A practical step to increase the awareness of photonics

April 8, 2024
It’s time to push for government economic statistical agencies to track photonics industries.

Despite its growing global economic importance, photonics remains nearly invisible to our government, financial, and business leaders. This realization isn't new, but becomes more inexplicable and frustrating as the years pass. 

I was reminded of this situation while listening to Optica CTO Jose Pozo's opening remarks at the Optica Executive Forum. He referred to the news that Intel recently received a $20 billion grant, saying, "I read all the news about it, and I didn't hear the word 'photonics.' And that got me very worried."

Pozo continued: "I feel worried that, when it comes to the big trends, now AI (Artificial Intelligence), a few years ago, cloud computing, and a few years back, LiDAR for automotive, we tend to be always the little brother of these major trends—and they cannot do it without us," he said. "It is time for people to know that we are a $600 billion industry—as big as the microelectronics industry." He called on attendees to collaborate to raise awareness of the industry.

"It is time for people to know that we are a $600 billion industry—as big as the microelectronics industry." — Jose Pozo, CTO, Optica

Here's a practical idea: Let’s get together and submit change proposals to our government economic statistical agencies, requesting that they begin tracking the photonics industry. Because what gets measured matters. 

One reason photonics remains the "little brother" to more well-known technology trends is these government agencies do not track it. We know this because, at Photonics West, two organizations mentioned the extensive, detailed work required to gather market data in the sector—because no other sources are available. 

However, government trackers don't track photonics because they haven't defined it as an industry yet. And why would they? Even our community refers to photonics not as a market or an industry, but as a “collection of technologies based on light.” 

While that definition remains true, it is no longer complete. As I've heard many executives say, photonics has reached a maturity level like that of microelectronics—an earlier "collection of technologies"—when it morphed into the then-new industries of the "high-tech information age." Fittingly, that earlier economic transformation was also when the U.S. changed its monitoring system to the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) to recognize, in part, the "structural and technological changes” arising then. 

The timing for North American photonics companies to act is perfect. According to the NAICS Update Process Fact Sheet, the Federal Register notice soliciting proposals to change to NAICS for 2027 will go out in December 2024, with the Economic Classification Policy Committee (ECPC) review scheduled for March 2025 to September 2025. The Fact Sheet offers guidance on submitting a change proposal. 

I suggest we get started.

About the Author

Patricia Panchak

Patricia Panchak has held editorial leadership roles for over 25 years—15 years of which were with IndustryWeek as the brand’s managing editor and then editor-in-chief. From 2011 through 2017, she then served as group content director for the Manufacturing & Supply Chain Group, which included IndustryWeek.

Since 2018, Patricia spent time as a business journalist, editorial consultant, and public speaker, specializing in business and manufacturing strategies and best practices; trends and emerging technologies; and public policy.

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