Opportunites in UK Datacentre Equipment

The Big UK Data Centre Equipment opportunity cover

The Big UK Data Equipment Opportunity report highlights UK capabilities and key players within this important growth area, with a focus specifically on the financial sector.

The past decade has seen a move from the physical trading floor to the anonymous data centre, populated with generic imported equipment. The next decade will see these systems optimised for the unique requirements of individual data centres. This presents a major opportunity for the UK to supply latency and security-optimised hardware to the local financial services industries and the many sectors handling sensitive data in the UK, from smart metering to healthcare and security.

Read more of this post

Grants for the photonics industry

A new section has been added to the PLG website detailing current and past grant support programs of relevance to the UK Photonics industry. If you are aware of any additional calls that should be added please do contact us or leave details in comments

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

Photonics Skills development

The UK Photonics industry continues to grow rapidly at 6-8% per year. To support this growth in the long term needs a growing photonics skilled/aware work force at all levels from senior management to the manufacturing floor. The following summarises a number of schemes that are in place to increase the supply of the photonics workforce in the UK that can be accesses by UK organisations.

Promoting high tech manufacturing and the development of high skilled manufacturing jobs is a government priority and there are many schemes and initiatives in the skills area to tap into. Increasingly the emphasis is on employer lead training. Whilst this provides opportunity for industry to influence and define the training, it also requires increased engagement from industry with education providers at all levels. Most importantly it requires industry to proactively reach out to education providers so our needs are heard and make clear the range and depth of career opportunities on offer.

Photonics academy

Photonics academy provides work based learning opportunities particularly to SMEs and micro offering participants a chance to completely change the way they view design and allows for a more innovative approach to be adopted. http://pawb.bangor.ac.uk/index.php.en

Centres for doctoral training

Over 70 in total at http://www.epsrc.ac.uk/files/newsevents/news/cdtsinfographic/ most relevant to photonics being

  • Centre for Doctoral Training in Applied Photonics – Heriot-Watt, Glasgow, St Andrews, Strathclyde and Dundee
  • Centre for Doctoral Training in Integrated Photonic and Electronic Systems (Cambridge and UCL) ipes-cdt.org
  • Centre for Doctoral Training in Photonic Integration for Advanced Data Storage (Queens and Glasgow)
  • Centre for Doctoral Training in Future Communications (Bristol)
  • Centre for Doctoral Training in Optical Medical Imaging (Edinburgh & Strathclyde)
  • Centre for Doctoral Training in Electromagnetic Metamaterials (Exeter)

Undergraduate placements.

SE Physics Network supports a Physics focused industrial placement scheme at both undergraduate and postgraduate level – www.sepnet.ac.uk/employer_services/summer_internships/index.html

Institute of Physics, ‘Top50’ Work Placements Scheme is an initiative setup by the IOP to help penultimate year undergraduate physics students gain experience in a business, university or research institution. http://www.iop.org/careers/top50/index.html


The trend is to employer led and defined apprenticeships, succinctly defined in ❤ pages as it is recognised that the traditional apprenticeship framework is not working.  The new employee led scheme has been trialled and will be the only framework used in the future with increasing support for apprentices with SMEs and higher level apprenticeships (level 5-7).

The standards for these are in the process of being put in place see https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/future-of-apprenticeships-in-england-guidance-for-trailblazers

Critically industry needs to define the apprenticeship frameworks, which will often require multiple SME working together.  ESCO looking at define electronics apprenticeship, potential for photonics industry to define a photonics apprenticeship if useful.

Whilst these are being developed Sector Skills Council in particular SEMTA for Science, Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies http://www.semta.org.uk/apprenticeshipservice/takefirststep provide information and coordination.

Interaction with further education colleges indicates they are getting increasingly interested in providing further education / apprentice modules related to high tech manufacturing and are interested in defining these with industry. The USA’s National Skills Standards for Photonics Technicians is a useful and comprehensive guide to the skills required easily adapted to the UK context http://www.op-tec.org/skill.php.

However, to put such courses in place colleges they need sufficient demand from young people. Indications are this requires changing how such courses are described and increasing awareness of job prospects – see below.

An alternative is to encourage colleges to include more industrial relevant skills in popular courses, e.g. 3D CAD in graphic design. This potentially has lower barriers to implementation and provides a win-win by increasing employability of vocational students, whilst leveraging the popularity of some topics.

Employer training – improving Engineering Careers

Direct funding from government to bring new people into engineering and support the progression of individuals through engineering careers. 50% costs covered. The first call closed on 5 Dec 2014, but additional calls are anticipated. Minimum grant £40k paid to a single manufacturing company. Can be used to fund professional development.

For most small companies this means opening up the training course that you may wish to put people on to other companies to get enough participants. Like employer led apprenticeships above the emphasis on a lead company to organise and liaise with other like-minded organisations rather than have the training provider to pull folks together.


Inspiration agenda

A major theme of the International year of light. Covers three overlapping areas

  • Inspiring the next generation of young people to be interested in photonics/science/engineering as a career choice.
  • To increase number of women working in photonics/science/engineering.
  • Increasing awareness of viability, growth and security of the photonics industry to attract mid-career professionals from all skills sector to take up positions in photonics organisations. (also increase parental support for young people pursing photonics/science/engineering career choices)

The UK outreach and education subcommittee of the IYOL2015 have come up with multiple, proposals for actions in this area mostly targeted at young people many of which are in need of industrial support see https://www.dropbox.com/s/s5ysdl45px1yeh2/IYoL_Sponsorship_opportunities.docx?dl=0

Prof Averil Macdonald has recently published a report on the difficulty of getting young women and other under-represented groups into Engineering – http://www.wisecampaign.org.uk/education/not-for-people-like-me. Many of the difficulties appear related to the language in which jobs, careers and courses are described. We are investigated whether it is possible to produce/ commission a white paper with specific advice e.g. in wording of job descriptions that would assist photonics companies in recruitment.


The Photonics academy & WOF compiled directory of photonics course material at Unis grouped by photonics 21 work group, See http://www.wof.org.uk

TSB and EPSRC funded projects

Ever wanted to know what projects the Technology Strategy Board and EPSRC fund in photonics.
Fully searchable databases of past and current projects, with partners and level of support can be found at

Guide for registering as an EU expert

The PLG is pleased to make available this handy Guide for registering as an EU expert designed to assist anyone attempting to register as an EU expert, particularly those from the photonics sector.

The European Commission is looking for experts specifically for Horizon 2020 “Industrial Leadership – Leadership in Enabling and Industrial Technologies” (LEIT), and for the Key Enabling Technologies (KET), notably for:
• Nanotechnologies
• Advanced materials
• Advanced manufacturing and processing
• Biotechnology
• Micro-/nanoelectronics
• Photonics and for cross-cutting and interdisciplinary questions.
“Experts, as peer reviewers, assist in the: evaluation of proposals and monitoring of actions. In addition, experts assist in the : preparation, implementation or evaluation of programmes and design of policies. Assignments mainly concern research and innovation, falling within the Horizon 2020 programme”

Review of CIOE China International Optoelectronic Expo

PLG Chief executive John Lincoln recently supported UKTI inward investment team at the China International Optoelectronics Exposition (CIOE) in Shenzhen 4-7 September 2013.   Those interested in understanding the dynamics of this major CHinese photonics exhibition may find the following observations useful.

Observations on CIOE

This is large exhibition covering 100,000 sq meters with 3,200 exhibitors spread across 9 halls attracting ~70,000 visitors and filling the exhibition centre in down town Shenzhen. Approximately 2-3X size of Laser World of Photonics in Munich

Exhibition has 4 focus areas that reflect local Guangdong industry strengths:-

  • LEDs. >30% of space is given over LED packaging equipment and large format LED matrix displays.  If you need a bigger screen for your rock festival this is the place for you.  Plenty of LED replacement bulbs, LED street lights and luminaires all based on volumes of low power LEDs.  Notably, none of the major high power LED manufacturers (Cree, Lumiled etc were present). Competition in the local luminaire and LEP replacement market is extremely fierce
  • Optics. Again ~30% of space is dedicated to bulk optics and associated polishing and production equipment.  No free form optics or diamond turning evident although some  limited plastic optics, but not many micro arrays
  • Optical Comms. ~20% area mostly pluggable transceiver modules, cabling and fibre handling equipment    Many of the module suppliers are understood to be suffering from reduction in local demand. No system houses or board level integrators exhibiting (e.g No Hauwei (although plenty of their engineers on floor)
  • Lasers /infrared applications <10%.   The weakest of all the areas with more focus on IR imaging than lasers.  Indeed the very few lasers on display were those with local distributors

The quality of the large booths was equal, if not better, than any other international exhibition in North America or Europe. However, despite the billing and size, this is mainly a local show.  With few exceptions only local Shenzhen /Guangdong companies and a small number of international brands had significant booth space.  The rest of Chinese photonics was packed away into a hall with rows of 3x3m booths.  Hidden in here were many significant companies based in more distant provinces/cities e.g. Wuhan, Shanghai or Beijing.  Many of these small booths were doing brisk business, with substantial staff numbers present from both sales and engineering.  It was clear that booth size was more an indication of location than business size / strength.

Although there were some laser manufacturers hidden in the small booths, there was no focus on industrial laser processing. Indeed Hans Laser , despite being HQ’ed locally, were only exhibiting their LED processing equipment.

Is it worth Attending/ Exhibiting

There was a small UKTI pavilion supporting UK exhibitors, with plenty of room to grow and strong support from the organisers.  However, the pay back depends where you are in the supply chain. If you make manufacturing equipment used by the telco module manufactures, cabling folks, optics polishers or LED packaging then there are plenty of customers, with engineers clearly walking the floors.  However, if you are into laser processing, imaging, higher levels of integration or your customers are just in a different Chinese province, there are probably better places to be e.g. Laser World of Photonics China, or Optics Valley of China” International Optoelectronic Expo (OVC EXPO).

Connecting Great and Enabling Technologies

Isn’t every great technology an enabling technology? Superficially yes, but these terms are being used by support agencies, government and the European Commission to describe, in some cases, quite different areas of technology which will be the focus of significant targeted support and funding. To maximise synergises between different technologies, industries and economic support from the UK and Europe, it is essential to understand how ‘great technologies’ and ‘enabling technologies’ related to each other and to the markets and problems they aim to impact.

The Context

For the first decade of the 21st century the UK, and many other governments, focused on the grand challenges faced by society – the environment, the aging population, the rise in healthcare costs etc. These challenges define the problems to be solved and they remain true today. However, focusing on grand challenges was a luxury embedded in times of economic prosperity. The focus in the current economic climate is on on growth and job creation, without which the UK and other western economies will stagnate. There are no jobs in problems, rather jobs are created from solutions which add value when they are brought to market.

As a result of the economic imperative the task of stimulating economic growth has shifted to getting more solutions to market faster. As emphasised in the conclusion to “Eight Great Technologies” (2013) report by Rt Hon David Willets MP and in the conclusion from the European High Level Working Group (2011), the UK & Europe excels at finding scientific solutions, turning these into growth and jobs requires bridging the “Valley of Death” between discovering a potential solution and realising its commercial implementation.

To understand where support will be most effective at stimulating long term growth, both Europe and the UK government have analysed which technologies are essential for future economic prosperity. This has resulted in the identification of six Key Enabling Technologies from Europe, four Enabling Technologies from UK Technology strategy Board and eight Great Technologies from the UK government (see side boxes). It is clear that the results will have a significant impact on where future EU and UK government spending is targeted. However, the greatest gains will be when EU and UK spending is targeted in the same direction leveraging each other’s resources for greatest combined impact. As industry looks for guidance on where future opportunities lie, and as support agencies develop their growth policies, it is essential to find the relationship between the 8 great technologies defined by the UK, the 6 key enabling technologies defined by Europe and the 4 enabling technologies identified by the Technology Strategy Board.

Common themes – differing detail

The figure illustrates how in general terms almost all of the ‘great’ and ‘enabling’ technologies can be grouped into 3 broad themes:-

  • Advanced Materials
  • Life science technology
  • Data related technology

These same broad classification were highlighted in the “Eight Great Technologies” (2013) report by Rt Hon David Willets MP. Other areas followed from these broad technologies e.g. satellites were highlighted one of the biggest generators of large observational data sets and hence linked to big data.

Within the themes of advanced materials and life science technology the figure above shows a clear mapping between most of the great technologies and the enabling technologies. The descriptions of these technology differ only in how they are summarised and which individual sub areas are separately detailed e.g. nano-technology or energy storage.

Within the area of (big) data the connection between enabling and great technologies is more complex. The 8 great technologies in this area have a greater focus on higher level applications technology areas e.g. satellites and robotics rather than the electronics, photonics and software technologies that are behind them. For example, satellites generate large quantities of data using high resolution photonic cameras equipped with precision lenses, process this data with embedded electronics and software before transferring it using a combination of optical and electronic communications. Similarly energy efficient computing increasingly uses optics to transfer data even short distances, and will shortly use optics even within the processor chip. Thus developing opportunities in around big data is heavily dependent on exploiting advances in the background technologies. The differentiation between the 8 great and the enabling technologies in this areas depends on where once takes a slice through the supply chain. To those working in photonics and electronic, satellites and robotics are applications. To those working in satellites and robotics these are technologies being applied to manufacturing or monitoring applications.

However, the linear grouping of enabling and great technologies above does show the full impact of enabling technologies. Enabling technologies have impact in multiple supply chains and into multiple applications areas. As illustrated above for photonics, each enabling technology provides essential core technology into all of the eight great technologies

The explicit identification of manufacturing technology is the final area where the European assessment of enabling technology differs from that of UK. Rather the TSB recognise high value manufacturing as cross cutting competence which takes technology through to high value products and is reflect in the support of a High Value Manufacturing Catapult centre. However, it is important to stress that enabling technologies, e.g. laser processing, can have a major impact on the manufacturing efficiency of all products from low to high tech e.g. textiles to automotive assembly. Indeed substantial economic growth can be gained from advancing and incorporating enabling technologies into manufacturing tools and this has been a major export area for the UK and Europe.


There are three common high level themes evident among all the various assessments of which technologies will be key to future economic growth- advanced materials, bio technology and data related technologies. However, the assessments from the UK and Europe differ not just in phraseology and level of detail, but also where in the complex supply chains they choose to identify and group technology.

The economic imperative remains job creation and growth. Technologies both great and enabling will be key to providing solutions that create those jobs. However to get maximum impact in number of jobs created in the shortest time, it will be essential to connect and fully recognise the role and interdependence of great and enabling technologies, so that support for each can leverage off the other. Only then will we achieve great enabling technologies that embed the next generation of supply chains in UK and Europe.

Key UK Photonics Industry Stats

  • 1500 photonics manufacturing companies in UK
  • 70,000 in UK employed in photonics manufacturing
  • Generating output of £10.5bn

According to 2010 figures from the ESPKTN.