Photonics Grand Challenges

Draft Photonics Grand Challenges

Draft Photonic Grand Challenges

Photonics continues to develop rapidly,  driven by diversification into new applications and rapid expansion of existing applications.  This presents the industry, in the UK,  with a number of challenges.  The PLG are currently capturing and summarising these challenges and what actions may have a transformative impact on them and the industry.

The current draft of the photonics grand challenge map is available for review.  This continues to be updated with community input and will be refined at the next PLG meeting on October 15.  If you would like to input,  comment and improve on this map of the principle challenges faced by our industry in the UK please contact us.

with thanks to support from The Future Photonics Hub

Industry Strategy – what does it mean for photonics

Published on 23Jan 2017, the UK’s latest industrial strategy presents many opportunities  for photonics summarised in our compressed analysis of the industry strategy

Industry Strategy Feedback

The UK’s new industry strategy is now published.  Whilst, the 10 pillars of the strategy will support continued development of photonics, the vital role of enabling technologies, such as photonics, that provide the competitive edge in product performance, and manufacturing productivity needs to be fully recognised.  Less than 5% of the value of high technology goods, from mobile phones to airplanes, is in the final assembly (Economist 14/1/17). Most value is in the design, the critical components (often photonics e.g. camera, screen, sensors) and the manufacturing equipment (also often photonics e.g laser marking, cutting, machine vision).

Responses to the green paper give the opportunity  to refine the industrial strategy and make sure support for the  research, design, development and manufacture of the hidden technologies that enable a productive future is secure.  The UK is blessed with globally leading photonics research and a strong export driven industry.  But, as a global industry, photonics is sensitive to changes in international trade and care is needed to ensure we continue to develop and manufacture this enabling technology in the UK.

Online responses to the industrial strategy can be submitted at

Industry Strategy Photonics potential

The Photonics Leadership Group welcomes the publication of UK Industry Strategy and looks forward to developing a sector deal for photonics and light based technologies with UK government that addresses needs of both UK photonics industry and the huge range of firms enabled by photonics.

The priority given in the strategy to industries, such as photonics, that self-organise – as evidenced by the continued support for the PLG from multiple sectors and organisations distributed across the UK is further welcomed.  With shared challenges and opportunities already identified, and further strategies for lasers in manufacturing and roadmaps for photonics in active development, the PLG invites the government prioritize development of a sector deal in photonics.  Critical to keeping so many industries competitive from automotive to healthcare, vital for delivering productivity gains in manufacturing and already a major exporter a secotr deal for photonics would enhance the whole of the UK economy.

Read more of this post

UK infrared and broadband imaging supply chain

Multiband Imaging exampleNew multiband imaging chips offer the potenital for lightweight simultaneious imaging from LWIR thermal range to the visible spectrum.  However, operational systems also need simultanous break throughs in optical matierals, coatings, electroincs, image processing and system design.  Advances in all of these are taking place in the UK, but lack of ‘visibility’, coordination and ‘focus’ will delay new products and reduce the opportunity.

We are therefore encouraging collaboration throughout the supply chain to accelerate the UK development and adoption of next generation IR & multiband imaging solutions.

There will be an initial meeting alongside SPIE Security+ Defence and Remote sensing in Edinburgh, on Wed 28 Sep. 13:30 – 15:00.  Please contact us if you wold like to attend or add you name at

You can also contribute remotely workspace at This on-line tool enables multiple inputs/viewpoints can be gathered without having to attend meetings in person. The process should be self-explanatory, please make your own additions, comments and highlights.  You will be asked to provide an email address when you first access the Groupmap, and can return to the map at any point to see contributions from others.  Our initial aim is to capture:-

  • What strengths and gaps do we have in the UK,
  • Who are the UK players developing and adopting innovation
  • Agree what are the key elements of IR imaging supply chain,
  • What potential actions to take to drive innovation and subsequent steps?

For further information you may also add yourself to the distribution list for this working group.

Supported by PLG, KTN, ChAMP  and open to input from all organisations.

Hot areas for future growth


The PLG has updated its detailed analysis of technical areas within photonics that will provide the greatest opportunities for future growth of the industry in the UK.

UK photonics future growth

UK Photonics Future Growth

The major opportunities for future growth within the UK photonics sector are identified within this draft report – PLG_UK_Photonics_Future_growth_Jan2014draft.

The report highlights area where the UK can be an international leader in significant markets and what should be done to maximise these opportunities.  This report acts as a guide for developing and reaffirming business and investment strategy, research direction and partnership development by providing guidance on the 3 key questions of:-

  1. Where is UK photonics growth coming from?
  2. What strength have we got in the area to build on?
  3. What action essential to make growth happen?

Additional comment and suggestion for industry wide action are most welcome.

Note opportunities in sensors, components, defence and aerospace are still missing and tmay in time conceal some of the more significant unrealised opportunities.

Plastic electronics –UK opportunities and actions

Future UK opportunity Supporting UK core strength / justification Action (s) required
Plastic electronics (PE)* enables circuits and devices to be printed or deposited onto a range of surfaces. This is leading to a whole new generation of innovative products and applications that need large areas and/or flexibility for market sectors such as automotive, healthcare, advertising and construction. The potential for manufacturing is huge – the global market for plastic electronics is forecast to grow over the next decade from £10 billion in 2013 (mainly OLED displays) to £48 billion in 2023.

New products will include large OLED and flexible displays; low cost conformable solar cells that can be integrated into buildings; intelligent packaging that provides protection against counterfeiting; and smart labels that record the storage history of a product, printed directly onto the packaging for added security and tamper resistance at a cost point that is suitable to consumer applications. And there are early opportunities in other non-traditional areas of electronics such as marketing fast moving consumer goods, where electronic labels can get consumers’ attention on a crowded shelf in a supermarket.

Science and Research Base

EPSRC and TSB have invested in a range of Centres of Excellence Between them, the different Centres cover the ability to design and develop proof-of-concept samples and early stage prototypes, and follow through with manufacturing process development to demonstrate robust, repeatable production of end-user ready devices.

Five of these centres deserve particular note as PE Centres of Excellence:

•    The Printable Electronics Centre at the Centre for Process Innovation, Sedgefield.

•    The Welsh Centre for Printing and Coating at Swansea

•    The Centre for Plastic Electronics (CPE) at Imperial College London

•    The Organic Materials Innovation Centre at the University of Manchester

•    The Cambridge Integrated Knowledge Centre

Business base

UK has strengths in most elements of the emerging supply chain including:

•    Materials, such as the light emitting polymers produced by CDT, organic semiconductors by Merck Chemicals, and flexible substrates produced by DuPont-Teijin Films

•    Processing and manufacturing equipment. UK has a range of specialist equipment suppliers, for example Plasma Quest’s thin-film deposition kit

•    Product design and integration, such as Plastic Logic’s flexible displays and Lifescan’s printed glucose sensors.

Exploiting science and research base

The UK has a world class science and research base in PE which has benefited from substantial support from EPSRC and TSB. It’s important that funding is continued. There are opportunities within Europe for funding collaborative project, for example there are €57m available for OLED and TOLAE projects in the first call of Horizon 2020. Priority actions:

•    Engage with Photonics21 & European Commission to ensure UK interests represented in Horizon 2020

•    Request PE demonstrator call from TSB

•    Encourage complementary and coherent offering by the PE Centres of Excellence

Connecting to markets

PE technology is fast developing but there is a gulf between suppliers and potential users. Application areas with greatest potential include sectors where UK has a strong global position eg aerospace, automotive and heathcare. Actions:

•    Organise KTN workshops to connect PE suppliers to user communities, including aerospace & automotive (working with the HVM Catapult), smart packaging and healthcare

•    Develop UKPE supply chain utilising opportunities in AMSCI and RGF initiatives

•    Work with UKTI to promote UK PE overseas, including inward and outward missions to target markets

•    Utilise the leadership role that the UK is taking on international standards to promote UK PE overseas

* also known as printed, organic and large area electronics, or as Thin, Organic & Large Area Electronics (TOLAE) in the latest EU Horizon 2020 programme

UK Photonics Brochure

ESPKTN would also very much welcome your comments on their Photonics Brochure aimed at getting the general public excited about photonics.  Comments minor modifications and tweaks are welcom.  Please add notes to the PDF and return to or comment below.

The request to replace term ‘Lifescience’ with ‘Healthcare’ has been acknowledged, but they have for the moment kept ‘Lifescience’ as content includes DNA analysis, but they are still open to change should consensus be ‘Healthcare’ is more suitable.

Minutes from 19 September PLG meeting

Minutes from the PLG meeting on 19 September will be emailed to attendees and previous contributors shortly.  If you would like a copy please contact us.

A key output from the meeting was for PLG experts to compile summaries of key future opportunities for UK Photonics prior to the next meeting in January 2014, including suggestions for the collective industry and community action necessary to realise these opportunities.  The starting point will be the current Photonics21 multi-annual roadmap, edited to highlighted those opportunities most likely to create significant UK manufacturing growth, and expanded to include uniquely UK opportunities not highlighted in the broader Eu analysis.

Input from those not previously involved in the PLG is very welcome.  Drafts will be posted here for comment