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State of the Optics & Photonics Industry: SPIE Summit Debrief

State of the Optics & Photonics Industry: SPIE Summit Debrief

Optics, Photonics, Quantum and Energy Industry Updates

This past week, 150 leaders of photonics company leaders met with government agency leaders to discuss policy and initiatives critical to:

  • Maintaining a competitive advantage in technology.
  • Meeting the needs of US security in directed energy, cyber security, and quantum communications.
  • Tracking toward the US’s commitment to net zero by 2050.
Under the cloud of a looming shutdown, the frank and constructive debate centered around practical measures supporting private industry and its customers and overarching governmental goals. The needs and themes that will impact optics and photonics most in the coming years include: 



Eric Lim, Interim CHIPS R&D Program Director, NIST, shared the CHIPS Act’s next milestones, including the recent announcement of Subramanian S. Iyer as the director of the National Advanced Packaging Manufacturing Program. As participants expressed frustration with the roll-out (“Is it real?” and “Let’s get on with it.”), moderator David Isaacs, VP, Government Affairs, Semiconductor Industry Association, likened it to “building a plane while we fly it.” Selecting an independent Board of Trustees is the next milestone in the rollout of the CHIPS Act. This will help to ensure that fab investments are in keeping with the needs of the US private sector and help to address the supply chain challenges that have impacted product ramp-up in the sectors optics and photonics serve, including lasers, automotive, medical device/life science, and others.

Today, US fabs are 30-40% higher cost than competitors. The design will need to be a significant differentiator. Another important factor to success is private funding—there are fewer venture capitalists in microelectronics than in software, and private sector investment is critical to leverage government dollars.

Eric Lim states, “We can’t block our way to success. We need to outcompete, out-invest.”

Other concerns raised:

  • Gallium nitride supply—90% from China.
  • Mixed messages from government agencies and the Department of Commerce on export restrictions.
  • Ramifications of the first semiconductor downturn if there’s no ‘skin in the game’ from private companies with commitments to their US operations.
Many of the companies in attendance have vertically integrated fabs and understand the investment and complexity of the challenge ahead. 



"A fab is not a fab is not a fab."

Looking to expand in emerging markets or applications? Request a consult. 



Quantum Technologies

The most diverse panel of the day was a great representation of the state of the quantum industry—this rapidly emerging market will require the intersection of many disciplines and a diversity of thought. Presenters agreed that the commercialization of quantum technologies will demand:

  • Getting the science right
  • Enhancing competitiveness
  • The right people –untraditional workforce development

The DOE is working to bring investment through tech hubs in non-traditional regions. Forty-four awards have been given for planning grants, two of which were in quantum technology, given to Montana and the University of Connecticut.

Like all other technologies in discussion today, including a panel on directed energy led by Robert Walker of Leonardo Electronics, quantum technologies will require lower SWAP-C, sustained investment to commercialize, and a strong supply chain. The industry shares the government’s frustration in establishing a shared goal and understanding of requirements, as these are often shared only 1:1 under NDA.

Presenters and attendees agree that the US needs a sustained investment in R&D to maintain its competitive advantage. Industry is doing its part—the current baseline for private companies in this industry is 5% of revenue toward R&D and new product development, and market leaders benchmark at 20%. The industry showed up in full force to send the message that we’re ready. 


NY represents SPIE Summit

Rochester, NY, represents at SPIE Photonics Industry Summit


Workforce Development

With the support of the DoD and NY congressional leaders, MCC’s Alexis Vogt joined the stage to announce an award critical to the continuation of the MCC optics program and to participate in a panel discussing the workforce gaps and requirements to meet the needs of these emerging industries.

All agree that increasing the number of women and underserved students in STEM plays an important role in filling the gap. One attendee noted that current financial aid has sure increased the number of English majors, but isn’t addressing the problem. DoD’s Smartscholarship.org provides full tuition to anyone in a strategically important discipline. DOEStem.org and DODStem.org help to provide tools and curriculum to engage vulnerable younger students in STEM—like the hit of the day, an open-source design for 3D printing a 100x smartphone microscope, and a culturally responsive curriculum for its use. 


Iphone microscope

3D printed 100x microscope, which can clip onto your phone


Our takeaways for tech companies looking to grow and change to meet emerging demand:

  • Broaden your context at events like this.
  • Build your product development and go-to-market plan based on solid customer discovery.
  • Collaborate and participate to color a smarter tech roadmap.
  • Embrace open source and plan ahead for the valleys of death.
  • Leverage state and federal grants to support your workforce development and company growth.
  • We have an important role to play in our communities to educate and promote STEM.
  • It’s on us—the need is there, the momentum will come from us. 

Thank you to SPIE for hosting an important conversation, and to all those who shared their ideas to inform policy that will be important to us all. 

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