Photonics leverage reaches 10 per cent of EU economy, 30m jobs

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The European photonics industry has a 'leveraged' impact on at least ten per cent of Europe's economy, €30tn of European trade, and an influence on around 30m jobs, according to the results of a recent study undertaken by Photonics21 - the European technology platform set up as to unify the optical technologies industry. The study, entitled 'The Leverage Effect of Photonics Technologies' aimed to quantify just how important the photonics industry is to the European economy, looking beyond the turn-over of the industry itself and towards those other sectors of business that indirectly rely on photonic technologies. John Lincoln of Harlin Ltd, a consultant working on behalf of Photonics21, presented the findings of the study to an interested audience at the Laser World of Photonics symposium.

For the purposes of the study, photonics was taken to incorporate all the technologies of emitting, detecting and processing light. Using this basis, photonics applications reach from optical fibres to modern luminaries such as LEDs and OLEDs, to biophotonics in healthcare and disease prevention, sensors and surveillance technologies for safety, security and environmental control. Photonics also delivers the high-tech laser technologies used in many manufacturing processes.

Photonics markets, the study said, have shown a consistent annual growth of over 10 per cent, and have rapidly recovered from the recent recession. The recovery in photonics manufacturing technologies was found to have been particularly strong, indicating the pivotal role of photonics in increasing manufacturing efficiency. 'We know photonics is important,' noted Lincoln in his presentation, 'but we are trying to quantify just how important it is.'

The 'leverage effect' evaluated in the study is defined as the contribution photonics makes to the value of an end product or service through enhancing the productivity of the manufacturing process or by providing or enhancing the functionality of the end product. This leverage is generated by a European photonics industry worth €58.5 billion (21 per cent of the world market) employing approximately 290,000 people in more than 5,000 companies and over 1,000 research organisations across Europe.

A significant increase in photonics leverage in the next decade is foreseen by the authors of the study, especially in those areas where photonics currently has only a modest impact: The biggest change will occur in construction, with the increasing use of photovoltaic solar panels and solid state LED lighting. Photonics leverage will also increase rapidly in retail, with new lighting and display technologies, and in the increasing application of diverse photonics technologies in medical and healthcare. Alongside these growing impacts, photonics will maintain its high impact on, and support for innovation and growth in, telecommunications and scientific R&D. In his presentation, Lincoln also identified the high performance, low volume nature of the European photonics industry as being a potential weakness, as it puts pressure on governments to drive innovation through R&D funding.

While predicting a bright future for European photonics, the report concluded that the photonics industry is not homogeneous – neither technically nor structurally. Support from government in terms of policy and funding, he said, should take this heterogeneous nature into account.