Loughborough University
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Laser ablation of polymer waveguide and embedded mirror for optically-enabled printed circuit boards (OEPCB)

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posted on 2011-01-14, 09:06 authored by Shefiu S. Zakariyah
Due to their inherent BW capacity, optical interconnect (OI) offers a means of replacement to BW limited copper as bottlenecks begin to appear within the various interconnect levels of electronics systems. Low-cost optically enabled printed circuit boards are a key milestone on many electronics roadmaps, e.g. iNEMI. Current OI solutions found in industry are based upon optical fibres and are capable of providing a suitable platform for inter-board applications especially on the backplane. However, to allow component assembly onto high BW interconnects, an integral requirement for intra-board applications, optically enabled printed circuit boards containing waveguides are essential. Major barriers to the deployment of optical printed circuit boards include the compatibility of the technique, the cost of acquiring OI and the optical power budget. The purpose of this PhD research programme is to explore suitable techniques to address these barriers, primarily by means of laser material processing using UV and IR source lasers namely 248 nm KrF Excimer, 355 nm UV Nd:YAG and 10.6 µm IR CO2. The use of these three main lasers, the trio of which dominates most PCB production assembly, provides underpinning drive for the deployment of this technology into the industry at a very low cost without the need for any additional system or system modification. It further provides trade-offs among the suitable candidates in terms of processing speed, cost and quality of waveguides that could be achieved. This thesis presents the context of the research and the underlying governing science, i.e. theoretical analysis, involving laser-matter interactions. Experimental investigation of thermal (or pyrolitic) and bond-breaking (or photolytic) nature of laser ablation was studied in relation to each of the chosen lasers with regression analysis used to explain the experimental results. Optimal parameters necessary for achieving minimum Heat Affected Zone (HAZ) and surface/wall roughness were explored, both of which are key to achieving low loss waveguides. While photochemical dominance – a function of wavelength and pulse duration – is desired in laser ablation of photopolymers, the author has been able to find out that photothermallyprocessed materials, for example at 10.6 µm, can also provide desirable waveguides. Although there are literature information detailing the effect of certain parameters such as fluence, pulse repetition rate, pulse duration and wavelength among others, in relation to the etch rate of different materials, the machining of new materials requires new data to be obtained. In fact various models are available to try to explain the laser-matter interaction in a mathematical way, but these cannot be taken universally as they are deficient to general applications. For this reason, experimental optimisation appears to be the logical way forward at this stage of the research and thus requiring material-system characterisation to be conducted for each case thereby forming an integral achievement of this research. In this work, laser ablation of a single-layer optical polymer (Truemode™) multimode waveguides were successfully demonstrated using the aforementioned chosen lasers, thus providing opportunities for rapid deployment of OI to the PCB manufacturing industry. Truemode™ was chosen as it provides a very low absorption loss value < 0.04 dB/cm at 850 nm datacom wavelength used for VSR interconnections – a key to optical power budget – and its compatibility with current PCB fabrication processes. A wet-Truemode™ formulation was used which required that optical polymer layer on an FR4 substrate be formed using spin coating and then UV-cured in a nitrogen oxygen-free chamber. Layer thickness, chiefly influenced by spinning speed and duration, was studied in order to meet the optical layer thickness requirement for multimode (typically > 9 µm) waveguides. Two alternative polymers, namely polysiloxane-based photopolymer (OE4140 and OE 4141) from Dow Corning and PMMA, were sparingly utilized at some point in the research, mainly during laser machining using UV Nd:YAG and CO2 lasers. While Excimer laser was widely considered for polymer waveguide due to its high quality potential, the successful fabrication at 10.6 µm IR and 355 nm UV wavelengths and at relatively low propagation loss at datacom wavelength of 850 nm (estimated to be < 1.5 dB/cm) were unprecedented. The author considered further reduction in the optical loss by looking at the effect of fluence, power, pulse repetition rate, speed and optical density on the achievable propagation but found no direct relationship between these parameters; it is therefore concluded that process optimisation is the best practice. In addition, a novel in-plane 45-degree coupling mirror fabrication using Excimer laser ablation was demonstrated for the first time, which was considered to be vital for communication between chips (or other suitable components) at board-level.



  • Mechanical, Electrical and Manufacturing Engineering


© Shefiu Zakariyah

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This work is made available according to the conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) licence. Full details of this licence are available at: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/

Publication date



A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.


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