In 2005, Europe’s photonics sector earned €43.5 billion and was growing at 12% a year. It employed 246,000 people, accounted for 19% of world production and was already bigger than the semiconductor sector.
Yet, at the same time, the industry was hardly recognised in Europe.
So what is photonics? As a scientific discipline it includes everything to do with the manipulation of photons, the particles of light. The term was coined in 1967 but its wide-ranging and interdisciplinary nature means that photonics is only recently becoming recognised as a distinct sector of industry.
And before the EU-funded OPERA2015 project was launched in 2005 to take stock of this nascent industrial sector no-one really knew the extent of Europe’s activities in photonics.
“When we started about three years ago there was no photonics community existing in Europe,” says Markus Wilkens, the project coordinator. “Photonics itself was rather fragmented and still is. Because photonics is a horizontal technology you will find it in many different fields like defence, or manufacturing or healthcare.”
Indeed, a recent report identified the photonics industry as encompassing ten subsectors, including production technology, optical measurement and machine vision, medical technology and life sciences, optical communications, information technology, lighting, flat panel displays, solar energy, defence photonics, and optical systems and components.
So broad is the sector that many businesses have been working in photonics without recognising their shared interests.
It is precisely this fragmentation which has delayed the emergence of photonics as a recognised industrial sector and hampered its ability to pursue a coherent programme of development.
“So far, only Germany, and to some extent the United Kingdom and France, have dedicated funding programmes in the field of photonics,” Wilkens notes. “The aim of OPERA2015 was to compile as much information as possible at a European scale to make the industrial research landscape more visible.”
One of the project partners, TNO in the Netherlands, compiled a database of more than 2100 photonics companies in the EU and candidate and associated states. Another partner, Opticsvalley in France, identified over 700 institutes and laboratories specialising in photonics. On top of this, the project found about 50 clusters devoted to photonics around Europe.
This is the first time such an inventory has been published. It reveals that Germany, France and the UK are the leading players in Europe’s photonics sector, followed by Italy and the Netherlands. The database is freely available from the OPERA2015 website along with other resources compiled during the project.
The numbers are likely to be underestimated. Industry sources believe that there may be more than 5000 photonics companies manufacturing in Europe, most of them SMEs.
The project finished in April this year with a summit meeting at the Photonics Europe congress in Strasbourg, France.
Building a community
OPERA2015 worked closely with another EU initiative known as Photonics21, one of a series of European Technology Platforms established to define priorities for research, technology and development in strategically important industrial sectors. Indeed, Wilkens’ company, VDI Technologiezentrum in Düsseldorf, also hosts the Photonics21 secretariat.
“OPERA2015 was more about collecting information and the aim of Photonics21 is to agree on common strategic research priorities for Europe,” he explains. “But of course, the overall aim is to support the establishment of a photonics community in Europe, agree on a common research strategy and then implement the strategy.
“So you need information, for instance, on how many companies and research institutes are present in Europe, and what they are doing? All this wasn’t known before.”
The figures reveal that Europe is strong in production technology, in optical components and systems, in medical technology and life sciences and also in lighting. But some sectors, like flat panel displays, are dominated by Asian firms – except for some niche applications.
Now that OPERA2015 has completed its work, the database has been taken over by Photonics21 which is using information gathered during the project to steer its strategic research agenda for Europe.
“The aim of OPERA2015, shared with Photonics21, was to make people aware that photonics should be regarded as a known discipline both in scientific research and also in industry,” Wilkens says.
The good thing for the European Commission, he suggests, is that it no longer has to listen to 30 different representatives from 20 countries and different associations. Now the photonics community speaks with one voice.
OPERA2015 received funding from the ICT theme of the Sixth Framework Programme for research.
Christian Nielsen | alfa
Some brain tumors may respond to immunotherapy, new study suggests
11.12.2018 | Columbia University Irving Medical Center
Climate change and air pollution damaging health and causing millions of premature deaths
30.11.2018 | International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)
The more objects we make "smart," from watches to entire buildings, the greater the need for these devices to store and retrieve massive amounts of data quickly without consuming too much power.
Millions of new memory cells could be part of a computer chip and provide that speed and energy savings, thanks to the discovery of a previously unobserved...
What if, instead of turning up the thermostat, you could warm up with high-tech, flexible patches sewn into your clothes - while significantly reducing your...
A widely used diabetes medication combined with an antihypertensive drug specifically inhibits tumor growth – this was discovered by researchers from the University of Basel’s Biozentrum two years ago. In a follow-up study, recently published in “Cell Reports”, the scientists report that this drug cocktail induces cancer cell death by switching off their energy supply.
The widely used anti-diabetes drug metformin not only reduces blood sugar but also has an anti-cancer effect. However, the metformin dose commonly used in the...
A research team from the University of Zurich has developed a new drone that can retract its propeller arms in flight and make itself small to fit through narrow gaps and holes. This is particularly useful when searching for victims of natural disasters.
Inspecting a damaged building after an earthquake or during a fire is exactly the kind of job that human rescuers would like drones to do for them. A flying...
Over the last decade, there has been much excitement about the discovery, recognised by the Nobel Prize in Physics only two years ago, that there are two types...
12.12.2018 | Event News
10.12.2018 | Event News
06.12.2018 | Event News
14.12.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering
14.12.2018 | Physics and Astronomy
14.12.2018 | Physics and Astronomy