Players in the Canadian photonics market are hoping an emphasis on products developed for specific vertical markets will ensure a bright future for the cutting-edge technology.
The idea of tailoring future products to meet the needs of specific industries was one of the conclusions reached at Wednesday’s National Photonics Roundtable in Ottawa. Approximately 40 delegates turned out to discuss ways in which Canada can ensure itself a leading role in the development of the technology.
Photonics is the science of generating, transmitting, manipulating and detecting light. Its most tangible, real-world application has been seen in the fibre optic space, with large telecommunications carriers deploying fibre cables for high-speed communication and large bandwidths.
According to Ruth Rayman, president of the Canadian Photonics Consortium, Canada’s best bet for photonics success is to mirror the efforts of other countries by identifying certain industries that will benefit most from the deployment of photonics-based technologies and concentrate on developing products for them.
“With only 200 or 250 companies (in Canada), you can muddle through or you can pick some winners and perhaps support those companies to cohesively create a value chain to supply the world,” said Rayman.
She added that it is “going to take some time” to identify those winner vertical markets, “but the outcome was that there was a willingness on the part of the industry to take this approach, to try to designate some winners and go for it.”
While that decision has yet to be made, Rayman did say that photonics “can enable so many aspects of quality of life,” in areas such as health care, and that that segment might be one “where we can take a major leap forward.”
Communications will continue to be an important focus for the industry, Rayman said, adding that the entertainment industry could also represent a growth area.
“We tend to shy off, and we (traditionally) don’t feel that that is a market that Canada can play strongly in, but we have technology that could really make a statement in that area, too.”
One roundtable attendee was impressed with the reaction of his counterparts in accepting the idea of the industry focusing on specific components, even though it might mean some photonics manufacturers are turning out less product than others.
“They acknowledge that they are still going to benefit from this strategy,” said Cyril McKelvie, vice-president of BreconRidge, an Ottawa-based engineering and supply chain management services firm. “It may not help (them) specifically, to the extent that it would the 10 or 15 or 50 companies that are specifically working on that vertical market, but it’s going to help (them) if for no other reason than it will build up the critical mass and infrastructure.”
The next goal of the CPC is to have a framework in place within the next three months. If that doesn’t happen, according to McKelvie, “this thing is off everyone’s radar screen.”