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Panelists tout the potential for photonics

The New York contingent that attended a recent photonics conference in California not only included more participants than other states, the group of companies went head-to-head with entire countries.

The number of New York firms that attended shows the state, led by the Rochester region, is a major player in the industry.

And while the local businesses continue to grow, there is work that still needs to be done for the area to reach its potential, said Tom Battley, executive director of New York Photonics.

“To compete we need to do more, a lot more,” Battley said. “We’re competing with countries.”
Battley made his remarks to roughly 300 people who attended “Rochester’s Photonics Future” last Friday. Part of the Rochester Business Journal’s power breakfast series, the event was held at the Radisson Rochester Riverside Hotel.

In addition to Battley, the panel discussion included:

  • Paul Ballentine, executive director of the University of Rochester’s Center for Emerging and Innovative Sciences;
  • Rick Plympton, CEO of Optimax Systems Inc.;
  • Alexis Vogt, endowed chair and associate professor of optics at Monroe Community College; and
  • Ed White, corporate outreach executive, AIM Photonics.

Attendees learned about Rochester’s role in the American Institute for Integrated Photonics, a $600 million manufacturing consortium that will focus on the design, manufacture, testing, assembly and packaging of integrated photonics.

White said the AIM Photonics consortium has more than 70 members from business, academia and government—and that number continues to grow.

Rochester is poised to play a major role in the initiative given that AIM Photonics’ national Testing, Assembly and Packaging facility will be located at the ON Semiconductor site at the Eastman Business Park.

Testing, assembly and packaging for photonics is big business, comprising close to 80 percent of the value of photonics devices, White said. AIM leaders are expecting work on the facility to begin soon, with the project wrapped up by year-end.

In addition to the AIM initiative, panelists spoke about other ways the Rochester region is growing when it comes to photonics and its related fields.

Ballentine described a conference he is helping bring to downtown called the Light and Sound Interactive Conference. Slated for various locations Sept. 12 to 14, the event will highlight light and sound technologies, including virtual and augmented reality.

Ballentine expects the event to draw people from around the world. He noted the conference will highlight Rochester’s strengths.

The growing optics and photonics industries have led to the need for additional workers. Vogt said the optics program at MCC has continued to grow, with the college working to include even more opportunities for students interested in careers in those fields.

The AIM Center, coupled with the growth of local firms, is increasing the popularity of the optics and photonics field, Vogt said.

“Optics and photonics have become synonymous with jobs,” Vogt said.

There are roughly 120 optics, photonics and imaging companies in the Rochester area that employ some 17,000 people and generate over $3 billion in annual sales.

“We are not a small blip on the Rochester scene,” Battley said.

Plympton, who leads 300-plus employees at Optimax, said local firms are involved in industries such as automotive, defense and medical.

Local companies are working on technologies for everything from missiles that can hit moving targets and telescopes that will help researchers see to the edge of the universe to autonomous vehicles and non-invasive eye correction procedures, Plympton said.

Audience members asked how the use of photonics could affect their lives.

Integrated photonics involves using photons, the power of light, in place of electrons, or electricity, Battley explained. The end result would be devices—from cellphones to computers—that are smaller, faster and more reliable.

The panelists agreed more needs to be done to get the word out about the impact photonics and its related fields have on the region.

“If the whole town decided to act like a photonics industry economic development organization, there’s no limit to what we can do,” Battley said.

4/14/2017 (c) 2017 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-363-7269 or email madams@bridgetowermedia.com.

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