Photonics set for technology boom

1 min read

Photonics, like electronics, is a pervasive technology – a ‘catch all’ description of photonics is anything that creates, captures or modifies light. For most of us, our closest contact with photonics is the display on our phone or computer. But the applications spread far more widely, from industrial lasers to optical fibre communications and from solar cells to LEDs.

Carlos Lee, director general of the European Photonics Industry Consortium (EPIC), says photonics contributes €65.8billion a year to Europe’s economy, while supporting 377,000 jobs in 5000 companies. Putting this into context, the global photonics market is said to be worth €355bn a year.

And yet there is still much room for development. Europe has recognised this and photonics is the largest of Europe’s six key enabling technologies, with €700million invested in the Photonics Public Private Partnership (PPP) as part of the Horizon 2020 programme.

In the UK, we’ve recently seen the establishment of the Future Photonics Hub, backed by up to £50m of government and industrial investment. Now, PPP has launched three pilot projects that are designed to take photonics research out of the lab and into the market. The pilot lines are also intended to help SMEs to scale their ideas for volume manufacture.

The three lines are PIX4Life, focusing on health applications, PI-SCALE, looking to accelerate the adoption of flexible OLEDs, and MIRPHAB, which is intended to support the prototyping and product of sources and sensors.

In Lee’s opinion, photonics is in the same position today as electronics was 50 years ago. “It’s poised to enable things we couldn’t do at all in the past,” he contends. The boom in photonics R&D seems to support that view.