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‘Keep photonics in the spotlight’

Photonics must appear in the EU's Horizon Europe framework or risk losing its significance in economic policy, says Spectaris' Dr Wenko Süptitz

In 2018, the European photonics industry grew by an impressive nine per cent, according to Spectaris’ preliminary numbers. This adds to the row of years of dynamic growth in the European photonics industry during the current term of the European research framework Europe 2020.

Therefore, Spectaris and its corporate members were greatly concerned to discover that the thoroughly successful key technology of photonics no longer explicitly appears in the draft for the new European research framework programme Horizon Europe, and may therefore lose significance in economic policy.

The changes in prioritisation will lead to the loss of a successful European industry, while other up-and-coming nations will massively ramp up their pursuits in photonics. According to current forecasts, South Korea alone will increase government support for photonics to €2.9 billion per year by 2020, and China is already providing more funds for photonics than the European Union.

In Europe, the photonics industry currently generates €70 billion per year. The average growth rate in the past decade of six to seven per cent far exceeds the growth of the European GNP by more than four per cent. Tens of thousands of additional jobs in the photonics industry have been created in Europe over the past few years, and the demand for additional workers is still very high.

The photonics industry is therefore not only innovative, but is also shaped by medium-sized companies; as well forming a strong export business. The almost 5,000 companies in Europe ensure a varied development of the substantial range of optical applications, as well as flexible adjustment to rapidly-changing global market conditions.

As well as purely economic factors, photonics vastly contributes to problem-solving to help overcome social challenges: photonic technologies enable energy-efficient, resource-saving and clean applications in key social sectors such as healthcare, transport and communications.

Research in the field of photonics is clearly excellent and innovative. As recently as 2015, German researcher Stefan Hell received the Nobel Prize for the high-resolution fluorescence spectroscopy that he invented. This year, three more researchers working in photonics received the Nobel Prize. The innovative power of the photonics industry continues to be unwavering. Companies such as Zeiss, Jenoptik and Leica are global brands in optics. Many medium-sized companies are global market leaders in more specialist optical fields of application, such as Karl Storz in medical technology, Berliner Glas in semiconductor equipment technology, and First Sensor in sensor technology.

In light of today’s key economic promotion aspects, such as digitalisation, internet of things and artificial intelligence, photonics plays a vital role. With a large-scale, intelligent combination of data, new IT technology enables huge increases in efficiency in all areas of the economy.

However, it is primarily optical sensor technology and image acquisition in multiple dimensions with high-resolution displays and laser technology that give software-based tools the ‘sense’ of enabling intelligent interactions between humans and technology. Therefore, the current focus on purely digital megatrends should by no means come at the cost of beacon industry photonics.

With more than 400 high-tech companies, German industrial association Spectaris firmly believes that in light of the global opportunities and challenges, photonics should still be made the primary focus of European economic policy. Spectaris would be delighted to see the British photonics community advocate further promotion of the successful photonics on the European level.


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