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  • Collaboration Fuels Asia-Pacific Market Growth

Photonics Spectra
Mar 2016
From LEDs to fiber optics and sensors, the Asia-Pacific region is a bright spot in the world of photonics. Advancements in these and other areas, including laser technology and the life sciences, are bridging the gap between the lab and the market.


Science and technology in Asia-Pacific is ahead of the pack in some focused markets; Japan, China, Taiwan and Korea are dominating various sectors, while Singapore is demonstrating “world-leading photonics activity.” In fact, the entire region is poised to take the industry lead within just a few years. And for many, this comes as no surprise.

“We have all seen this coming for some time,” said Joel Bagwell, director of engineering and manufacturing technology at Edmund Optics Inc.

A growing market

“The Asia-Pacific region is a very important market,” said Jörg Neukum, director of sales and marketing at DILAS Diodenlaser GmbH in Mainz, Germany.

Global photonics market by geography, size and forecast, 2013 vs. 2020 (Value %).

Primary Interviews, Transparency Market Research

Global photonics market by geography, size and forecast, 2013 vs. 2020 (Value %). Courtesy of Transparency Market Research.

The general photonics market in the Asia-Pacific region is growing rapidly. A 2015 report by Transparency Market Research notes that this sector is setting the pace with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7 percent; the global photonics market overall is expected to expand at a CAGR (Compound Annual Growth Rate) of 5.8 percent through 2020.

In a paper by Carmen Teutsch, an editor and marketing coordinator with Wiley-VCH — published in Laser Technik Journal in 20131 — Alan Yeo, regional director Europe for the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB) at the time, and Dr. Ahmad Magad, managing director of II-VI Singapore Pte Ltd., discussed the optics and photonics market in Asia and how it should see swift, strong growth within the next several years. Yeo expects more than 20 percent annual growth in the optics sector, while as much as 11 percent growth is forecast for the lasers market.

“This healthy growth rate is supported by the industrialization of the markets in Asia,” Yeo said in the interview. “A remarkable proportion comes from foreign companies domiciled in the region … top companies say that more than 20 percent of [their] worldwide sales come from Asia. This development underlines the potential and the economic importance of the region.”

In fact, in 2013, Asia as a whole accounted for 70 percent of global photonics production, according to a report compiled by the German industrial associations Spectaris, VDMA, ZVEI, as well as market analyst group Optech Consulting, and BMBF, the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research. China and Japan together held 42 percent of that. And each of those two countries accounts for more than €70 billion (nearly $80 billion) of the world’s photonics production market. Taiwan and Korea are key players, too, producing more than €40 billion (about $45 billion) in this market.

Joining production in the photonics industry’s global evolution is research and development. The 2016 Science and Engineering Indicators report — developed by the U.S. National Science Foundation’s National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES) — has found that the U.S.’s share of R&D in science and engineering/technology markets has seen a slower than usual annual growth rate in recent years. The cause? China, and its “unendingly high R&D growth rate.” According to Mark Boroush, senior analyst with NCSES, China averaged a 19.5 percent annual growth rate between 2003 and 2013.

“Total global R&D performance (National Science Foundation estimates) expanded from $836 billion in 2003 to $1.673 trillion in 2013,” he said. “China alone accounted for 34 percent of this increase, the U.S. for 20 percent.”

Researchers from Tohoku University’s Graduate School of Biomedical Engineering in Japan have developed a method of noninvasively measuring blood glucose using far-infrared light.

Researchers from Tohoku University’s Graduate School of Biomedical Engineering in Japan have developed a method of noninvasively measuring blood glucose using far-infrared light. Using a small prism, it is possible to irradiate the oral mucosa of inner lips. Photos courtesy of Yuji Matsuura.

And as science and technology advances become more globalized, discoveries in one country can benefit other countries, according to Dan Arvizu, chairman of the (U.S.) National Science Board and PreCourt Energy Scholar at Stanford University. He noted “collaboration among countries both scientifically and economically can spur discovery and innovation.” “It has become increasingly clear over the last decade that emerging economies, especially those in Asia (led by China), do see the value of investing in R&D and [science and technology] education,” he said. “Additionally, my personal discussions with Chinese Academy of Science leadership and heads of elite universities suggest that there is widespread acknowledgment and commitment to … improve the quality of [science and technology] education that is available in China. From their perspective, it is a national imperative, and recent trends bear out that they are making significant progress toward those goals.”

Like China, Taiwan’s photonics industry has shown this kind of growth, as well. According to information from the Taiwan Photonics Industry and Technology Development Association (PIDA), the LED components and lighting market in that country is among those that are advancing. Between 2012 and 2015, this market rose 16 percent. Taiwan’s revenue from its LED production reached nearly $5 billion in 2013. In the wider view, asserts in a 2015 report that “Asia-Pacific is the largest market for LEDs in the world,” due, in part, to the region’s “aggressive expansions of production facilities by manufacturers.” By 2020, the LED market is expected to reach about $35 billion at a CAGR of 15.7 percent, according to

In addition to LEDs, other specific application areas are seeing market growth, but perhaps not quite as rapidly as the overall photonics market. Herman Chui — senior director of product marketing at Spectra-Physics, a Newport company that has been doing business in the Asia-Pacific region “for many decades” — has seen change in the lasers market in particular.

“The Asia-Pacific market for lasers continues to grow at a healthy clip, despite recent and occasional downgrades in growth rates,” Chui said, adding that laser technology itself “continues to advance in performance, reliability and cost,” prompting an ongoing increase in the use of lasers in existing and new applications. This trend is especially seen in the Asia-Pacific region, where much of the manufacturing of the world is transitioning, he said, and lasers are becoming more widely used in manufacturing processes for gains in precision, quality and operating cost.

Bagwell, who deals quite a bit with companies in the Asia-Pacific region, is also seeing growth in the lasers market, as well as in imaging and life sciences. He is seeing many changes, too, that are starting to reshape the market.

“As far as changes, the rising costs of manufacturing in China is causing other countries’ markets to heat up,” Bagwell said, noting that he is seeing growth in Malaysia and Thailand, as well, “due to additional investments in the manufacturing base.”

Such growth also continues in Japan and Korea, where the semiconductor sector is strong, according to Neukum. He added that in Japan specifically, development of robotic applications is growing in the private sector, which, in turn, “opens up opportunities for photonic applications in the sensor and camera sector.”

Opportunities are also opening in the photonic sensors market. A 2015 Allied Market Research report states that this sector should reach $15.2 billion globally by 2020, namely in fiber optics and biophotonics. And those in the Asia-Pacific region specifically are expected to rise among other companies as the fastest-growing in this market. With findings of similar growth in the biophotonics sector, a report by Future Market Insights expects this market in the Asia-Pacific region to account for about 19 percent of the market share by 2020. A recent MarketsandMarkets report cites the special light modulator market as an expanding sector; the Asia-Pacific region in 2014 “accounted for a larger share of the overall spatial light modulator market, and is expected to grow at the highest CAGR between 2015 and 2020.”

Innovative research, industry collaboration

Technological advancement abounds in the Asia-Pacific region. This is important not only for researchers and potential applications, but also for companies in the industry and end-users.

At the University of Tokyo, for instance, the Division of University Corporate Relations (DUCR) escalates industry access to UTokyo research. DUCR offers a proactive approach, creating “a foundation of mutual cooperation” and a proactive support system.

UTokyo and its DUCR work to ensure “the transfer of our research outcomes to society.” Industry cooperation is one of the most effective means of achieving this, according to information from UTokyo. It also notes that about 200 Japanese and other foreign companies partner with the university, funding nearly 100 collaborative research projects. Among such companies is Nikon Corp., which is sponsoring two research programs — one with a focus on imaging science via UTokyo’s Institute of Industrial Science, and another focusing on nanobio sensing through the Graduate School of Engineering. IBM Japan is supporting next generation nano and micro systems for information processing; Nippon Shokubai Co. is sponsoring work relating to inorganic nanomaterials.

Similar collaborative relationships are fostered through Kyoto University in Japan and its Society-Academia Collaboration for Innovation (SACI). The initiative promotes international collaboration between industry and academia. SACI provides companies with information about various technologies developed at Kyoto; “not only research results such as patents, but also technology [that] is in the process of being researched.” Technologies that lent themselves to industry collaboration were thin-film solar cells that could be applied to “semiconducting electrodes modified with composite clusters of porphyrin-fullerene dyad and carbon nanotube.”

Other institutions such as The University of Queensland and The University of Adelaide in Australia offer similar partnership opportunities.

Industry events help shape the region

Numerous industry conferences and exhibitions bring the world of photonics together, allowing scientists, engineers, researchers, companies and universities the chance to establish connections and learn from each other. All of these events facilitate global business relations.

One such show is the Asia Communications and Photonics Conference, held annually in Hong Kong. Hailed as “the largest conference in the Asia-Pacific region on optical communications, photonics, optical sensing and relevant optoelectronic technologies,” the conference features plenary talks, workshops and industry forums. It merges research and business, giving companies and individuals alike the opportunity to establish relationships or to grow existing ones.

SPIE Photonics Asia, co-sponsored by the Chinese Optical Society and last held in 2014, offers this same camaraderie in research and business. Additionally, an exhibition during the event brings companies together with those who will be employing their technologies. SPIE Photonics West is another such event that lends itself to international research and industry collaboration.

Asian manufacturing expertise can be the road to success for a new product, said SPIE CEO Eugene Arthurs, adding that knowledge of and connections with reliable, high-quality Asian supply chains is a major advantage, and “personal relationships are the best way to quickly arrive at an optimized Asian-based manufacturing capability.”

“Conferences, which offer face-to-face interactions, are a very efficient way of establishing and sustaining these key business relationships. Meetings such as SPIE Photonics West offer a concentrated opportunity to learn who and what is new in the game, and to immediately make connections,” said Arthurs. “In many Asian cultures … meeting face-to-face is a requirement for a serious partnership. The best business relationships are built on trust.”


1. C. Teutsch (2013) Laser Tech J (doi: 10.1002/latj.201390047).

New Technologies Enter the Asia-Pacific Market

Advances such as these from regional universities and research centers — described in this issue starting on page 60 — could lead to the purchase of products, or incorporation of the technologies into manufacturers’ systems. Such partnerships can ultimately bring research findings to the commercial market.

Glass material could protect against UV damage

A novel fabrication method, developed by a team at the South China University of Technology, has produced glass that protects living cells and organic dyes from UV damage, and could be used to shield electronics in space from the detrimental effects of UV radiation.

Fiber optic sensor monitors early stage embryos

Researchers from the Australian Research Council’s Centre for Nanoscale BioPhotonics (CNBP) and the University of Adelaide have developed a fiber optic sensor that could allow noninvasive monitoring of early stage embryos during the in vitro fertilization (IVF) process.

Optical feed system achieves 60-W power over 300 M

Researchers from the University of Electro-Communications in Tokyo have demonstrated that an optical feed system that uses double-clad fibers can supply 60-W power over a 300-m optical fiber system. The setup could enable future small-cell mobile communications.

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