Photonics - Overview - Market Text

A report for industry on the European Photonics Ecosystem [1] related that, in 2012:

  • Revenue in Europe from photonics was EUR 65.8 billion
  • Employment in photonics in Europe was 377,000 people, an additional 60,000 being needed by 2015

The table below (from that report) shows estimated production of photonics systems and their function.

Type of photonic system Photonic function Production (bn €)
Sensing and imaging Acquire information 28.9
Communication Transmit information 7.2
Screens, displays, etc... Deliver information 3.5
LED, OLED, lamp systems [2] Provide light 12.5
Laser and production systems Manufacture 9.4


European companies fall mainly into three categories:

  1. components (46%)
  2. systems and sub-systems (39%)
  3. materials and manufacturing equipment (10%)

There are two main databases including photonics companies, those of Photonics21 and the European Photonics Industry Consortium (EPIC). The Photonics21 database includes 1,951 European companies from the EU28 plus Norway, Switzerland, Israel, Liechtenstein, and Turkey. Company distribution for photonics by EU country (plus Switzerland), from the Photonics21 database, is shown in the figure (top fifteen countries only). Almost 30% of companies are based in Germany and 15% in France, closely followed by the UK. This is data based on membership of the ETP.

The photonics industry includes a relative high proportion of very small companies (60%), but also a significant number of multinational companies have their main office in Europe:

  • Small companies (<20 employees) represented 60% of European photonics companies, 6% of employment (with 15% of the expected employment growth)
  • Medium-sized companies (20-500 employees) were the most significant employers with 40% of the employees (55% of anticipated growth) and 36% of companies
  • Large companies (>500 employees) provided a stable base with 4% of companies, 53% of total employment and 30% of expected employment growth
  • 58% of companies specialised in photonics (>80% of revenue from photonics) but photonics is a small part of their revenue for 24% of large and medium-sized companies

In terms of markets, as reported1 in 2012, the European photonics industry typically sold as follows:

  • 13% into manufacturing
  • 10% into laboratory equipment
  • 9% into healthcare and biomedical
  • 7% into life sciences
  • 6% each into automotive and defence
  • 5% each into energy, lighting, consumer electronics and communications
  • 29% into other markets

European photonics industry sales by sector, 2012


The world market share for key European photonics industry sectors is estimated by Photonics21 [3,4] to be:

  • Production technology: 55 %
  • Optical components and systems: 40 %
  • Image processing and metrology: 40 %
  • Medical technology and life sciences: 30 %

As a whole, more than 50% of European sales are to markets outside of Europe, mainly in Asia and North America. Europe’s share in the global market amounts to 18%.

The Nanophotonics Industry Association [5] identified ten nanotechnology photonics research areas expected to have disruptive impact on the photonics industry by 2021:

  • nanoscale quantum computing
  • all optical routing (for signal processing and fully optical networks)
  • plasmonics for enhanced magnetic data storage
  • diagnosis, therapy and drug delivery using light
  • nanoscale imaging
  • chemical and biological molecular-scale sensors
  • nano-tagging (for food safety, anti-counterfeiting and medical diagnostics)
  • light distribution at the nanoscale (to optimise light emission and absorption)
  • new processing techniques for prototyping
  • nanophotonic materials with tailored optical properties

Nanophotonics technology [6] is expected to enter the mainstream market because of the low weight of the nanomaterials in development, their high thermal stability, increased power efficiency and potentially long working life. This in turn could result in a significant increase in the number of applications in near-field optics, holographic memory and optical amplifiers, as well as technologies to improve the quality of the optical fibres that are replacing copper wires in some applications.

Among the major challenges facing manufacturers of nanotechnology photonics products are the current high cost of integrating nanotechnology with photonic equipment and components, difficulty in justifying price increases for performance, the need for an experienced and knowledgeable labour force, and the extensive R&D costs for bringing in new products.

In a report [7] from 2011, it was estimated that photonics impacts around 10% of the European economy as a contribution to the value of end products or services, enhancing the productivity of the manufacturing process or the functionality of the end device. The economic impact of photonics can come from the industry making photonics components and sub-systems (e.g. lasers, LEDs, screens and optical devices); from the industry enabled by photonics (e.g. automotive, telecommunications, lighting and medical industries all use photonics in their products and/or in the manufacture of their products); and in the end use in consumer markets ranging from food to aerospace. The report predicted significant growth in photonics in the future, most strongly in the following areas of the economy:

  • Construction (photovoltaic and lighting technologies)
  • Retail (displays and lighting)
  • Transport (scanning, imaging and lighting)
  • Medical and healthcare (all photonics technologies)

Global sales for nanotechnology products in the photonics sector were estimated to be USD 7.9 billion in 2013 and are forecast to be USD 29.2 billion in 2019, a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of over 24%. The figure below shows the forecast growth in commercialised products (USD 23.8 billion in 2019) and the expected growth in emerging products (USD 5.5 billion in 2019). It is seen that much of the growth is expected to be driven by products which are already commercialised.


Overview of company distribution in EPIC database (top 15 countries)Source: Adapted from: 9 June 2015


Another database is managed by EPIC, the European Photonics Industry Consortium. This database was constructed by EPIC and Tematys for their 2014 report on the Photonics Ecosystem in Europe. The most recent update is from September 2013. It includes 4,168 companies in Europe, including some companies in Russia, Ukraine, Armenia, Kazakhstan, and UAE. Again, Germany has the largest share, but followed closely by the UK. Together these countries have a share of 58%. France, the Netherlands and Italy follow at distance.


Overview of company distribution in Photonics21 database (top 15 countries)Source: Adapted from: 9 June 2015


  1. Photonics Ecosystem in Europe, EPIC (the European Photonics Industry Consortium) and TEMATYS consultants, 2013. Report based on a survey of 447 organisations (49% manufacturers, 30% R&D and university, 14% engineering and consultancy) mainly in Germany, Finland, France, the UK and Spain.
  2. Only PV modules are included.
  3. Photonics Ecosystem in Europe, EPIC (the European Photonics Industry Consortium) and TEMATYS consultants, 2013.
  6. Frost & Sullivan: 2015 Top Technologies in Microelectronics (Technical Insights), 2015; Frost & Sullivan: Advances in Photonic Materials (Technical Insights), 2014; Frost & Sullivan: Silicon Photonics (Technical Insights), 2010; Frost & Sullivan: Nanotech Alerts, 2000-2015; Nanophotonics Europe Association: Nanophotonics foresight report, 2012; Nanophotonics Europe Association: Nanophotonics: A forward look, 2012; Markets & Markets: Nanophotonics- Advanced Technologies and Global Market (2009 - 2014); Grand View Research: Nanophotonics Market Analysis.
  7. “The Leverage Effects of Photonics Technologies: the European Perspective”, A Study for EC DG Information Society and Media under SMART 2009/006 (2011), lead consultant TNO.