FEATURE

A year of growth

Glenn Barrowman reports on another successful year for Photonics Cluster (UK)

Since we last reported to you, a little more than a year ago, Photonics Cluster (UK) has had a remarkably successful period of growth. We have seen a meteoric rise in membership levels, and our events programme has been expanded and extremely well attended.

Among the highlights of the past year has been a significant rise in technology members joining the network - our total membership is now 185 - as well as an improvement in the marketing and promotion of our cluster facilities, which have been well used. Our activities team oversaw more than 30 events, enhancing our reputation as the most effective specialist network in the UK.

Nina Blackmore PCUK opening the hugely successful Euroled 2006 conference.

The strength of the network is such that the team has been successful in securing industry participation through donations of equipment and through contra deals, which helped to maximise cluster activity. Within the membership facilities, funded by Advantage West Midlands and located on Aston Science Park, Birmingham UK, the cluster has been hugely successful in securing additional donations and showcasing members' products.

Corporate clients have demonstrated their long-term support to the network, with industry contributions to the cluster exceeding £1m. The first tranche of equipment and technical support from the membership has been provided by BFI Optilas, Optima Research, Precision Optical Engineering, Pro-Lite Technology, Radiant Imaging, Spiricon, Trumpf and International Metrology Solutions.

The receipt of the Coordinate Measurement Machine from the Scottish-based International Measurement Solutions was particularly rewarding. This equipment is an effective workhorse for general engineering companies, and is highly desirable for the precision engineering companies within the Midlands.

David Meehan from IMS said: 'In partnership with the cluster, a full training support package has been initiated to enable companies to access and utilise this type of equipment. This is proving attractive to clients, with many exploring other optical technology adoption possibilities.'

P-OE sales and marketing manager, Robin Addison, said: 'We were excited about the prospect of having our Interfire II on show within the cluster facilities. This has permitted industry clients of ours and the cluster to undertake quality monitoring tests for optical components and systems performed in the 3-5µm region of the electromagnetic spectrum.

'It has also given many companies the chance to see the capabilities of the equipment in a non-sales situation and, as an added bonus, we have been able to use the superb Aston Science Park facilities when we need to carry out commercial demonstrations away from our headquarters in Hitchin.'

Optima Research general manager, Jenny Warwick, added: 'We have been pleased to support the cluster by providing software packages for its use within a range of activities undertaken on behalf of commercial clients. The upside for us is that many more users will get the opportunity to view our products.'

Nina Blackmore, who works at Photonics Cluster (UK), is delighted by the commitment of the member companies: 'We are in a position to do much more than previously possible. This is resulting in additional client companies using our facilities, bringing external funding into the network, which is recycled into expanding our programme of activities.'

This is a practice we actively encourage, even if it means we are required to expand our operations to accommodate the larger equipment donations. The suppliers see the value of locating their equipment within our facilities and they really want to help companies take advantage of the technology. The facilities receive more than 100 visitors every month walking around the laboratories, not including those actually using the equipment. Some of our companies have seen this as a great marketing opportunity, providing the centre with state-of-the-art equipment and technical support, in return for the cluster showcasing the equipment.

Raising and providing advice and support in securing funding for client companies is key to cluster activities. Within the past year, the team has successfully identified West Midlands-based client companies who would be eligible for support under the AWM funded BRDL Technology Transfer Fund.

During the year, the team facilitated 20 one-to-one meetings. From these only one has been rejected, many are still in discussions and seven have secured funding. Client companies, including Arden Medisafe, Advanced LEDs, Splashplay, Integrated System Technologies and IMIRP, are among the early beneficiaries.

Within its technology transfer activities the cluster team has continued to work with Central Technology Belt partners QinetiQ, DDA, and the Aston Science Park business development team in the identification and profiling of end user adopters of technology and photonics applications. This has resulted in business solutions being integrated into the processes of companies in the West Midlands and beyond.

Moreover the cluster collaboration with the National Physical Laboratory, under the DTI-supported Measurement for Innovators scheme, provided access to excellent technical resources for more than 50 members.

Activities included the cluster exhibiting and being lead sponsor at Photonex last October. The cluster prepared an excellent business and technology seminar programme in support of the exhibition. This particular strategic partnership is now in its third year with the scale of cluster activities and its profile increasing year on year.

Recent event highlights

  • Seminars for Success - Regular activities in business improvement techniques from marketing to tax planning
  • Colour photometric course - repeated several times, and offered high level training at the cluster's own facilities
  • Funding workshop in partnership with BRDL Technology Transfer Fund - eight West Midlands-based clients were extended invitations to explore opportunities for new businesses
  • Specialist optical coatings session within the SPIE Photonics Europe conference - well attended by 45 targeted individuals to interact with PCUK partners, including Fraunhofer Institute, QioptiQ and Applied Multilayers
  • Euroled 2006 International conference and exhibition securing leading speakers, exhibitors and the participation of over 300 quality industry delegates per day
  • Series of intellectual property seminars - in conjunction with PCUK IP partners regularly attended by more than 25 members and associates
  • Integrating spheres courses - explored the simplification of complex measurements of light sources, and held at cluster facilities
  • Measurement techniques in the drug discovery industry - an event held at the Photonics Application Centre, which attracted more than 80 leading practitioners and users of the technology
  • Vibrometry and technology adoption seminar - attended by 60 users, again held at the Photonics Application Centre
  • DTI optical communications and next generation networks photonics strategy workshop - attended by 45 users
  • DTI strategy workshop in solid state lighting and photovoltaics - attended by 45 users
  • Short courses in colour analysis and measurement
  • Collaboration with Netherlands Photonics Cluster - two-day series of interactive specialist presentations and discussions

Exhibition, conference and strategic partnerships

  • Photonics North
  • Photonex
  • ECOC
  • OFMC
  • Photonics21
  • DTI BioPhotonics Medical Healthcare Photonics Strategy Workshop
  • DTI Optical Communication and Next Generations Networks Strategy Workshop
  • DTI Solid State Lighting and Photovoltaics Strategy Workshop
  • Photonics West
  • IPOT

Selected future events and activities

  • 21 June - WEEE & RoHS Awareness and Compliance Seminar
  • 21 June - SfS Tax and Pensions breakfast seminar in association with strategic partner Aston Science Park / Birmingham BIC
  • 21 June - Colour measurement course
  • 13 July - Metrology technology demonstration in partnership with PCUK member Veeko
  • 13 September - Colour measurement course
  • 14 September - Application-focused open day