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EPIC publishes European photonics database

26 Apr 2013

Industry survey pegs European photonics market at close to €66 billion in 2012.

A new survey of the European photonics ecosystem estimates it to have been worth nearly €66 billion in 2012, and to provide employment for some 377,000 people.

Based on 447 responses from component and system makers, research institutions, cluster groups and resellers across the continent, the findings from the European Photonics Industry Consortium (EPIC) compare with respective figures of €55 billion and 300,000 reported by the Photonics21 industry group for Europe in 2008.

It also comes two years after a study on the leveraging effect of the technology in Europe found that as much as 10% of the continent's economy was underpinned by photonics.

Carlos Lee, director general of EPIC, said that the survey results indicated a diverse spread of markets served by different photonics technology within Europe, although sensing and imaging systems were found to account for the largest single chunk, equivalent to €28.9 billion, or 44% of the total.

SME proliferation
The survey analysis, carried out by market research specialist Tematys, found that just over half of the sector’s sales were destined for export outside the continent, indicating that photonics is somewhat insulated from Europe’s internal macroeconomic problems. As well as the survey results, the analysis was based on financial reports from the 50 largest photonics companies in the region.

As with the earlier Photonics21 report, EPIC’s survey shows that the vast majority of photonics companies in Europe are small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), with nearly 90% of firms employing fewer than 100 people.

However, major employers – the likes of Carl Zeiss and Philips – are so large that big companies (defined as greater than 500 employees) still account for just over half of the total photonics workforce in the region.

Conversely, small firms (defined as employing fewer than 20 people) represent more than half of the total number of companies, but only account for 6% of what appears to be a highly productive workforce.

“The turnover-to-staff ratio of between €150,000 and €250,000 per employee reflects a generally high skilled workforce,” Lee noted.

Semiconductor parallels
Lee joined EPIC from the European wing of the Semiconductor Equipment and Materials International trade group (SEMI Europe) just over a year ago. Such industry information is readily available in the semiconductor sector, and Lee said that part of the motivation behind the new survey was to provide open data for photonics cluster groups in Europe to readily demonstrate the economic impact of photonics and its significance as an employer.

The organization has also generated a public database and map of photonics-related companies and organizations that comprises more than 5000 individual entries.

That total includes multiple listings for many of the big players in photonics. For example, there are a dozen entries for California-headquartered Coherent, and a similar number for the German optics giant Carl Zeiss. Several hundred universities and other research institutions are also included.

Lee sees parallels between the current photonics industry and the sector that he left last year, saying that a preponderance of SMEs was a notable feature of the first decade of the electronics industry.

But while the electronics and semiconductor manufacturing industry supply chains have had nearly half a century to develop and refine key technology definitions and standards in materials and equipment, in many areas photonics is just at the start of that process.

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