The Photonics Industry in Canada
BY LAURA S. MARSHALL
Canada is a pretty big place: Its sur- face area is 9,984,670 km2, which means that only Russia and Antarctica are bigger. And photonics is pretty bigin Canada, too.
The country is strong in a wide varietyof photonic areas, according to a January
2009 survey by the Canadian PhotonicsConsortium (CPC). These include researchcapability and infrastructure; industry-academic cluster activity, especially in Ontario and Québec; systems integration; optical communications; image sensors andvision systems; short-pulse laser technology; and emerging biophotonics capability.
Canadian photonics technologies areused worldwide in defense and security;health and medicine; manufacturing;energy and lighting; communications;consumer goods; environmental protection; sensing and measurement in the oil,gas, paper and forestry industries; andeven entertainment.
The nearly 400 photonics companiesin Canada employ a total of more than20,000 people, collectively generatingclose to 4. 4 billion CAD per year, according to the CPC report. Approximately 85percent of that revenue comes fromexports, and 50 percent of those exportshead to the US.
In a country with so much space, clusters are only natural. The province ofOntario is known for biophotonics,according to the CPC, while Québec isknown for sensing, although both regionshave plenty going on in all photonics disciplines. Activity is more scattered in thewestern provinces.
“Ontario has a strong track record of
excellence in photonics,” said Don Wil-
ford, managing director of the Centre for
Photonics, part of the Ontario Centres of
Excellence (OCE), which supports re-
search commercialization and connects
academe with industry. “The industry sec-
tor is mature and successful, including
globally competitive large firms, nimble
small and medium enterprises, and a small
but vibrant start-up community.”
The Ottawa area, traditionally the focal
point of Ontario photonics, is home to
communications companies such as Nor-
tel, JDS Uniphase Corp., Cisco Systems
Inc. and Alcatel-Lucent Canada Inc. “This
created a strong ecosystem focused on
communications,” said John Fielding, a
director of business development at OCE.
But that all changed in the early 2000s,
when the telecom bubble burst. “One of
the effects of the bubble,” he said, “was
that the technical and entrepreneurial
people took their communications expert-
ise and applied it to other technology sec-
tors [including] biomedical, photovoltaics,
industrial photonics and lighting.”
Today, Ontario’s photonics industry is
fairly balanced across six market sectors,
according to Fielding: information and
communications technologies, health and
life sciences, defense and security, lighting
energy and environmental photonics, in-
dustrial photonics, and the entertainment
and consumer segments. And although
there is still significant activity in Ottawa,
the industry distribution has spread to
other cities, such as Toronto and Waterloo.
In Ontario, 41 percent of all photonicsjobs are in the research-and-developmentarea, according to a March 2009 reportauthored by Wilford. Nearly a third ofjobs are in manufacturing, with the restalmost evenly divided between administration and small-/medium-business development.
More than three-quarters of photonics
employees work for large companies
with more than 250 workers; most are
subsidiaries of US corporations, he
reported. Small and medium enter-
prises employ nearly 20 percent of
workers, while startups employ
only 4 percent.
The Ontario Photonics IndustryNetwork (OPIN), in which bothWilford and Fielding play key roles,works to promote photonics throughvarious initiatives, from offering spon-sorships to enable members of the industryto attend trade shows to compiling anddistributing promotional materials onphotonics in the province.
On the academic side, Ontario is hometo university groups and world-classresearch institutes such as the CanadianPhotonics Fabrication Centre in Ottawa,which Fielding described as a unique-to-Canada photonics fabrication facility thatallows companies to do small fabricationruns.
“Ontario has developed a strong capability in biophotonics, principally at theUniversity Health Network in Toronto,”Wilford said. The network’s Laboratoryfor Applied Biophotonics (LAB), he said,has partnered with the Centre for Biophotonics Science and Technology at the University of California, Davis. “LAB is aunique model – embedded withinCanada’s largest research hospital complex and seamlessly integrated with itsbiomedical research, clinical trials andmedical delivery capacities.”
Ontario isn’t the only photonics hot spotin Canada. Industry and research arebooming in Québec as well. Most of thecompanies are located in Montréal andQuébec City; a few others can be found inthe Sherbrooke and Gatineau areas.
“The key factors driving the photonicsindustry in the province of Québec,” said