Photonics shows growth in Europe

STRASBOURG, FRANCE—Revenues associated with the European photonics industry grew 12% to reach €49 billion ($77 billion) in 2006 according to Ronand Burgess who was speaking last month at Photonics Europe in Strasbourg, France.

STRASBOURG, FRANCE—Revenues associated with the European photonics industry grew 12% to reach €49 billion ($77 billion) in 2006 according to Ronand Burgess who was speaking last month at Photonics Europe in Strasbourg, France. Burgess, a scientific project manager at the European Commission’s Photonics Unit, was discussing the challenges and opportunities facing European photonics during the Plenary sessions of the conference. “At 12%, that makes photonics a high-growth industry,” he said, noting too that photonics production in Europe is now equivalent in euros to that of microelectronics production, but with a higher growth rate.

Yet despite these impressive numbers, both Burgess and opening Plenary speaker Malgorzata Kujawinska from the Warsaw University of Technology—she’s also vice president of the European Technology Platform, Photonics21 (see—lamented the fact that the overall economic importance of photonics in Europe—unlike that of microelectronics—goes unrecognized by the general public. Photonics employs about 246,000 people in Europe, not including subcontractors, said Burgess, with well over 5,000 companies involved in the manufacturing of photonics. But most are small and medium-sized enterprises and it is this fragmented nature of the photonics industry that makes gaining recognition difficult.

Such recognition is an essential component of future growth, they said. But progress is being made. Since its inception in December 2005 with 280 members, Photonics21 has grown to involve 950 members in 35 countries, noted Kujawinska, with the active participation of major companies like Trumpf, Philips Lighting, and Carl Zeiss as well as that of many smaller organizations. Furthermore, photonics has now been recognized as a strategic technology for Europe, and a dedicated Photonics Unit with 16 people has been established within the European Commission.

Meanwhile progress is also being made by Photonics Europe organizers, SPIE (Cardiff, UK) in growing the biennial event, despite continued grumbling by exhibitors about the location (Strasbourg is not one of the easiest places to get to in Europe). Total attendance was 2,300 according to SPIE, up from previous years with growth in the number of participants in technical presentations and programs as well as in the exhibit hall, which housed 150 exhibiting companies.

“Photonics Europe is now the place for presenting foreground results in EUfunded projects and to meet with European Commission photonics staff,” said Hugo Thienpont of Vrije Universiteit Brussel, one of the event’s three General Chairs. “I was really pleased by the quality of technical content, and with the extremely well-attended Industry Perspectives sessions. It was a good opportunity to network.”

Certainly the roughly 1200 technical papers covered a broad range of technology research and development, ranging from silicon photonics to metamaterials and from photonics in multimedia to solid-state lasers.

Organic semiconductor lasers on silicon were the subject of an invited paper by Ifor D. Samuel from the University of St. Andrews (Scotland) who detailed some of the advantages—such as tunability, flexibility, and ease of processing—of “plastics” and reported new results on a nitride LED pumped polymer laser. Samuel says that optical pumping with an LED is a key advance toward practical devices (for more on organic semiconductor lasers see “Photonic Frontiers” in Laser Focus World, June 2008).

Also from St. Andrews, in an invited paper during the “Photonic Solutions for Better Healthcare” session, Kishan Dholakia described the many benefits of the Bessel light mode for biophotonics. The Bessel mode exhibits an intensity cross section that remains unchanged as it propagates and makes an ideal beam for optical trapping applications, he said.

In the automotive photonics sessions, Christian Jebas from the Light Technology Institute of the University of Karlsruhe (Germany) described research into adaptive headlighting technologies that incorporate advanced (solid-state) lighting and can automatically adjust the direction and geometry of light as well as account for changing driver dynamics (acceleration and deceleration for instance). And Mirco Götz from Hella KGaA Hueck & Co ( described that company’s work in a similar vein, showing a headlamp design that can continuously adapt to five different lighting situations based on input from an auto-mounted camera.

Besides the technical presentations, other events included Industrial Perspectives talks by top-level executives, professional development sessions for student and early career professionals, a reception for SPIE’s Women in Optics community, and a meeting of the European Photonics Clusters. But by far the most popular sessions were those covering photonics and solar energy said Gary Colquhoun, SPIE’s European Industry Development Manager. Perhaps not surprising given the photovoltaic industry’s > 30% compound annual growth rate noted in a Market and Technology Trends presentation on photovoltaics by Gaetan Rull of market research firm Yole Développement (Lyon, France). —Stephen G. Anderson

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