Digitisation 'big opportunity' for photonics, says European Commission's Burgess

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The photonics sector stands to gain significantly from the European Commission’s upcoming policy initiative on digitisation, Ronan Burgess, deputy head of the photonics unit at the EC, has said during an industry programme at SPIE Photonics Europe in Brussels.

‘Digitisation is important for Europe, but also a big opportunity for the photonics sector,’ he commented at the event, which took place from 4 to 7 April.

His remarks follow on from those made by the Photonics21 president, Dr Michael Mertin, during the Photonics Public Private Partnership annual meeting in March, where he said ‘the rising tide of digitisation will induce fundamental changes to classic global economic structures and business models’.

Burgess at Photonics Europe noted that information and communication technologies (ICT) provide around 40 per cent added-value in the automotive and medical industries.

‘In order to make European industry more competitive we need to accelerate the uptake of ICT by European industry, in particular the more traditional European industries because otherwise they will never survive in the global marketplace,’ he said.

This means getting more photonics into products, he added, along with transforming processes, such as more sensing in manufacturing, and changing business models.

The European Commission is investing €77 billion between 2014 and 2020 in its Horizon2020 programme in three main pillars: science, societal challenges, and industrial leadership. €700 million has been pledged as part of that to the Photonics Public Private Partnership; during the first two years of calls, 46 photonics-based projects have been selected with a total of €180 million of funding.

Burgess said that there is a need ‘to accelerate the deployment of photonics in industrial sectors’, the manufacturing sector being an obvious one. ‘It’s particularly important for us [the EC] to set up the right innovation structure in order to help that happen, which means pilot lines for production and providing access to SMEs.'

The European Commission has recently invested €35 million in three manufacturing pilot lines for helping SMEs take photonics technologies from lab to market. It has also set up programmes like ActPhast, which aims to give SMEs access to photonics competences and services, particularly for SMEs that don’t necessarily know about photonics.

‘The ultimate aim is to provide access to photonics technologies and expertise within walking distance of any company and any region in Europe, particularly SMEs,’ Burgess said. This means expanding the network of competence centres and innovation hubs so that they can provide business expertise, as well as access to sources on financing.

Further information:

Horizon 2020


SPIE Photonics Europe