Clear vision drives initiative for a sustainable optics industry
Thuringia is renowned for its optics and opto-electronics sector, which comprises some 170 companies, mostly SMEs, with a turnover of EUR 2.6 billion. The region's CoOPTICS initiative was established to strengthen this industry and research field. It combined research and development with the production industry, as well as creating or ensuring qualified and innovative jobs within the region. A central feature is the close coordination between the initiative's SMEs and several Thuringian universities and research institutes.
Optical technologies are 'new light technologies' and are predicted to revolutionise our lives this century in much the same way as micro-electronics did in the 20th century. As a cross-sectional technology, modern optics could provide solutions to some of the great challenges of our age, including energy efficiency, climate change, and an ageing society.
Optical innovations are also a key driver for profitable growth for SMEs, thanks to their enabling technology. These innovations depend significantly on the R&D of seven research institutes and four universities in and around the city of Jena.
New business opportunities
A major centre for optics within Europe, Thuringia is famous for its symbiosis of research and successful business transfer in this field. The region is also the traditional home of OptoNet, a long-established network of companies and research institutions focused on optical technologies, which operates nationally and internationally.
OptoNet gave rise to CoOPTICS – a three-year initiative that served as a framework for a series of innovative projects in the optics sector. Focused on smart and sustainable growth, these involved many leading optical research institutions across the region.
The seven projects conducted were: 2D3D, FlexOp, CoLight, HOKA, SOLux, NEMO, QualyScan, and BioOptisens. The first one, for instance, involved three companies and concentrated on precision-length measuring of objects or sensors in motion – a technology not yet available on the market. The results of these projects will open new business opportunities for companies involved and thus spur on new investments in R&D.
CoOPTICS was launched essentially to help the region's optical technologies companies move up the value chain. In other words, to strengthen their activities in the systems business, develop technology platforms and broaden their focus beyond established industry. This would for example mean a shift to emerging markets, such as energy and environment, safety and mobility, life sciences and medical science.
The initiative aimed to ensure the region of Jena becomes a major innovation driver for optical technologies in Europe. This vision was to be achieved through a strategy which included improving the technology skills of the optics cluster; developing new markets (notably 'green photonics', where sustainable use of light can be used in sectors as varied carbon-neutral power generation, energy efficiency, and safe nutrition and drinking water supplies); and improving qualification levels.
Enhancing innovation in universities
CoOPTICS represented a change from singular technology projects to a strategic, aligned and comprehensive support initiative. It was also innovative in targeting the individual strengths and weaknesses of cluster partners.
The initiative developed a comprehensive cluster management via a separate cluster company, CoOPTICS GmbH. Its role is to bring together the resources of industry and research institutes and universities within the cluster. For research and innovation, partners developed a comprehensive concept, including open-innovation, technology screening, information sharing and consulting with SMEs on new research projects. Lastly, work on education and advanced training resulted for example in the founding of The Abbe School of Photonics plus advanced training programmes at all qualification levels.
CoOPTICS projects helped to ensure jobs for over 19 300 people. They also led to EUR 9 million of additional private investment in R&D in Thuringia.
“The CoOPTICS initiative was designed to advance the contribution of Thuringian universities and other research institutions to regional innovation and regional growth in SMEs within the optical industry on a global level.”
Mike Boettger, Managing Director, CoOPTICS GmbH