institute for Microstructural Sciences (IMS) and its affiliated incubation centre. The facility is being constructed beside IMS’s laboratories in Ottawa.
“Within the innovation chain, there was always one piece missing from university and NRC research to companies, and that was a prototyping facility,” says IMS DG Dr Richard Normandin. “At this stage, there will be a strong link between CPFC and IMS, building on our 15 years and 120 researchers in the field of photonics. But the business model plans for a large measure of self-sufficiency, especially the services to commercialization partners.”
|“The CPFC will provide an open |
facility for companies, universities and other research groups to produce small volumes of prototype components, an essential part of research and innovation in photonics. It will also offer unique training opportunities to highly qualified people who will then bring their skills into Canada’s burgeoning photonics industry “
— CPFC proposal document
A preliminary advisory committee has been marshalling the proposal through the conceptual stages and will be replaced with three committees to guide CPFC’s construction, strategic positioning and operational plans. Industry participation is also being encouraged. A recent, well-attended workshop and cross-country tours of universities, government laboratories and companies have been held to ensure national scope and participation.
When CPFC was originally conceived, it was the subject of intense competition between Ottawa and Montreal – competition Normandin describes as healthy debate.
“For semi conductors and optoelectronics, the Ottawa region is the main centre in Ottawa,” he says. “The NRC has a reputation for equal access. The advisory board looked at a governance model and policies to ensure all the regions have adequate access. This also applies to the training of personnel.”
HIGH LEVEL OF INDUSTRY REVENUE
Normandin also stresses that the CPFC is a partner-oriented facility, and extensive work has been devoted to lining up potential collaborators from all sectors. Industry holds a particularly critical place in CPFC’s future, as it will be providing a large share of the operating revenue in return for access to the facility, research expertise and newly trained personnel.
“We hope to generate 50% of our operating revenue from company contracts,” says Normandin, who estimates the annual operating cost at about $3 million. “A similar facility in Scotland broke even in its first year of operation, although started operations in 2000 at the height of the telecommunications boom.”
|Canada’s largest telecom/|
Triple Crown Electronics
CPFC will not have such an advantage, although the downturn currently depressing the information and communications technologies (ICT) sector has an unintended silver lining. The capital equipment requirements for the fabrication and prototyping facility are both specialized and costly, but with a wave of company failures in Silicon Valley and elsewhere, CPFC’s capital budget is stretching a lot further than originally anticipated.
“The industry downturn has resulted in good deals on specialized equipment. We’ve been buying in California and much of the equipment we need is readily available at deep discounts,” says Normandin. “Our budget is in flux because of the uncertain environment but the harsh reality is that we are benefitting greatly from it. The timing of CPFC is not bad from this perspective.”
In spite of the depressed ICT sector, the IMS Industry Partnerships Facility is full, with 15 emerging companies currently incubating and several more on a waiting list.
As enabling technologies for a wide range of sectors and applications, the photonics and optoelectronics services offered by the CPFC converge with those offered by the Canadian Microelectronics Corp (CMC). The CMC has also been re-positioning itself to provide opportunities for researchers involved in photonics, optoelectronics, micromachining and nano-scale science, in the ICT sector and beyond. Normandin confirms that the two organizations are actively discussing areas where they might collaborate more closely.
“We are talking with the CMC. They are microelectronics-based and CPFC will allow them to expand their services. We’re a good place for them to get prototypes unavailable elsewhere,” he says. “They also have considerable expertise in the interface with researchers and students.”