MBDA publish 2017 technology challenges for photonics and RF

In collaboration with the Knowledge Transfer Network, MDBA have published 17 key challenges to which they are seeking innovative solutions- many of which require novel photonics or hybrid photonics and radio frequency solutions.  Outline responses are requested by 6 October 2017.

Lasers for industry 4.0 – latest trends in laser based manufacturing from Photonics21

With photonics technology, especially lasers, central to the digitising of manufacturing and industry 4.0 Photonics21 Working Group 2 have analysed EU funded projects in Laser Based Manufacturing from 2010 onward and compared to current market trends.

Whilst the technical content of funded projects to industry trends is strong, the analysis shows key emerging applications have not been covered. Although the UK’s relationship to Europe is in flux, these emerging applications present signficant global opportunities for all.


The UK is still a great place to do business

Among all the Brexit headlines, there is great deal about doing business in the UK we take for granted:-

  • The UK has the lowest corporation tax rate at 20% of any of G20 countries, that’s half that of the USA and 50% of that in Germany.
  • The UK is global centre of knowledge generation producing 6.4% of all global scientific papers and 16% of the world most highly cited articles from <1% of the world’s population.
  • We have the most flexible labour market in the EU and some of the lowest social security contributions, at 13.8% one third of the rate in France.
  • The UK has some of the world most generous early stage investor tax breaks with investors getting income tax relief on investment and any losses and paying no capital gains or inheritance tax on qualifying investments.
  • R&D tax credits in UK can almost half the cost of development expenditure and patent box means UK companies can pay only 10% tax on products incorporating patented innovation.
  • The UK remains the 6th easiest place to do business in the world.

Sources: Invest in the UK:  your springboard for global growth (UK Trade and Investment)

The Upside of Brexit- photonic exports

Away from the political chaos caused by the Brexit vote, it is worth reflecting that industry is much more comfortable with absorbing unforeseen change than our politicians or press appear to be.  Everyday companies take in their stride changing customer demand, new product introductions, changes in personal, vagaries in delivery and host of other factors they must absorb to deliver and exceed customer expectation.

Successful companies, of which we have a great many in the UK, are masters of consistent, calm delivery based on smoothing and managing a host of varying inputs.  Brexit does not change this.  Indeed, we can expect business to be the calming blanket, which, whilst not generating headlines, does keep the ship moving forward.  A good product last week is still a good product today.

For high value manufacturers, which includes most of the 1500 photonics companies in the UK, the exchange rate shift can also have benefit.   Cost of imported materials may rise, but in high value photonics products, the component bill of material is only a small fraction of the final selling price. A great deal more value is added in the design, assembly and support of such systems. The absolute increase in the cost of materials to the UK manufacturer is thus small relative to the reduction in final system price to the end international customer caused by the falling value the pound. Give that photonics is such a global market place this makes UK produced photonics instantly more attractive, making this a great time to focus on UK photonics exports.

Collaborative funding for RandD post Brexit?

With Brexit what will the future look like for UK organisations participating in EU R&D projects. It will be at least 2 years, probably longer, before the details of Brexit are finalised. In the mean time UK organisations can still apply for EU funding as normal.   For the longer term impact we can look to Switzerland for inspiration and for anticipated developments.

The Swiss currently have partial association with H2020.  In practice this means they can fully participate in some program e.g:-

  • Enabling and Industrial Technologies e.g your classic multi-partner ICT projects called in work programmes steered by Photonics 21.  Swiss organisations can participate, as so called 3rd countries, but are funded direct from Swiss authorities and don’t count toward the minimum number of participants.  They are in effect bonus partners, with the benefits that adding a Swiss partner to a project doesn’t dilute the overall budget, but adds to the funding pot.
  • Excellence in Science/ EU research Council.   Switzerland pays into EU for participation and funds flow to successful applicants from EU commission just as other EU countries.  However, this is likely to change in the future and move to Swiss partners being funded locally as in Enabling tech above.
  • Innovation in SMEs and access to risk finance. The Swiss are not able to participate in these programs ie. no Open Disruption Innovation SME instrument or Fast track to innovation (TBC).

For the UK a similar mixed model is likely.  The exact balance being determined by availability of UK funds (cf ERANET+), perceptions of benefits to all and broader policies e.g. on immigration (the lack of Swiss ratification of a protocol on freedom of movement directly impacted their H2020 association status). For more discussion on Swiss relationship to H2020.

The timelines of Brexit are also approximately aligned to the end of H2020.  Therefore the main impact of Brexit will be on UK participation in whatever follows H2020, with current trends indicating a focus on digitising industry in the broadest sense.

Given that participation is most likely to continue to be possible, the UK should continue to fully participate in bodies such as Photonics21 that help steer direction of future collaborative projects across Europe.  Indeed being an independently supported bonus partner could be positively beneficial to many consortia, where UK (or Swiss) orgs can provide significant expertise, provided there is sufficient funding from the UK

Many thanks to Swiss Photonics for guidance on above.  The PLG will continue to input into and monitor developments closely with further commentary in the near future.

North Wales Photonics Launchpad

Innovate is inviting SME’s to apply for £50-90k for up to a 12 month industrial research project as part of the North Wales Photonics Launchpad. Projects must be must be led by a micro, small or medium-sized company that  is likely to be in the early stages of its development; businesses can work alone or in collaboration. Micro and small businesses will receive up to 70% of eligible costs, medium-sized businesses 60%.

A  briefing for potential applicants will be in the OpTIC Centre, St Asaph on Thursday 11th February.  Initial application is via 2 minute Video submission with full competition brief online.

The competition aims to stimulate photonics, businesses in North Wales by enabling companies to go further and/or faster towards commercial success. Innovate are therefore looking for projects that may be too risky for companies to take forward without any support, or that may take them into new innovative areas, and where the majority of the project activities are carried out in North Wales. Launchpad competitions are open to SMEs that:

  • are in North Wales
  • plan to start up in the cluster or move into North Wales
  • collaborate with a company already in North Wales

An integral part of Launchpad is the offer of support to help applicants to raise additional new external finance that we expect will be needed to fully fund the project and its subsequent commercialisation. In addition to receiving project funding, successful applicants will participate in a programme of business support and growth activities that will run in parallel to projects.

Projects should demonstrate significant innovation in relation to topics that may include, but are not limited to the following:
  • optical components
  • optical coatings
  • manufacture and measurement of high-surface-quality parts for optics and photonics
  • conventional and modern optics
  • anti-reflection thin films for optical and photovoltaic (PV) technologies
  • electrostatic discharge films for solar cells
  • solar cell thin films for different technologies or applications
  • transparent, conducting oxides, spanning all PV technologies
  • optical features in polymers and semiconductors and automotive/ medical (mainly micro-mould tools for injection moulding)
  • 3D printing of optically transparent glass and rapid prototyping of complete optical systems

The competition opens for applicants on 22 February 2016. The deadline for video submissions is at noon on 6 April 2016

SEPnet Summer Placements 2016 – Call for Projects

The South East Physics Network has an open call for  industrial placement projects for Physics Students. The scheme provides placements to physics students to give them the opportunity to work for 8 weeks in industry or research in areas such as data analysis, mathematic modelling, product design and testing or science communication

Who is the scheme aimed at?

  • Any organisations interested in recruiting physics graduates including large companies, research institutions and SMEs.

Benefits to Employers

  • Early access to bright, numerate students with excellent problem-solving and IT skills who may be potential future employees
  • Enables you to solve a challenge or problem and carry out projects you may not have time for
  • Provides an invaluable resource, adding value to your business and offering a fresh perspective on your business challenges
  • All advertising, administration and placement support is handled by SEPnet to create a smooth, straightforward process
  • Employers participating in the scheme include National Physical Laboratory, Selex ES, QinetiQ, Met Office, BAE Systems, Amec Foster Wheeler, Culham Centre for Fusion Energy and many SMEs

Projects are selected based on academic merit and the potential for students to gain commercial awareness and employability skills such as communication and teamwork. Placements take place from June to September (employers can extend placements by funding on a pro rata basis).  Some placements will also be advertised to physics PhD students interested in working in industry.

  • Employers pay students a minimum of £2,000 to cover their expenses. If you submit 2 approved projects SEPnet will fund the 2nd placement.  Some match-funding is available for SME

Register your placement project, or projects, online  by Friday 12 February.

H2020 Photonics call Infoday 12 January 2016

The European Commission will be hosting an info day on H2020 Photonics calls on 12 January 2016  in Brussels,

Event will focus on topics ICT29-PHOTONICS KET (Key Enabling Technology) call with a budget of 66 M€.
Research and Innovation actions topics:

1.    Biophotonics: advancing imaging for in-depth disease diagnosis

2.    Breakthrough in miniaturization of SSL light engines and systems

3.    Pervasive high-specificity and high-sensitivity sensing for a safer environment

The Innovation Actions topics:

1.    Application driven core photonic devices integrated in systems: Focus is on microdisplay-based immersive, augmented and virtual reality visualisation systems

2.    Pilot line for Assembly and Packaging

Coordination and Support Actions topics:

1.    Coordination of regional photonics strategies

2.    Photonics enhanced MakerLabs

Register online, agenda, call details and event website

Recording of the London briefing event from KTN on 27 October

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