Seven Northern Ireland companies have been empowered to pioneer commercial photonics solutions to solve significant industry challenges through the Futurescope Photonics NI accelerator programme.
Delivered by Digital Catapult, the UK authority on advanced digital technology, the accelerator is one of a series of programmes by local nano technology consortium Smart Nano NI to further the development of smart manufacturing in Northern Ireland.
Photonics, the science and technology of light, serves as a key enabling technology for many sectors such as energy, agritech and communications, and already underpins much of our modern technology. The photonics output in the UK was estimated to be approximately £14.5 billion in 2020, and employed 76,700 people, demonstrating the significant value and economic impact of successful photonics solutions.
The potential of photonics to revolutionise industries like manufacturing, construction and agritech processes in Northern Ireland shows the significant role the Photonics NI accelerator programme can play in driving industry adoption of photonics solutions, ensuring that the transformative benefits are fully explored and harnessed by key industry partners.
The nine-week accelerator, delivered as part of local nanotech consortium Smart Nano NI’s five-year programme, provided companies with the skills and knowledge to deliver proposed solutions for internal challenges using photonics technologies. This culminated in a graduation event on 14th June at Ormeau Baths, where participants showcased their pioneering solutions and outlined their path forward to adoption.
Dr Cillian McPolin, Lead Photonics Technologist at Digital Catapult, said, “The company showcase really highlighted the success of the programme in advancing the adoption of photonics. Throughout the day we heard how photonics will solve a broad range of industry challenges for the businesses, such as reducing costs by using vision systems to monitor production quality and using fibre optic sensors as a cost-effective way to measure temperatures in industrial equipment.”
During the programme participating businesses explored how the technology could help their businesses through education on the adoption, development, validation and scaling of photonic technologies for industry challenges. This included demonstrations of photonic techniques for industrial processes in action, engagement with local industry leaders and leading academics, as well as learning about the linkages between photonics with IoT and AI for advanced prototype solutions.
The seven-member cohort represented a range of industries from across Northern Ireland, including healthtech, vertical farming and construction.
Participant Rachael Lockhart, Product Development Manager at Smiley Monroe, said, “What has been most beneficial for us is being able to talk to the experts about our specific business use cases and we’re hoping to now demo some of the technologies we had learned about during the programme in our business operations.”
Simon Hegarty, co-founder of InJuice Ltd, added, “Taking part in the Photonics accelerator programme has massively benefited us as we now have a roadmap that we can now practically put into place and translate our ideas into reality. Seeing how other technologies can weave together with photonics was eye opening for us as a business.”
Photonics NI is the second accelerator programme delivered as part of Smart Nano NI, a local consortium funded by the UK Research and Innovation’s flagship Strength in Places Fund. Dr Jason Wiggins, Smart Nano NI Project Manager, added, “The FutureScope Photonics NI programme harnessed expertise from across the Smart Nano NI consortium, helping to drive forward new advances in the field of photonics. Northern Ireland has unique strengths in the research, commercialisation and manufacture of photonic technologies. The wider adoption of those technologies in industry presents significant opportunities for business here and it is great to see the participating companies benefit from this introduction to photonic tools and techniques to accelerate the adoption of emerging technologies.”
The consortium will develop game-changing advanced prototyping and smart manufacturing methods to drive self-sustaining local industry and economic growth through research and innovation. The investment will catalyse further growth in Northern Ireland’s innovation ecosystem, delivering economic benefits that will be felt across the UK. It is one of many examples of how UKRI investment into innovation clusters is supporting the government’s levelling up agenda.