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A day out at your local photonics firm

Tom Eddershaw looks at the activities planned for the upcoming Day of Photonics, an initiative organised by EPIC to raise awareness of photonics technologies

What is photonics? Those in the industry may know very well what the term means, but the general public might be less aware of what photonics encompasses or where it is used in society. And, just as important, at least for the photonics industry, politicians might not fully realise what photonics is, so there is an incentive to increase awareness here and get photonics on the political agenda.

The European Photonics Industry Consortium (EPIC) has organised a ‘day of photonics’ in order to raise awareness of photonics technologies. The day will take place on 21 October and numerous organisations, including commercial companies and research institutes, have activities planned.

The organiser of the initiative and director general of EPIC, Carlos Lee, said: ‘This day is a day to raise awareness of the many applications that exist for photonics, to help politicians and the general public understand what exactly we within the industry do. We want the public to see what we are doing, to see the careers available within the trade, and for governments to see why it is worth investing in or creating beneficial policies for photonics.’

The day is a warm-up for next year’s status as the International Year of Light, an initiative advocated by the United Nations General Assembly also in order to raise awareness of light-based technologies. The Day of Photonics, however, is scheduled to be either an annual or biennial event to continue to promote the technology in the future.

Lee stated that the main reason that companies should take part in the day is advocacy. ‘Every company within the industry benefits as photonics becomes more accepted by the public. Creating a legacy may be a long-term project with rewards too far off to be seen by some companies, but there are short-term benefits as well.

‘It also helps improve a company’s reputation with a whole new group of people and can help start-ups become as recognisable as the large companies in the public eye,’ Lee continued. ‘This improves the chances of these smaller companies recruiting the top engineers as they come out of higher education. These activities will also help people from different industries understand photonics and the benefits it offers, which can create new customers perhaps from previously unexplored avenues.’

One of the companies that have activities planned for 21 October is AMS Technologies. The company’s CEO, Jan Meise, said: ‘We see this as not just the Day of Photonics but an open day for AMS Technologies as well, and we expect to benefit from the brand recognition that comes with organising an event like this. However, we aren’t viewing this as an opportunity to unveil cutting-edge, brand-new products – but instead as a way to show off existing and established techniques.’

The company will have open days at its German (Planegg, Munich) and French (Courtaboeuf, south of Paris) offices. Meise said the company would be inviting two different types of people. ‘One is the group that may not already know about photonics, such as the friends and families of our employees, and also involves our neighbours. It will let the kids understand a little bit more about what their mums and dads do for a living, and can be proud that their parents are working within the photonics industry.’

He added: ‘Also, we are part of a technology cluster and the other companies based near us may not have worked with photonics before or be sure of what we do. It’s a pretty big park that we are involved in here [Planegg, Munich] and there are a lot of bio-tech companies. They are quite likely to be a customer of our customers; this could provide them with a better view of the entire supply chain, as well as showing them who and where we are and a way to let them know what we do. This works both ways and could help us understand a little bit more about the end user applications.’

He continued: ‘The second group is our existing customers, as well as local research groups and universities that already know about the use of light but who would benefit from seeing the principles in action.

‘This side will allow existing customers to see a wide range of demos from different applications that they may not be aware of so they can see the breadth of products that we offer,’ added Meise. ‘We also want to give them, at least, an awareness of what a photon is and maybe excite them a little with a few demonstrations of our products.’

Creating a community

Something Meise and Lee agreed on was that the current lack of interaction between different fields of photonics is a problem. Lee said: ‘There are 5,000 plus photonics companies in Europe and there is so much we can achieve together, but we do not yet have that spirit. The industry is still very young but the day of photonics could be a good opportunity to let our community start gathering a joint momentum.’

Meise commented: ‘There are many applications but they are very fragmented within the photonics industry – so fragmented, in fact, that we don’t know whether our neighbours are involved in photonics as well. There are so many areas and we just aren’t talking to each other.

‘There is a community forming which in the certain domains, such as the solar, LED, or data communications industry; everyone knows about it and there are even sub-communities; everyone has multi-source agreements, there are lots of consortiums,’ he continued.

‘Other areas, such as micro-machining or the other industrial processes, have stayed out of the public domain to a large extent. This has meant that they have been at least a little overlooked, and the public understanding has lacked because of this. Everyone plugs their phone into an electrical socket, but we don’t have optical sockets in our homes. It’s not something you can touch.’

EPIC is encouraging companies from different areas within the industry to get together and Lee commented that, in the future, the Day of Photonics should be something that companies organise themselves: ‘We are just giving them a template in the fashion of support materials and presentation ideas, allowing them to easily be a part of the day.’

Meise noted: ‘The previous lack of public contact with some of the more industrial processes has been a problem. This is where industry organised days like this can really help. It lets the public know that it is not just the solar or data comms market that uses photons, but that light can be used to manufacture a car, build parts for a mobile phone, or the many other applications that until now have remained hidden. What we want to do is get people in and get them as close as possible to our demos and really let them know what’s going on.’

Further information:

To view a video from EPIC detailing the scope of photonics, click here