Germany has always been at the forefront of many manufacturing disciplines, and photonics is no exception. Dr Bernd Weidner and Joachim Giesekus explain why
Be it Abbe's theory of microscope image formation, which led to fundamental improved microscopes in 1871, or the Nobel Prize-winning development of laser-based precision spectroscopy by the German physicist Haensch in 2005, the German photonics industry is characterised by a high level of innovation and quality. As a result, Germany can certainly claim to be Europe's leading nation in photonics.
A recent market report shows that the industry is thriving. Spectaris, the German industry association for optical, medical and mechatronical technologies, has recently put together an extensive market report on - among other things - the state of the industry of lasers and optical components in Germany. The world market, which ../includes more than lasers and optical components, is estimated to be worth about e100bn. According to the world market index Optical Technologies, the world market of photonics increased 25 per cent in 2004. This index was established by Spectaris and analyses the revenues of the key players in this industry.
The photonics and precision engineering industry in Germany employs almost 150,000 people and manufacturers predict that this period of growth will continue when the 2005 figures are published. Around 10 per cent of turnover is reinvested in research and development, with around half of that turnover being generated from new products. In the laser and optical components sector (treated separately in this report), total turnover was e4.5bn in 2004, up 12 per cent from the previous year. Exports were up 15 per cent on 2004, and these represented around two-thirds of overall turnover - proving that Germany is a nation supplying photonics products around the world. Around half of these exports were in the EU, with around 15 per cent going to North America. In 2003, Germany increased exports to such an extent that it became a net exporter from a net importer. Asia is also a significant destination. Employment in the sector grew to just over 41,000 employees.
An important factor contributing to this track record is the German government's funding programme, which was established in 2002 and actively supports the development of optical technologies. Between 2002 and 2007, roughly e90m has been pledged by the German Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) for research in the field of photonics. Before then, the ministry initiated a strategy process in 1999-2000, with the help of industry associations, scientists and industry experts, in order to structure this area of the economy and to promote the use of optical technologies in as many applications as possible. As a result of this, they developed the German agenda 'Optical Technologies for the 21st Century'. The agenda analysed existing application fields, identified new application fields and developed recommendations for policy and industry. In doing so, the agenda provided the basis for the research funding programme which, as a result, is tailored to the needs and requirements of the German industry.
Application fields identified as crucial for the German photonics industry include information and telecommunication, health sector and life sciences, illumination and energy, industrial production, optical sensor technology, and manufacturing of optical components and systems. They include innovative radiation sources, new optical concepts, nano-optics, light and optic measurement, and bio-photonics. 'One can easily see that the application fields themselves can be considered as future technologies, so accelerating the triumphant procession of photonics, which acts as a cross-sectional technology,' says Sven Behrens, CEO of Spectaris.
At European level, the immense significance of photonics and its influence on numerous technologies still has to be manifested. Germany is the driving force in the creation of a European technology platform that aims to enhance the position of optical technologies in the Seventh Research Framework Programme (www.vdi.de/photonics21). It will be founded in December 2005, and is supported by 60 European industry key players and scientists. Starting from the platform 'Photonics21 - Photonics for the 21st century', the needs of the photonics industry can be transported more easily to the European Commission and the European research policy.
To ensure a constant high rate of innovation and high quality of photonics made in Germany in the future, a certain level of education must be guaranteed. Specialised study programmes focus on 'photonics' or 'laser technology'. Several players are working on further improvements in state-of-the-art educational programmes, which meet the needs of the industry. To arouse the interest of younger people, the exhibition 'Fascination Light' gives interesting and accessible insights in the physical background of photonics.
The specific structure of the photonics industry calls for the necessity of a strong network: the industry is comprised mainly of small and medium-sized enterprises, which produce niche products and can be considered as innovation drivers. In Germany, numerous efforts are made to ensure the close contact between industry and research, politics and industry, customers and supplier and between competitors.
In addition to its efforts to promote new technologies, the BMBF's funding programme for optical technologies ../includes specific measures to support networks of competence. The aim of establishing such networks was to create durable structures capable of sustaining an innovation system. The Optical Technology Competence Networks are an ideal platform from which to launch innovation projects, because all the necessary partners from basic research up to the producing industry are members of the networks. At present, nine Optical Technology Competence Networks exist in Germany, which focus their activities in the regions where they are situated. In general, these regions have a strong potential in photonics themselves. The regional focus of their activities means that they are pooling the regional resources and expertise of a wide range of players in industry and science to build up complete value-added chains, to facilitate the development of these advanced technologies. Finally, they strongly support the formation of regional clusters in photonics, which need to be sustained due to the importance of short distances and personal contacts between the players.
The networks closely cooperate with each other and are unified under the roof of OptecNet Deutschland eV (www.optecnet.de/) as the umbrella organisation. The Competence Networks are complementary to the traditional industrial associations, like Spectaris, so that both national and regional aspects of strengthening the optical technologies are recognised.
Another good example is the congress 'Optical Technologies - Chances of Innovation for Germany', which took place in February this year, supported by two German ministries and three industry organisations. Primarily aimed at increasing the awareness of the technology for politicians, it offers a high-level platform for all relevant players, and was attended by more than 300 participants.
- Berliner Glas KGaA Herbert Kubatz GmbH & Co
- Instrument Systems GmbH
- Laser Components GmbH
- Newport/Spectra Physics GmbH
- Photonic Products Germany
- Scanlab AG
- Sill Optics GmbH & Co KG
Berliner Glas KGaA Herbert Kubatz GmbH & Co
Berliner Glas is one of the leading suppliers of precision thin-film coated optical components, electro-optical assemblies, opto-mechanical modules and complex optical systems from design to series production. In addition, Berliner Glas offers high-end glass panels for innovative display solutions and develops custom wafer-level packaging products for MEMS. The company supplies a wide variety of in-house measurement facilities for component groups and subsystems covering various optical and opto-mechanical parameters for individual measurement set-ups.
With companies in Germany, Switzerland and the United States, Berliner Glas Group employs around 720 staff members. From design to prototyping, from zero series to series production, the company is a centre of competence for optical solutions and a reliable partner worldwide.
With its years of experience, the company is at home in the market of information technology and communications, industrial sensors, semiconductor industry and life science - in all industries that use light.
Instrument Systems GmbH
Instrument Systems is a technology and market leader for LED and display measuring systems. Founded in 1986, the company develops and manufactures a range of products to determine all relevant optical parameters of LEDs like luminous intensity (candela), luminous flux (lumen) or the spatial radiation pattern of single LEDs, clusters and modules. Turn-key solutions are offered for display measurement applications including complete 5-Axis positioner systems to perform goniometric analysis of displays and panel graphics on a spectroradiometric basis. Imaging photometers and colorimeters are available to measure luminance and colour of any kind of light distribution. All system calibrations are directly traceable to international standards. Instrument Systems provides support for a global customer base with back-up from a comprehensive network of representatives, plus a subsidiary in Canada.
Laser Components GmbH
Laser Components is a photonics component and OEM module supplier of sources, optics and detectors, from soft X-ray, UV to FIR. Products include: a) sources: pulsed and cw free space and pigtailed laser diodes, tuneable, TEC, VCSEL, DFB (UV/VIS/IR), laser diode modules, IR emitters, flash lamps, LEDs and SLEDs; b) UV to IR optics: plastic, silica, IR and sapphire fibre optics, NxN fibre couplers, feed throughs, fibre rotary joints, connectors and termination service, laser mirrors, lenses, output couplers, dichroics, prisms, windows, optical filters, and laser crystal rods; and c) free space and pigtailed detectors: SiC (UV), Si/CdS/APDs (VIS), InGaAs/PbSe/PbS (NIR), and Thermopile/Pyroelectric/InSb/MCT (IR/FIR) single chip and arrays. Also supplied are low noise signal recovery current, voltage and lock-in amplifiers, IR spectrometers (3-10µm), laser proximity OEM modules, peltier heatpumps (TECs/SSHPs) and a range of accessory items such as laser safety goggles and spectacles, IR converter cards and cameras, and optical fibre tools.
Newport/Spectra Physics GmbH
Located in Darmstadt, the combined Newport and Spectra-Physics sales and services organisations operate as a single-source supplier of advanced technology products and solutions in Germany.
Newport Corporation is a globally-recognised leader in advanced technology products and solutions for fields such as research, life and health science, aerospace and defence, industrial manufacturing, semiconductors, and microelectronics. The company's near-40 years of industry knowledge and expertise crosses a broad range of technologies, allowing it to continually deliver innovative products and solutions in a myriad of areas such as lasers and light sources, opto-mechanical components and mounts, optical filters and gratings, spectroscopic and photonic instruments, vibration control, motion systems, robotics and automation, advanced packaging and customised systems.
Spectra-Physics has long been recognised as a laser technology leader - serving customers in more than 70 countries around the world. Founded in 1961 with headquarters in Mountain View, CA, Spectra-Physics designs, develops, manufactures and distributes premier lasers and laser systems for a variety of commercial and industrial markets such as life and health science, aerospace and defence, computers, telecommunications, research and development, original equipment manufacturers (OEM) and microelectronics.
Photonic Products Germany
Photonic Products opened its European sales office in Gröbenzell, in March 2004, headed by Dieter Gebhardt, who has a specialised knowledge of industrial laser diodes and optics. He is supported by a German-speaking sales team and a German website.
To celebrate its success, Photonic Products has invested in a Citizen M32 CNC machining centre, enabling both increased flexibility and fast turnaround from prototype to full production of custom-designed electro-optical sub-assemblies and components such as heat-sinks, clamps and mounts.
Damon Cookman, operations director, said: 'In five years our manufacturing business has grown by 600 per cent in response to customer demand for our laser modules and optical components, and we invested in cutting edge manufacturing technology to give increased capacity.'
Photonic Products was established in 1995 and is also a specialist distributor of high performance industrial laser diodes, LEDs and precision optical lenses. It is a Queen's Award for International Enterprise winner.
Since its founding in 1990, Scanlab has stood for successful scan solutions and high-performance galvanometer scanners. Products include high-end scan heads (more than 1,150 characters/s), high precision scan solutions (e.g. micro machining), scan systems for lasers in the kilowatt-range and control electronics also for on-the-fly applications.
The company's products and services are used for laser material processing (e.g. marking, welding, cutting, drilling, rapid manufacturing) and medical and biomedical technology (ophthalmology, dermatology, confocal microscopy). It provides solutions optimised for each of these highly varied markets and demanding applications.
For this purpose, Scanlab provides a comprehensive palette of standard products and customer-tailored solutions that continue to set new standards and offer forward-looking opportunities for its customers.
The company's 70 highly-qualified and motivated employees have accumulated years of expertise based on more than 35,000 scan solutions installed worldwide. With this solid basis, Scanlab has become a worldwide leader in its market.
Sill Optics GmbH & Co KG
Sill Optics GmbH & Co. KG, founded in 1894, is an experienced manufacturer of precise optical components for sectors such as medicine, metrology, laser technology, industrial machine vision and illumination. Sill Optics has 105 skilled workers and engineers.
The company's field of activities ../includes the design and manufacturing of precise optical components and systems, and the latest CNC equipment, worth 5m euros.
Sill's range of services ../includes the design and manufacturing of OEM or standard optics, with more than 1,000 optical elements and lenses offered for technical application in photonics.
Research and development activities include its own capacity for optic design and CAD design, the development of lenses for machine vision, illumination, lasers and medical applications.
Special equipment ../includes the latest CNC equipment for lens manufacturing from 4mm to 900mm in diameter, including housings and assemblies, and using the magnetic fluid technique for <±/10 accuracy.
Sill Optics is a partner with Optical Precision Moulding in the field of technology, and meets the requirements of DIN EN ISO 9001/2000 certification.