Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Evolution of Start-ups: Nextreme Meets Its Market

Start-up technology companies don't have it easy. They face an uphill battle from the start, with strong competition, limited access to resources, and — sometimes — a market that isn't yet ready for their offering. Recently, we spoke with Paul Magill, Ph.D., VP of marketing and business development at Nextreme, to learn about their new agreement with Voxtel Inc. The company will be incorporating Nextreme's OptoCooler UPF4 thermoelectric cooler into its VDHAX line of avalanche photodiode (APD) receivers. This marks a new phase in Nextreme's evolution as a company, says Magill, asserting that the market is now ready for the thermal management advances they can provide.

The APDs suit military laser radar and optical communications, as well as commercial telecommunication applications. Adding OptoCooler thermal management to the component improves efficiency, mitigates noise, enhances the spectral and frequency response; improves overall gain, adds reliability and a longer life span, and saves space on the board. This device, if equipped with traditional cooling technology, like a bulk eTec, would be too large for most modern PCB designs in these sectors, Magill explained. Using the company's thin-film thermal bump technology, the OptoCooler UPF4 was integrated directly into the VDH-A TO-8 package. This solution delivers more than 45°C of cooling during operation, removing a maximum of 610 mW of heat at 85°C ambient in a 0.55 mm2 active footprint. As the market for denser, smaller PCBs in telecom applications grows, Nextreme is targeting it directly with the miniaturized Tecs, requiring no additional circuitry or board space.

Voxtel's APDs integrate the Nextreme OptoCooler technology.

APD performance usually is limited by thermally generated noise, which can be reduced by cooling the chip. The OptoCooler UPF4 and OptoCooler UPF40, for LED applications, pump heat at rates of 0.4 and 4.0 W/cm2, respectively. APDs can multiply the signal produced by incident light by as much as 100 million times, enabling photon detection at very low light levels. Cooling an optical device also makes the LED brighter, Magill said, and the LEDs get an extended lifecycle with the improved heat-to-light energy output ratio.

This isn't the only news coming out of Nextreme these days. Sensitive to market demand, the company developed non-lead-based solder processes for use in manufacturing its thin-film thermoelectric products. As the replacement for leaded solder, Nextreme is using a gold/tin (AuSn) alloy, which they say maintains joint strength and thermal conductivity. With a melting point of 278°C, AuSn permits standard processes to integrate Nextreme devices into photonic, microelectronic, and optoelectronic device packages (laser diodes, semiconductor optical amplifiers and sensors, etc.) and to operate at higher temperatures. This higher melting point, along with established use in the optoelectronics market, proved the alloy's suitability for their micro-scale thermoelectric products.

As a growing start-up company, Nextreme has gone through many phases. Defining what kind of company they are — a component fabricator, an intellectual property (IP) provider, or something else entirely — was dictated as much by the market as it was by the company. Keeping to its core thermal management technology and adapting to the trends of environmentally friendly production, cost-effectiveness, and miniaturization are paying dividends. So long as the company remains agile, they will continue to provide us with new products, technologies, and applications that are in step with the needs of electronics assemblers.

And on a side note, as you're reading this editorial, we have a new President Elect in the U.S. I won't bombard you with any partisan talk, but I do have one question. How happy will you be when you turn on a radio or TV without encountering any campaign ads? That's a win for everyone.

Meredith Courtemanche, managing editor

For a packaging perspective on our interview with Nextreme's VP of marketing and business development, see Advanced Packaging's coverage.

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