This page last updated: 6th November 2017
Still Light Years Ahead
Our name is deliberate. PhotonDelta is recognised as one of Europe's leading innovation hubs, amplifying existing initiatives and kick-starting new ones.
We realise that a fragmented approach to building the multi-billion Photonics business in Europe is never going to scale. Disruptive innovation comes when these young companies get access to the knowledge already gained by high-tech enterprises and applied research institutes.
And "Delta" describes not only the region. It is the Greek symbol for change.
Market Growing Exponentially
The European Photonics market is now worth around €70 billion, representing 18% of the global market. Roughly 330,000 people work in this sector, which is dominated by thousands of small-medium enterprises. Public funding is still needed to bridge the gap between working prototypes leaving the research lab and the point at which the chips are ready to be manufactured in quantity. It’s at that point where the private sector takes over.
Grant funding to support research and innovation in SME’s has grown tenfold in the last decade to reach €100 million a year. But we all know that the rate of growth could be so much faster if the funding level were 10-20 times that. That's already the case in the USA and in parts of Asia. So PhotonDelta is taking the lead to do something about it in Europe.
PhotonDelta is one of Europe's leading Digitial Innovation Hubs, actively linking best-in-class research and development to best business practice. Ewit Roos PhotonDelta MD
We are establishing three pillars under PhotonDelta, as illustrated above.
- The Institute of Photonic Integration builds on 40 years of optics research at Eindhoven University of Technology – in cooperation with other nanotechnology centres like Mesa+ at the University of Twente and Saxion University of Applied Sciences.
- PhotonDelta has officially launched the Cooperative, a consortium of scale-ups, manufacturers and investors. The goal is to build win-win situations for members, including early access to Research IP.
- The Photonics Integration technology centre is currently being established, branching out on Europe-wide work done in circuits and components by the JePPIX consortium. Domains on processing, packaging, prototyping, building block development, and testing are currently being considered.
Main Focus of Activities for 2017-2018
A lot of ground-work was done in our inaugural year of 2016. Now, with both people and networks in place, we're focussing on these main activities:
1. Top-Level Collaboration in the PhotonDelta Cooperative.
We have now officially established the PhotonDelta Cooperative and appointed Hester Tak to lead the business development. This is an international, professional membership organization based in the Netherlands. The cooperative is open to companies and organizations directly or indirectly involved as supplier, end user or a financier across the entire Integrated Photonics ecosystem.
We believe in these four guiding principles for the new cooperative:
- We are actively linking best-in-class innovation and research to best business practice.
- We have everything in place to assist start-ups at the point they scale-up globally. Being a member of the PhotonDelta cooperative means you get early access to IP before that intellectual property is formally released. That's a very clear strategic advantage you can't achieve alone.
- We can open networks that members cannot build themselves. We know from experience that a mix of formal and informal networks is the key to speeding up technology validation and time to market. Trust is key for any investor.
- We want to bring leading-edge expertise and investment to The Netherlands - & open up Europe’s photonics innovation to the rest of the world.
2. Kickoff of the Long-Term Technology Roadmapping Forum
PhotonDelta is working with the US AIM Photonics Academy to drive a new initiative. In June 2017, we convened the inaugural meeting of the World Technology Mapping Forum. The goal is to produce the first International Photonic Systems Roadmap, looking ahead to global technology needs in 2030 and beyond. The high level technical meeting is a closed session, so that participants can speak freely.
The second three-day gathering will be held from June 20-22nd 2018 in Enschede, in the heart of the Netherlands high-tech sector. We are fortunate in having the full support of the regional government of Overijssel who realise the significance of this gathering of technology leaders.
Long Term Roadmaps are Essential for Innovation
Many of today’s technologies like the search engine, satellite communication, the Internet the relational database, or modern voice controlled services like Siri, Cortana or Alexa owe their existence to long-term planning conferences organised decades ago.
DARPA, a defense agency run by the US Military, is credited with the early development of the Internet. The International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors (1998-2016) was also an excellent initiative, bringing together just under 1000 global companies to map the next 15 years.
Roadmapping Needed for Photonics
In the Netherlands, we believe coupling light technologies (photonics) with electronics offers paths to next generation smart devices that are 1000 times faster, process 1000 times more data and yet use much less energy. As Photonic Integrated Circuits using Indium Phosphide, Gallium Nitride and Silicon Nitride ramp up in a global market, there is an urgent need for the World Technology Mapping Forum.
Technology road mapping is the process of creating a shared vision of the future. Roadmaps guide our progress toward that vision. This long-horizon road mapping forum is essential for government, research and industry to identify the crucial technologies and make the necessary strategic investments for decades ahead.
The Photonic integration ecosystems are growing exponentially, with many new players entering the field. We have also been reaching out to the major PIC development centres and associations in the US, Europe, Israel, China and Japan and received enthusiastic responses. We believe this technology mapping forum adds to the pioneering work they are doing to accelerate this important industry.
3. Photonic Integration Technology Centre
The Photonic Integration Technology Centre is the third pillar within PhotonDelta. It is currently being established as a separate legal entity. The goal is to take technology from the lab to construct practical building blocks and accelerate system integration. The Centre will branch out on pioneering Europe-wide work done by JePPIX, the joint European Platform for Photonic Integration of Components and Circuits. We see a growing need for equivalent platforms for the development of materials and systems. Some inaugural projects worth around €10 million are already in the pipeline. For instance, we know that 80% of the current costs in building a photonics system go into packaging chips into modules and conducting reliability testing.
Manufacturers, integrators and end users all have the same goals. They want reliable, tested, stable systems. Because everyone knows the financial cost of recall these days is astronomical. It turns out that making the first run of chips is the easiest part. But then the chip needs to be packaged - connected to the outside world in some way. The reliability engineering that follows is also expensive since it requires nanotechnology expertise. Yet it needs to be done. Standards in photonics are high - it is like the reliability demanded by the spacecraft industry where an expected lifespan of 30 years is common.
Companies and researchers in the PhotonDelta ecosystem have developed procedures to ensure that they can scale production. So, if you make 10000 instead of 100 chips, a sufficient number will be within a tight specification demanded by the client.
There are very clear cycles in chip development and production. The first cycle produces chips that the customer wants but only has an 80% reliability. The next stage is "beta"; there comes a point where the reliability has been ramped up where large scale production makes commercial sense and the failure rate has been brought down as low as possible.
PhotonDelta will play a role in helping companies accelerate in these very important packaging and reliability-engineering phases. A first step was announced at a packaging conference in Edinburgh in November 2016 by Phoenix Software.
There is also an open-innovation platform being developed to fabricate photonic integrated circuits. There have been lots of constructive discussions between various consortia, the new PhotonDelta cooperative, and the research institutes like MESA+ and the Institute for Photonic Integration. Sharing facilities between academic institutions and spin-out companies isn't new. Both LionIX International and SMART Photonics are good examples of where this happens already. But now is the time to scale up and involve others working on publicly funded projects or commercial production lines.
Our Search for Alliances continues
Since we know we cannot achieve success in splendid isolation, PhotonDelta is actively reaching out internationally to look for alliances. In 2016 we signed active agreements with organisations in the USA and Israel. And we have been delighted at interest shown from Singapore and Taiwan as well.
We only believe in "active MOU's" meaning that in order to be effective we need to go beyond talk. Exponential growth will only come through intensive, sustained cooperation between trusted partners in Research and Development institutions (such as universities and corporate research centres) and high-tech enterprise, both large and small.
Nano-research labs in Enschede and Eindhoven have both done pioneering work on materials, as many large enterprises search for alternatives to traditional electronics. Just as fibre has replaced copper cables in carrying the Internet into our homes, so particles of light are replacing a stream of electrons in the chips that drive many of the technologies we need in daily life.
Photonics Beyond Telecom
In the last couple of years, we have seen a tipping point for photonics; especially as the telecom sector realises that the exponential thirst for Internet bandwidth cannot be met by simply improving existing technology. With global sales of mobile phones expected to be 1.5 billion units for 2016, plus the huge rise in the number of connected devices (The Internet of Things) the energy consumption in data-centres is becoming the cause of great concern.
The major advantages of photonic integration on a chip have been proven. We're seeing companies launching complete systems on a chip. And there is advanced research into hybrid chips that combine the advantages of indium-phosphide with those of silicon. European projects like WIPE are being driven by companies like SMART photonics in Eindhoven but in close co-operation with partners in the UK and Germany.
In Enschede, a related cluster of brilliant companies is working on chips with applications that are having a significant impact in life sciences, like drastically reducing the time and cost it takes to do DNA sequencing or chips ready for fibre-to-the-tower in 5G base-stations.
Photonics is also key to making new tools for measuring things we can't yet measure. With those tools, we can answer important new questions. And create new business and investment opportunities. Light technologies are helping to revolutionize many sectors, especially advanced sensing. Here are a few examples.
- Chips from Enschede are helping to reduce the cost and time for DNA sequencing. What once cost 10 million dollars per run and took years will drop to a procedure cost 1000 dollars and completed in 2 minutes.
Energy & The Environment
- A pioneering Dutch company, Technobis, has developed optical fibres that allow us to monitor corrosion and metal fatigue within aircraft wings.
- With growing concerns on reducing pollution, more accurate “air quality sensors on a chip” are needed to advance environmental/climate science. It’s one thing to set targets at the climate talks in Paris. But how do you measure that countries are actually complying with what they say they will do? Highly precise observations of air quality at local, regional and global scales are necessary for the realistic development of public policy, and to provide a quantitative basis for establishing regulatory compliance. Photonics sensors are already providing accurate answers.
- Autonomous cars, intelligent buildings and industrial process control will contribute significantly to more efficient use of resources and meeting today’s environmental challenges. But all these systems will require lightening fast, secure data processing that can only be achieved when you use photonics. Remember, automonous vehicles will need data systems that have zero latency.
Investors really get interested when technologies have validated themselves and are ready to scale-up.
PhotonDelta is pro-actively reaching out, both nationally and internationally, to share the European photonics success story with mainstream and specialist media. In today’s world with short attention spans, every company needs to be their own media company. We need to do much more to explain what we’re doing to the outside world. You will see a lot more use of video "explainers" during the course of 2017. By exchanging best practices and lessons learned between large and small enterprises, we believe we can build on the hard work that has already been done.
Credit where credit is due
We need to give credit, where credit is due. It takes vision and guts to be a pioneer. So thanks to Eindoven University of Technology for taking the initiative, together with Brainport Development, The Brabant Development Agency, Effect Photonics, Mesa+, LioniX International, Smart Photonics, Phoenix Software and Genexis.
We’d also like to acknowledge the invaluable ongoing support from the High Tech Campus Eindhoven, the province of Brabant (OpZuid Project) and the European Commission.