Optical technologies poised for major growth
Somewhat obscure and without significant public interest, optical technologies in Germany have become an important field of growth. Products with a value of 16 billion euros were manufactured in 2005. Optics are increasingly becoming an interdisciplinary technology that affect nine areas, in particular, in Germany. Accounting for 10 to 15 percent of the business volume each are
(1) production technology (laser, material processing, optics for lithography systems),
(2) image processing and measuring technology, (3) medical technology and life sciences,
(4) illumination technology, (5) energy technology and (6) optical components and systems. German companies make up a relatively small percentage in (7) optical communication technology (five percent of the total volume), (8) flat panel displays (six percent) and (9) information technology (one percent).
There is no doubt an excellent atmosphere in the field of optical technologies: SPECTARIS, the German Industry Association for Optical, Medical and Mechatronical Technologies, forecasts revenue growth of 15 percent for 2007 after the previous year's record of more than 21 percent for lasers and components, in which Germany is particularly strong. Exports, which will rise to 73 percent, should also increase here – proof positive that “made in Germany” is an absolute hit in this field of business.
Optics is a science and has long been a major branch of industry at the same time – not only in Germany. Throughout the world, this field has garnered a new reputation from both a scientific and economic standpoint because it succeeded in generating light with maximum intensities, high continuous output, great stability and the shortest pulses depending on the need of the application. For this purpose, there are a number of primarily laser-based light sources available. “The photon is replacing the electron as a technology carrier,” states Prof. Gerd Litfin. The Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Linos AG in Göttingen, Germany, a globally active company in state-of- the-art optical systems, along with Dr. Augustin Siegel, Senior Vice President of Corporate Research and Technology at Carl Zeiss AG, and the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF), played a key role in implementing in Germany at the end of the last century a strategy process for optical technologies that is now bearing fruit. Optical technologies are today a key element of the high-tech strategy of the German government and the 7th Research Framework Program of the EU. However, the international competition is also well aware of the situation. The USA, in particular, has launched major programs after it recognized optics as a key technology for science and society.
The current volume of the global market for optical technology products is €200 billion, a quarter of that for information technology and flat panel displays. Although Germany is not well represented here, it still achieves an eight percent share of the global market, i.e. a dominant position in the other fields such as laser sources. Annual growth of around 10 percent is expected until 2015. The average annual growth of 7.6 percent for this is clearly above the other rates in the world economy. Following the boom for displays and IT, Germany, in particular, will benefit from the fact that the above-mentioned fields, in which Germany is better represented, will act as motors of growth in the future. Experts therefore expect Germany to reach a share of €37 billion, or annual growth of 8.5 percent, until 2015.
Significantly higher R&D spending than in other industries
Optical technologies have a bright future in Germany, particularly because spending on research and development is clearly higher in this area than in many other industries. On average, this is 9.7 percent of revenues; in image processing and measuring technology, as well as production technology, it is even 13 or 14 percent.
The boom creates jobs. German optical technology companies currently employ some 100,000 people, a figure that will climb to almost 143,000 by 2015. The high percentage of employees with a university degree, 21 percent, is also a good sign. The percentage of academics is particularly high in the areas of measuring technology and image processing (30 percent), and production technology (35 percent). “There are already shortages of specialists: there is a lack of physicists and engineers in energy technology (solar systems), measuring technology and laser material processing,” states Dr. Eckhard Heybrock from the VDI technology center in Düsseldorf which coordinates optical technologies for the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research.
German companies hold an outstanding market position in several segments. This is particularly true with laser systems for material processing (about 20 percent). With laser sources for material processing, this is even 40 percent. Regarding the most important lithography systems, wafer steppers and scanners, Netherlands-based ASML is the global market leader with a 63 percent share, ahead of Nikon and Canon. The key components that enable progress in microelectronics are the optics delivered to ASML by Carl Zeiss SMT AG. There is an opportunity to gain market share through EUV beam sources during the upcoming technology changeover from deep ultraviolet (DUV) to extreme ultraviolet (EUV). The sources, pinch plasmas or laser-generated plasmas, are a strength of German companies.
This also applies to measuring technology. The combination of ultrafast femtosecond lasers (femto is one quadrillionth) with frequency combs will continue to drive this field over the long-term. The development of a compact light counter, the most accurate tool ever created by mankind, earned Theodor Hänsch and John Hall the 2005 Nobel Prize for Physics. Since then, Jun Ye from Boulder, Colorado has so successfully continued the work of the Nobel Prize winners that he will receive the Carl Zeiss Research Award this year (see “Carl Zeiss Research Award” press release).
Without a doubt, optical technologies play a key role in the fields of healthcare, the environment, traffic and mobility. Additionally, they are the pacemakers for important technological developments and applications in communication and production technology, in biotechnology and in nanoelectronics. Many of these domains cover the fields in which the Carl Zeiss Group sees its own strengths. These include, in particular, life sciences, nanotechnology, medical technology and automation. Photons are vital everywhere here – the century of light has already started.