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CSIR establishes industry network forum to boost SA photonics industry

Publication Date: 
Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Could South Africa be missing out on the lucrative photonics industry due to a lack of public-private partnerships? With the fourth industrial revolution fast approaching, government and industry are increasingly being challenged to think about technology differently, and how it can be used to foster socio-economic development and establish formidable sectors of the economy that will compete globally.

Contact Person

David Mandaha

+12 841 3654/ 072 126 8910

dmandaha@csir.co.za

Could South Africa be missing out on the lucrative photonics industry due to a lack of public-private partnerships? With the fourth industrial revolution fast approaching, government and industry are increasingly being challenged to think about technology differently, and how it can be used to foster socio-economic development and establish formidable sectors of the economy that will compete globally.

According to an article titled The Future That Photonics and Electronics Technologies Bring, photonics is one of the key enabling technologies that will assist the foundational technologies of the fourth industrial revolution to reach their full potential.    

In preparation for this new wave, for the first time ever, the CSIR Photonics Prototyping Facility team hosted a Photonics Industry Network Forum, which brought together industry players in the South African photonics market.

The decision to establish industry forums was a result of identified challenges that are experienced by the South African photonics market. Currently, the global photonics market is worth $7 trillion, with over 3 000 photonics manufacturing companies across 50 countries. By 2024, the industry is expected to reach USD 979.90 billion. However, South Africa’s photonics market has not been able to enjoy the same success due to its miniscule global market share. The low level of innovation output, which is a result of a fragmented research, development and innovation value-chain, low levels of local technology transfer and minimal collaboration among various stakeholders (industry, higher education institutions and science councils), has limited the growth potential of South Africa’s photonics industry. As such, in 2015, South Africa experienced a trade deficit of approximately R6.3 billion due to the high volume of imported advanced photonics manufacturing technologies.

In an effort to revive South Africa’s photonics industry, Africa’s largest science council – the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, established a Photonics Industry Network Forum that will ultimately be jointly led by South African photonics industry players. The objective for establishing this quarterly forum is to create awareness of the various photonics industry role-players, while identifying industry’s challenges and opportunities. This will create networks and support joint collaboration to ultimately strengthen the South African photonics value-chain and enhance local industry competitiveness.

With six photonics application industry domains in South Africa, the industry forum represented views from a variety of these sectors. Over 15 industry players presented their scope of work, challenges and opportunities. Some of the frequently mentioned challenges included lack of funding and collaboration opportunities, invisibility of photonics projects that support industry, exportation of photonics skills and lack of communication between government and the photonics industry.

As a response to the abovementioned problem, moving forward, the Photonics Industry Network Forum aims to work together with industry, and engage government and funding agencies regarding some of the challenges impacting the growth of South Africa’s photonics industry. It is becoming increasingly important for the public and private sectors to work together to gather collective intelligence that will ultimately lead to a competitive photonics market.