Photonics lights up Dutch manufacturing industry

door: David Kemps , Roderick Vos

  • Photonics is a promising technology that is being pioneered in the Netherlands
  • The Dutch market is small, but offers plenty of international growth opportunities
  • Entrepreneurs need more funds and highly skilled professionals

A small market with plenty of growth opportunities

A survey by ABN AMRO and sector association PhotonicsNL shows that the Dutch photonics industry is growing fast. At present, a total of around 160 businesses, knowledge centres and universities are active in this sector; together, they represent a value of nearly 2 billion euros. This makes the sector a relatively small player in the manufacturing industry as a whole, but its potential is great. In 2010, only half of photonics companies made a profit; by 2016, this had increased to over 85%. This growth is expected to continue: one third of photonics companies expect to grow their revenues by more than 20%. That said, entrepreneurs still feel that they require more funding to achieve their ambitions.

The Netherlands is up there with the world’s best

Although ‘photonics’ is not a household term, most of us use photonics on a daily basis. Nearly everyone has a smartphone and products such as LED lighting, Blu-Ray and solar cells can be manufactured only by the grace of photonics technology: aimed at generating, transmitting and detecting light waves or light particles, also known as ‘photons’. The best known example of photonics is fibre optic cables, which use light as a way of transmitting data to provide faster broadband. The Netherlands has a leading position in Integrated Photonics: developing and making micro-chips that process light signals. Another promising technology is Biophotonics: developing and using optic technology to visualise, measure and analyse tissue, cells, or even DNA. The Netherlands is one of the global leaders in Biophotonics research too, as well as being a strong player in the market for Imaging & Sensors: detecting changes in the properties of materials through optical systems.

Collaboration is vital to growth

The problems that may come to be caused by globally rising demand for energy can be mitigated by the use of photonics technology. As things stand, the energy use of data centres in ten years’ time is expected to equal today’s total global energy consumption. Integrated Photonics may provide a solution by offering fast and energy-efficient photonic chips. And there are many more examples. It is important in this process that the photonics market has enough scope for further development. To achieve this, we recommend that companies and knowledge centres step up their teamwork. Dutch entrepreneurs have a strong focus on foreign customers. As a result, there is little competition in the Netherlands, which facilitates collaboration. In addition, photonics companies are facing a shortage of highly skilled staff. The government, banks and investors need to partner up to provide appropriate finance to photonics companies. Multiple financing is required to fund growth in the photonics industry at this early stage.

ABN-AMRO-Report-Photonics-EN-nov2017.pdf (3 MB)