The European photonics industry is facing serious problems in its supply chain, the result of an excessive dependence on foreign markets, according to a recent survey conducted by the European Photonics21 Technology Platform and the European Photonics Industry Consortium (EPIC, for its acronym in English).
The study indicates that more than 80 percent of EU-based photonics companies face supply shortages. These companies recognize that they will not be able to solve these problems on their own and are asking for the help of policy makers at national and European level.
Photonics is a strategic technological sector for the European Union, and plays a key role in various European industrial sectors such as high performance computing, augmented and virtual reality, manufacturing, defence, healthcare, agriculture, mobility, electronics and digital infrastructure.
The vulnerability of the European photonics supply chain it could have serious repercussions in all these key industrial sectors in Europe. Policies such as the European Chips Law and the Critical Raw Materials Law demonstrate that the European Union seeks greater strategic autonomy in existing and emerging economic sectors.
“There can be no Europe ready for the digital age, no full digital sovereignty, no ultra-secure sovereign cybersecurity based on quantum computing without photonic technologies. To achieve the EU objectives, Europe urgently needs to strengthen its capacity in photonics”, warned Nobel laureates Gérard A. Mourou, Stefan W. Hell and Theodor W. Hansch in an open letter to the European Commission as early as 2020.
Lack of sovereignty of European companies
The lack of sovereignty in the photonics industry is a major concern, as companies are highly dependent on imports from non-EU countries, especially China.
Two-thirds of survey participants indicated that critical goods, such as microelectronic and photonic semiconductors, optical components and raw materials, have limited availability in Europe, and at least 10 percent of them are completely inaccessible, jeopardizing value creation in the field of photonics in Europe.
Respondents want to build reliable and viable supply chains within Europe. 90 percent of the participants affirm that, given the option, they would be willing to buy from European suppliers even if it meant a higher price.
Most of the respondents make it clear that, from their perspective, supply chain problems cannot be solved without the intervention of EU policy makers and national governments. Over 70 percent expect support in the form of new EU and national policies, while 40 percent of surveyed photonics companies request specific initiatives related to developing manufacturing capabilities, and nearly 30 percent expects public support in the form of new standards and regulations.
“The European photonics industry ranks second worldwide. To ensure that we maintain and defend this position, national and European policy makers must give priority to this strategic sector. We need to implement a European strategy on critical materials and components for major industries and technologies, in order to ensure a resilient photonics supply chain in Europe. Especially, research and development as well as production of those critical photonic components in the industrial supply chain should be strengthened. In the context of the chip industry, we have seen that it can be very expensive if we don’t pay attention now.” Explain Dr. Lutz Aschke, President of Photonics21.
Supply Chain Issues
The photonics industry, like other industries, recognizes that supply chain problems are not going to be solved any time soon. Approximately 40 percent of respondents expect the crisis to continue for up to three years, which could have long-term effects on end-user markets.
Photonics will continue to be important in the future as an essential element for a wide range of industries. Some examples of products or components are optical fibers, optical lenses, photonic sensors for advanced driver assistance systems and autonomous driving, AR/VR glasses/helmets high performance for AR/VR applications, high performance triple/quadruple junction solar cells for satellite technology or acousto-optic elements for advanced microscopy.
In addition, photonic components are essential for monitoring production in factories of the future, as well as for controlling and using even everyday items such as computer screens or pacemakers.
You can access the study of the supply chain of the photonic industry through the following link: