EPIC Award goes to Reinhard Völkel
A celebration of sustainable growth focused on the excellence of micro-optics
Völkel started his career at the Institute of Microtechnology, University of Neuchatel. He worked on micro-optics for biosensors, optical interconnects, photolithography systems and miniaturized imaging and camera systems for five years, technologies that he would later exploit with Suss MicroOptics. An important influence in the early days was William Bell Hugle, one of Silicon Valley’s early semiconductor pioneers and a cofounder of SEMI, who had retired in Switzerland in the late 80s. In 1999, due to bad health, Hugle sold the IP for microlens projection lithography (MPL) to Suss MicroTec, who, at the initiative of their CEO Franz Richter, wanted to use the technology to do something innovative and disruptive with low resolution lithography. To achieve this, micro-optics would be a key element, and as it was not available in the market, Völkel and two colleagues were invited to be part of a joint venture subsidiary to provide the technology. And so, Völkel started his journey as CEO of Suss MicroOptics.
In the early 2000s, despite the collapse of the telecom market, demand for high quality micro-optics was starting to increase. Carl Zeiss SMT began to place orders for refractive and diffractive optics for their steppers and by 2005, Suss MicroOptics had been nominated as one of Zeiss’ preferred suppliers with Zeiss accounting for 75 % of their revenue. As Völkel remembers, “We started developing the technology at university so by the time we began supplying Zeiss, the technology was already mature. Additionally, half of the principal scientists, fellows and senior scientists at Zeiss were former colleagues of ours – it was a sort of young boys’ network.”
According to EPIC director general Carlos Lee the success relies on the explosion of light sources and related applications that made it possible to break into so many new markets and their sustainable and realistic growth with a focus on investing in excellence.
And in fact, in 2019, Suss MicroOptics set up an imprint excellence center for the manufacturing of wafer-level optics with the aim to use a new generation of Suss MicroTec’s manufacturing equipment to prove the pilot production and thus the possibility of volume production of high-quality freeform micro-optics for applications such as microlens arrays for automotive, sensors and cameras, a technology that is being tested at the EU funded project Phabulous pilot line services to help bring the whole European micro-optics manufacturing imprint to 2.0, i.e. from a lab state to a fully industrialized state.
Further reading: R. Voelkel: Micro-Optics for Photolithography – Key enabling technology for wafer-based manufacturing technology, Optik Photonik 10(4), pp. 30–33, September 2015; DOI: 10.1002/opph.201500030
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