SPIE: First for industry

Since its inception in 1955, SPIE has focused on providing a conduit for ideas in photonics and optics in a growing and vibrant global marketplace.

26 January 2018
Stephen G. Anderson

Perhaps it was an idea shared in a Photonics West conference room, or maybe a first-iteration product on the exhibition floor at SPIE Defense + Security. Chances are that most of the commercial end-use applications of optics and photonics with which you are familiar passed through an SPIE meeting at some point on their way to market.

For more than 60 years since its inception in 1955 as the Society of Photographic Instrumentation Engineers, SPIE has focused on providing a conduit for ideas in  photonics and optics to become commercial products or enabled applications in a growing and vibrant global marketplace. That focus has allowed us to build exceptionally close connections with our industry partners as we help nourish their ideas.

The SPIE connection with industry dates back to the Society's founding. You could say, "It's in our blood," but it is also a reflection of the reality that industry plays a majority role in the global research and innovation infrastructure. A 2013 report from Battelle/R&D Magazine noted that industry R&D was easily the most significant component of overall US R&D investment, accounting for more than 60% of the expenditures and an even higher percentage of performed R&D.

SPIE 3rd Annual Exhiborama, Los Angeles, California, USA, 1958

SPIE 3rd Annual Exhiborama, Los Angeles, California, USA, 1958.

Today - known as the international society for optics and photonics - SPIE support for industry has evolved into a package of world-class resources aimed at helping our industry partners do what they do best: apply research and innovation to solve real-world problems with photonics, from energy production and advanced manufacturing, to efficient lighting and improved understanding of diseases and their treatment.

The package includes advice, funding, and visibility for entrepreneurs at the annual SPIE Startup Challenge. It includes a wide range of industry-focused events at SPIE conferences with sessions focused on business and innovation, not to mention recruiting tools, and of course extensive networking opportunities.

Industry recognition programs
Laura Smoliar, founder of the Berkeley Catalyst Fund and a serial entrepreneur, commented, "SPIE builds community among the technical and business leaders in photonics and optics, helping them stay ahead in a fast-changing innovation ecosystem."

And it includes annual recognition of the most innovative photonics-based solutions from industry at the Prism Awards for Photonics Innovation. More than 100 new products have won this coveted award in its 10-year history.

"Winning a Prism Award in 2013 helped validate the commercial impact of our technology and really put us on the map," said Christian Theriault, CEO and cofounder of TAG Optics. Metrology company Mitutoyo Corp. acquired TAG Optics in 2016.

The Prism Awards for Photonics Innovation

The SPIE global conference program supports 1700 exhibiting companies annually at a broad range of meetings spanning a technological spectrum from  photolithography to biophotonics and from quantum technology to autonomous vehicles. Proceedings from these conferences feed the SPIE Digital Library, which today includes almost 500,000 technical papers that researchers access millions of times a year.

Furthermore, the consumer and medical industry has cited SPIE publications in upwards of 120,000 patents (granted or pending), a testament to the breadth, depth, and quality of the SPIE Digital Library content.

Advocating for photonics
On a broader note, SPIE is also an active global advocate for the photonics industry. It was a founding stakeholder in the European Technology Platform,  Photonics21, founded in 2005 to represent photonics industry and research organizations in Europe. In the US, it worked with other organizations to form the National Photonics Initiative, which counts the new AIM Photonics foundry in New York state among its successes.

SPIE policy initiatives in the US have resulted in a less restrictive rewrite of some US export laws, and in the UK, SPIE is working directly with industry and government as the official secretariat of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on photonics.

The SPIE industry resource list is still longer and it's growing. The resources include a unique and sought after economic profile of the industry based on in-house market analysis (get the newest update at the SPIE Photonics West exhibitor breakfast in February); an annual survey of salaries in photonics; and a global news provider based in the UK (optics.org) whose content is tailored specifically to the business of photonics.

SPIE Photonics West

As you can see, the SPIE industry connection has come a long way since 1955 and there is more to follow. Meantime, every day we all appreciate the opportunity to help industry move development of light-based technologies into real-world applications.

This article was originally published in the January 2018 edition of SPIE Professional magazine.

Stephen G. Anderson is director of industry development for SPIE.

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