South African photonics sector highlighted by innovation forum

24th March 2016 By: Keith Campbell - Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

South African photonics sector highlighted by innovation forum

A mobile laser of the CSIR National Laser Centre
Photo by: Duane Daws/Creamer Media

The Department of Science and Technology (DST) is seeking to promote the growth and development of South Africa’s photonics industry. Photonics is the term for the science and technology of using, applying and manipulating light.

To this end, the DST funded the 2016 Light-based Technologies Innovation Forum, which was held in Gauteng last week. It was jointly organised by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and the National Science and Technology Forum.

Globally, the photonics industry is forecast to achieve revenues of €615-billion (R10 651-billion) by 2020, up from €350-billion (R6 062-billion) in 2011. The South African photonics sector is at present generating a little more than R2-billion in export revenues, which comes to only some 0.1% of the country’s gross domestic product and accounts for only a very small part of the global market.

The DST is currently developing an advanced photonics manufacturing roadmap. This is intended to help develop a globally-competitive photonics industry, including photonics-based processes and products, centred on niche areas in which South Africa is strong. It is believed that the country has great potential in the sector.

Already, a Photonics Prototyping Facility has been set up, based at the CSIR National Laser Centre and co-funded by the DST and CSIR. This serves to assist in the development of prototypes, aimed at developing marketable products. It can provide expertise in, and infrastructure for, photonics and prototyping; undertake skills development; and assist in approaching business, funding institutions and industry.

As for the forum, its main focus areas included: developments in light technologies and light-based technologies, national strategies to support the development of photonics, infrastructure support and funding, additive manufacturing, solar energy, industry development and available opportunities. Research presentations at the forum included such topics as luminescent nano materials and their application potential, biophotonics, fibre optic communication and broadband Internet speed, and solar energy.

Forum participants urged the recreation of a photonics association to give the sector a unified voice. They also sought a definition of the photonics industry in South Africa.