Photonics worth £13.5 billion to UK economy

The Photonics Leadership Group 2019 update shows the increasing value of light-based technology to the UK economy.

The Future Photonics Hub, based at the Universities of Southampton and Sheffield, is pleased to support the publication of updated industry data that demonstrates the health of the photonics industry in the UK.

Companies manufacturing and delivering services based on photonics technology in the UK produce £13.5 billion in output every year, contribute £5.3 billion of gross added value to the UK economy annually and employ 69,000 people in the UK at a productivity of £76,400 per employee. Photonics productivity is significantly above the UK manufacturing average of £67,000 per employee. The updated analysis also shows like-for-like growth of 8.4% since the last report based solely on comparing companies included in both the 2017 and 2019 analysis.


Professor Sir David Payne, Director of the Future Photonics Hub comments, “These latest figures clearly demonstrate that UK photonics is a thriving, highly-productive industrial sector. The value of photonics to the UK economy is already substantial, despite, as is important to remember, being in its infancy relative to electronics, which is already mature, integrated and pervasive. That’s what makes our work with industry through the Photonics Hub so critical; we’re making everything smaller, more functional, easier to produce and more efficient in energy and cost. It’s the solutions to these big challenges that will truly unlock the photonics industry’s full potential.”

The UK photonics industry is now equivalent in size to the UK pharmaceutical, fintech or space industries in the UK. The continued growth of UK photonics reflects the critical role that light plays in current and next-generation products and manufacturing. The Future Photonics Hub is supporting this growth by providing early stage R&D, prototyping and access to cutting-edge facilities to UK companies working in the supply chain as well as end-users.


The release of figures coincides with LASER World of PHOTONICS Munich, the world’s leading trade fair for photonics components, systems and applications which attracts more than 32,700 visitors from 73 countries around the world. The Hub is exhibiting latest technologies on the international stage as part of the UK Pavilion.

Dr John Lincoln, PLG Chief Executive commented, “Photonics provides the back-bone of the internet, the key to many modern manufacturing processes and the sensors at the core of many defence systems, but the impact of photonics is only just beginning. We look forward to many further years of growth, as photonics feeds essential data to autonomous vehicles, becomes ever more integrated into healthcare and digital manufacturing, and plays an ever greater role in keeping us safe and secure.”


Dr Lincoln will be presenting the updated figures in a talk on the UK photonics industry landscape at the UK Semiconductors Annual Conference 2019 on 10th and 11th July. Registration is open.

The latest analysis has fully reviewed the 1,200 companies operating in and around photonics ensuring that only the most relevant UK-based companies were included with locations based on real manufacturing and operating addresses. This year’s analysis drew from 930 separate organisations made up of 1,030 legal entities with 1,100 operating locations. The UK photonics sector has a number of clusters spread throughout the UK, often located around Universities and research centres of excellence. For example, the “Photonics Valley” in the Southampton area comprises over 10 photonics manufacturing and design companies, many have their with roots in the world renowned Optoelectronics Research Centre, based at the University of Southampton. The cluster employs hundreds of highly skilled engineers, researchers and technicians in the local area.


Pioneered in photonics, the methodology is used by SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, for assessing the global industry in its annual Global Industry Report and is now being adopted by many other enabling industries around the world, including acoustics.

Further analysis will be published on the regional distribution of UK photonics revenue, distribution of output by company size and age, and further comparisons with other UK manufacturing sectors in 2019/2020.