UK Photonics SWOT – Industrial manufacturing

We are preparing SWOT analysis on 7 key UK photonics sectors.   The last draft of the SWOT for industrial manufacturing with photonics is below.  Comments for improvement are welcome. SWOTS for the other areas are found in parallel postings

2- Industrial manufacturing –

Unique UK aspect – low adoption rate of laser processing relative to e.g. Germany.

Strengths

  • Large number of laser manufactures including many SMEs supplying range of cutting edge laser systems especially targeted at precision/micro processing, a very strong growth area
  • Strong laser research in multiple institutions in solid state, high power, pulsed and fibre lasers providing technology and skilled engineers
  • Strong machine vision capability integrated imaging chips into systems.
  • Strong exports of materials processing lasers and systems.
  • Significant capacity in laser components from coatings to specialist optical fibre to modulators
  • TSB supported Catapult centre on High Value Manufacturing
  • Vibrant engineering subcontract sector, primarily in laser cutting but also welding, micro-processing, cladding, additive manufacture, marking and engraving
  • Strong presence on international laser safety committees
  • Well established national trade association (AILU) for industrial laser users/developers
  • EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Laser-based Production Processes opening in Oct 2013
Weaknesses

  • Small scale of many job shops and materials processing organisations
  • Very highest power laser systems are not made in UK
  • Majority imaging chips are made in Asia
  • Variety of process control sensors
  • Weak high tech industrial sector in the UK resulting in small “home market” for photonics suppliers compared to US, German and Far East competitors.
  • Patchy links between Universities and Industry especially with academic groups focused on developing advanced manufacturing
  • lack of facilities for cost-effective laser materials/ machine vision processing demonstrations and process development
  • Only a fraction of research is progressed sufficiently to be ready for industrial adoption.
  • Lack of sharing of best practice in implementation of industrial photonic manufacturing solutions
  • Small scale of many indigenous systems integrators mean they lack resources to provide a full integrated one stop solution
Opportunities

  • Increased recognition of the importance of photonics to modern manufacturing.
  • New materials esp composites
  • Laser based additive manufacturing
  • Short pulse processing
  • Precision processing of small and micro components
  • Rapid growth in Asian markets (requires very rapid response and local support to compete with local suppliers)
  • Forecasts for significant increase in utilisation of laser processes in manufacturing (e.g. automotive 5-30%)
  • Greater integration of photonics solutions of all types into the high value manufacturing Catapult
O&T

  • Low rate of laser processing adoption by UK manufacturers
  • Strong European base of integrators of lasers into machine tools
Threats

  • Lack of awareness of benefits of using photonics in manufacturing
  • Balance in support of large format processing vs. small scale precision processing
  • Physical distance between growth markets (Asia) and UK suppliers
  • Growth of Far East competition, initially supplying their home markets but with plans to enter export markets
  • Shortage of skilled engineers with right to work in UK, both for solution developers and users compounded by tightening immigration restrictions
  • Lack of industrial photonics content (machine vision, laser processing) in engineering training.
  • Focus on short term financial performance vs longer term investment
  • General poor public perception of manufacturing and Engineering as UK strengths

Note area includes materials processing e.g. welding marking, imaging and machine vision, industrial sensing and process control

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