SUMMARY OF THE PANEL STUDY

Japanese and U.S. Strengths in Optoelectronics

The JTEC panel's study of Japan's optoelectronics technology indicates that over the past few years, Japanese technological and business success in optoelectronics has been based on telecommunications and consumer products. While Japan's photonics industry has played a major role in optical communications, it has emerged as the undisputed leader in optoelectronics components and products for the consumer marketplace. In particular, the strong, long-term commitment to large-scale, low-cost manufacturing has provided Japan with the means to dominate the fields of optoelectronic displays, fiber-optic gyros, and compact disc players. Current ground-breaking research indicates that Japanese industry will continue to play the dominant role in these optoelectronics technologies well into the future. For example, the announcement in late 1995 that Nichia has successfully demonstrated blue laser light emission from GaN suggests that Japan will maintain leadership in optical storage for some time to come. Furthermore, announcements by Pioneer, TDK, and Idemitsu that they will be introducing the first organic light-emitting flat panel displays in early 1996 also indicates the ability of the Japanese R&D establishment to retain an innovative edge in high-volume, consumer-based products targeted by U.S. industry as having fundamental strategic and economic importance.

Japan's position in optical communication, networks, and data communications is by no means as strong as its position in consumer optoelectronics. In these markets, the United States sets and leads the pace; nevertheless, Japan's influence and success in optical communications makes it a formidable competitor into the indefinite future.

This latter comment notwithstanding, the panel's study of U.S. optoelectronics technology indicates that the domestic industrial base in optical communications remains strong, and that both large-scale companies and smaller "spin-off" companies remain committed to and competitive in this strategic technology. The U.S. telecommunications industry led in early commercial deployment of fiber optics in telephone trunking and cable TV, and hence it established and has maintained an early lead in deployment and development of fiber-optic technology. Domestic concentration in fiber optics appears to have resulted in a continuing innovative stance. For example, there is currently abundant work by both small and large U.S. photonics companies in pursuing and determining the next step in bringing fiber to the home (FTTH). Schemes involving all-fiber, fiber-coax, fiber-wireless, and fiber-twisted-pair systems are all being energetically explored in the United States. There is no clear evidence that all of these alternatives for bringing fiber to the home are being as actively explored in Japan. Furthermore, with government encouragement, U.S. firms are also investigating more advanced systems involving time-division multiple access (TDMA) transmission, wavelength-division multiplexing (WDM), and other distribution alternatives.

The JTEC panel notes, however, that the recent announcement of the break-up of AT&T casts doubt on the ability of the United States to maintain a strong leadership role in the worldwide optical telecommunications market.

Data communications and local area networks constitute a rapidly emerging new segment of the communications market. The competition among suppliers is just now beginning to solidify, and the panel sees this as one of the most important business opportunities currently in optoelectronics. Both the Japanese and the U.S. industries are entering the field, neither with a clear lead at the present time.

With the exception of Hewlett-Packard, which is the world leader in sales of light-emitting diodes (LEDs), the U.S. photonics companies the JTEC panel visited do not appear to have any intention of competing with the Japanese in the area of consumer photonics. The scale of investment and technical development needed, and the rather dim prospect of gaining a significant fraction of a market currently in the hands of strong competitors, make it difficult for the United States to have a significant impact on this lucrative business in the near future.

An area of particular strength in the U.S. photonics industry is custom optoelectronic component manufacture. A number of small U.S. companies such as Lasertron and Ortel have launched themselves into relatively risky new technology areas to develop and manufacture highly specialized laser, modulator, or detector devices that meet the needs of niche markets. Although these companies have been extremely successful and many have expanded considerably, their growth potential is limited because they serve custom rather than mass markets.

This concentration on custom products has opened up a possibility for large-scale growth of the U.S. photonics industry in the area of optical sensors. Currently, there are several small and midsize companies (e.g., Sensors Unlimited, EG&G Judson, David Sarnoff Research Center, etc.) that are engaged in aggressively developing product lines for a wide range of sensor applications ranging from medical to structural to environmental sensing and to infrared (IR) imaging. The JTEC panel anticipates that the sensor market has explosive growth potential. At present, very little activity in this area is being pursued in Japan. Hence, should this trend continue, it could lead to a significant expansion in the U.S. domestic photonics industry.

Optical storage technology also appears to have the possibility for rapid and large-scale growth into the future. Currently, optical storage technology is dominated by Japan. As noted above, the recent demonstration in Japan of blue laser light emission from GaN may represent a breakthrough in high-density optical disc reading and recording. However, it is as yet unclear whether GaN or the II-VI semiconductor materials based on ZnSe will be the material system ultimately adopted for use in future high-density optical memory systems. In terms of II-VI materials systems, Sony currently holds a technological edge over numerous competitors in both the United States and Japan. There is no question that the Japanese have a highly developed packaging technology for the read/write equipment used in such memories, a technology far exceeding that of the United States. Finally, in terms of optical memory media, rapid developments in both countries suggest that future opportunities exist for both countries, although at present, Japan has a clear lead in this area as well.

In the area of waveguide devices, considerable progress has been made in both the United States and Japan in bringing systems to market. Perhaps the most impressive demonstration of waveguide device manufacture, application, and packaging was seen at Hitachi Cable, which manufactures fiber-optic gyroscopes for use in luxury automobiles. Several thousand of these units are being produced each year at a cost of a few hundred dollars for use in automotive navigation systems. The technology involved consists of silica waveguide devices as well as complex integrated fiber-optic and electronic packaging. In the United States, there are several major manufacturers of waveguide devices, including AT&T and Uniphase Telecommunications Products (UTP). The latter, small-sized enterprise has made a business out of custom-designing LiNbO 3 modulators and associated products that are among the best in the world. However, due to the scale of the activity in Japan, companies there have a clear lead in the areas of both silica-based and LiNbO 3-based waveguide devices. The area of semiconductor-based waveguide devices integrated into so-called photonic integrated circuits (PICs) is still largely in the research mode in both countries. Although such devices are expected to become increasingly important in the future, the size of the market and who will dominate remains unclear.

While the opportunities presented by photonics appear to be enormous in scale and virtually infinite in number, it is recognized both in the United States and Japan that the success of the entire technology hinges on the solution of a problem that has been identified since the development of the first room-temperature continuous wave (cw) semiconductor laser in 1970: the need for very low-cost, robust, and manufacturable packages for optoelectronic devices. This problem is especially acute due to the extremely high precision needed to achieve submicron alignment tolerances in positioning multiple optical beams to arrays of small semiconductor devices.

The finding that low-cost solutions to packaging problems can generate enormous market growth is most clearly demonstrated by the growth of the CD market once Japanese researchers solved the problem of positioning the read-out lasers. It is important to realize that the cost of the laser transporting mechanism (~$20) is far greater than that of the optoelectronic component (where the laser cost is now falling toward $1). As mentioned previously, Japan has a clear lead in both packaging and low-cost component manufacture. However, considerably larger costs are involved in using current technology to solve the single-mode alignment of a fiber to a semiconductor laser, which currently limits the ultimate diffusion of fiber-optic telecommunication directly into the home (FTTH). Once these packaging costs are brought down (either in the United States or abroad), the largest single market for photonic technology will be opened up.

Cultural Components of Technological Success

Japanese leadership in optoelectronic consumer products appears to have been generated by an industrial culture dedicated to high-volume, low-cost, quality manufacturing; based on intensively constructed long-range plans; backed by financial commitment to leading edge technologies applicable to mass markets; and built by consensus and teamwork.

In terms of planning, Japanese companies try to foresee which aspects of their expertise in device manufacture can be employed in a consumer system that is "on the horizon." Having identified the potential market at the systems level, they then work to improve their device technology to meet the projected demands for volume, quality, and price. During the JTEC panel's visits to Japanese companies, this theme of projecting needs was expressed explicitly on several occasions. Once the need is identified and the technology is brought to a suitable stage of development, the Japanese companies invest the resources and infrastructure needed to bring cost and capacity within their projected requirements. This level of forward planning appears to be well developed in the Japanese photonics industry and to be largely absent in the U.S. photonics industry. The reasons for this disparity are not readily apparent, although the different economic foundations and means of doing business in the two countries undoubtedly play decisive roles.

The Japanese commitment to investing long-term in risky technologies with the potential for large-scale returns is best illustrated by the development of CD laser technology by the relatively small Kyoto company, Rohm. In 1982, Rohm was a midsize company almost entirely involved in the manufacture of resistors and other microelectronic components, with no expertise in photonic devices. At that time, managers at Rohm, cognizant of the potential for explosive growth in the emerging CD market, became aware of the successful growth at AT&T of GaAs power lasers using the process of molecular beam epitaxy (MBE). Rohm engineers saw an opportunity for using MBE as a low-cost means for producing high-quality lasers to allow for Rohm's entry into the CD market. Although Rohm's entry into the market would be late, its managers nevertheless appealed to the company president for support to pursue CD laser manufacture, and the president gave permission to proceed.

Between 1982 and 1987, with some key innovations, Rohm developed from scratch a high-quality laser technology as well as a large-scale manufacturing capability. Indeed, the company built what is probably the only production-oriented, automated MBE growth facility in the world. In addition, Rohm developed procedures for automated packaging and testing of large numbers of devices, and it installed a very costly (but ultimately cost-effective) custom infrastructure for laser manufacturing. The cost of Rohm's new corporate facilities was not revealed to the JTEC team, but the panel estimates it to be in excess of $100 million.

Rohm entered the CD laser market in 1987, when lasers were selling for about $100 each. Between 1987 and 1992, Rohm improved its production yield and volume to its present production levels of 60 million lasers/year, at a cost of less than $2/laser. With this sales volume, Rohm is now the dominant manufacturer of CD lasers worldwide (followed by Sony and Sanyo), having captured approximately 50% of the worldwide market. Further, Rohm's manufacturing yields (at the customer acceptance level) appear to be greater than 99.95%. Currently, Rohm is entering the data link market with its lasers and is branching out into long-wavelength (InP) lasers and materials.

The success of Rohm, which appears to be more entrepreneurial in nature than most large corporations in Japan, is primarily due to its commitment at a very early stage to high-volume manufacture of a product that mid-level managers anticipated would be important in the years ahead. This commitment led to investment in the necessary manufacturing infrastructure, the operation of which relies only on the availability of technical support, not on a highly educated work force. The rapid decision-making capability of Rohm stems from its modest size as compared to the electronic giants such as Sony, yet the company was large enough to be able to fund the necessary product and manufacturing development. Finally, Rohm has been able to find a profitable niche between the giants by following a policy of not competing with its customers. Because Rohm has traditionally been a manufacturer of silicon (Si) devices and passive electronic devices, it has resisted moving into more value-added subsystems and systems that are the domains of its customers.

There does not appear to be a corresponding example of Rohm's type of product development within a U.S. company. Rather, revolutionary technological changes often occur in the United States when engineers involved in the initial technological development leave the parent photonics companies to start their own businesses. This "spin-off" process is often engendered by the reluctance of management in large companies to take large, long-term, and potentially costly risks in new technology ventures. U.S. publicly owned companies must produce short-term profits for shareholders, which often inhibits their venturing into risky enterprises. Many midsize U.S. photonic companies that the panel visited, such as Lasertron and Epitaxx (the latter company, having recently been purchased by Nippon Sheet Glass, cannot be strictly termed a U.S. company), can trace their origins to spin-off enterprises. While the spin-off process has led to a diversity of U.S. companies involved in photonics, it has also resulted in a fragmented industrial base with little in the way of substantial, large-scale manufacturing capabilities that can compete in high-volume consumer markets with the Japanese electronics giants. (One exception to this is Hewlett-Packard, which is the high-volume competitor in the production of LEDs.)

As noted earlier, the small U.S. spinoff optoelectronics enterprises have given the United States a clear lead over Japan in the domain of custom optoelectronics. Growth of these enterprises is attributed to a very diverse business and technology base, coupled with the vibrant tradition of entrepreneurism that is a cornerstone of the U.S. economy (and is apparently nearly absent in Japan). These small businesses, which generally specialize in manufacturing photonic components, are rarely (at least initially) positioned to compete head-to-head with the larger, systems-oriented companies. Thus, they tend to specialize, filling niches that are unfilled or poorly filled by competitors. As the companies become established, their niches expand to include additional specialized, unique devices produced to meet the needs of particular subsets of customers, and they can grow rapidly. This custom business can generate a revenue stream capable of supporting the growth of a small company into a midsize enterprise, with annual incomes approaching $50 million; rarely, however, does it produce sustainable rapid growth capable of moving businesses beyond this middle scale.

Perhaps the clearest example of U.S. entrepreneurial success in photonics is the David Sarnoff Research Center (DSRC). DSRC, previously RCA Labs, was purchased by General Electric and later, in 1987, divested from GE to SRI. Through the period of these transitions, DSRC has become an exceedingly successful and profitable custom photonics contract house with a budget of $100 million/year. DSRC, while not itself entrepreneurial in origin, has unique policies in place to promote entrepreneurial activity among its staff. In many respects, the product development at DSRC parallels what occurs in large Japanese firms, in that teams of engineers are assembled early in the development of a new product, and the teams remain intact as the product matures from the initial conception through to the pilot manufacturing stage. The teams typically consist of six PhD-level engineers and a support staff. In the entrepreneurial spirit, there is a very compressed time scale between concept and pilot manufacturing: a first demonstration is usually expected in 6 to 12 months, and pilot production (100 to 1000 units) is expected in another 12 months.

The unique feature of the Sarnoff model is what occurs after pilot production has been demonstrated. At this point, a spin-off company is often organized to fully commercialize the product. The staff of the new company can include personnel involved in the initial project development within Sarnoff; however, DSRC does not always encourage its engineers to go with the spin-off, since that would tend to deplete DSRC staff. Rather, an incentive program is in place that allows the key personnel in the product development team to obtain equity shares in the spin-off while maintaining their positions at DSRC. This incentive allows for employees to hold financial interests in numerous enterprises over the years, with success limited only by the abilities of the employees themselves. This appears to be a powerful and highly motivating concept for employees at DSRC, leading to a very aggressive and successful group. To date, DSRC has spawned four spin-off enterprises; its vision is to create $1 billion of such enterprises by the year 2000.

The DSRC model is unique in both the United States and Japan, although it clearly provides a vehicle for continued growth of a large company through what is essentially entrepreneurial activity. Its major product developments necessarily are coupled to specific customer needs, and hence DSRC truly is a custom photonics materials, devices, and systems manufacturer.

The Role of the University

As in the United States, universities in Japan play a fundamental role in the development of photonic science and technology. However, the roles played by universities are considerably different in the United States and Japan. The differences may provide a basis from which to understand the divergent paths these two countries have taken in bringing innovations to the marketplace.

In Japan, there is relatively little emphasis placed on the achievement of PhD degrees before employment in the photonics field (in sharp contrast to the situation in the United States). Rather, the most talented students tend to enter the work environment after attainment of Bachelor's or Master's degrees in one of the several disciplines typically important in photonics. After obtaining stable employment with one of the several large companies currently involved in the field, the most promising employees are singled out by their employers for pursuit of advanced degrees. Typically, an employee is enrolled in a university with a national reputation (e.g., the University of Tokyo or Osaka University) and brought into the group of a professor who is doing work relevant (though not necessarily tied directly) to the goals of the sponsor company. Frequently, the specific professor chosen to educate an employee has had a prior relationship with the company, established through previous such traineeships. In this manner, the employee receives an education that is responsive to company needs, and the employee maintains a close relationship with both the company and the professor throughout his career. After obtaining the advanced degree, the graduate invariably returns to full-time work in his sponsoring company.

The sponsored graduate education of an employee in Japan rarely involves work to solve a critical problem of direct interest to the company; more often, the academic work is in areas of associated interest. The degree, therefore, may not be directly relevant to the company. The company sponsors advanced education and research for employees as a means of motivating and promoting personnel, as well as to gain status for the company.

Just as Japanese university labs do not often engage in research of direct technical relevance to the industrial sector, businesses in Japan do not generally turn to universities for solutions to commercial technical problems. University professors have tended to work on problems that are somewhat esoteric compared to the work of their U.S. counterparts. However, this trend is changing, particularly during Japan's current economic downturn. A new trend of universities working on problems of more immediate commercial interest is in part encouraged by the government through newly instituted programs that involve large groups of professors in cross-disciplinary projects. (The scale of this is similar to that of university consortia and centers in photonics now common in the United States.) In addition, Japanese companies do, at times, provide unrestricted funds to graduate programs or professors working in areas of great interest to them. University professors in Japan do not appear to do consulting work for commercial labs, whereas in the United States this provides a very active and successful mechanism of technology transfer.

In contrast to the Japanese system of employers routinely sponsoring employees' work toward advanced degrees, U.S. companies generally sponsor only research of immediate interest to their profitability, and they rarely engage in direct sponsorship of an advanced degree for one of their employees. When such sponsorship does occur, companies seldom determine what universities their employees should attend. That is, in general, opportunities in the United States for "on the job" education at the advanced degree level are rare, but when they occur, there is considerable latitude for employees to choose between universities.

Whereas the Japanese company's practice of steering selected employees into ongoing work-sponsored advanced degree programs at specific universities seems to reinforce employer-employee loyalty, the U.S. employee's latitude to pick his or her own program of study -- in the rare event the company agrees to sponsor those studies -- probably does not strengthen loyalty. In fact, it is not unusual for a U.S. student studying under company sponsorship to end up working for a different company upon completion of the degree. There are several reasons for this "decoupling" between career and company sponsorship of promising students: the two most frequently cited are the lack of job opportunities in the sponsoring company at the time of graduation, and, more typically, the ability of a very talented student to attract offers of better positions at competing companies.

It is worthwhile to speculate on the differing effects of Japanese companies' close involvement in the higher education of their employees and U.S. companies' more loosely bound system. As noted earlier, close identification of an employee with his employer, often engendered by lifelong employment by a single company, results in deep loyalty to the company. The mutual commitment on both sides of the Japanese employer/employee relationship has the effect of making corporate success the highest priority of the employee. Nothing in an employee's university experience appears to weaken this sense of priorities.

In contrast, attainment of advanced degrees in the United States is judged both inside and outside the university as a matter of personal success. Indeed, the achievement of a PhD degree depends in part on writing a thesis that clearly emphasizes the individual accomplishment of the student. There is no doubt that ambition for personal success and the building of an individual's professional reputation begins in and is nurtured by the U.S. educational system, and desire for personal recognition persists throughout an individual's career. This system has the clear advantage of maximizing original accomplishment and entrepreneurism, while having the disadvantage of minimizing the accomplishments of teamwork and group enterprise. The system in Japan, also reinforced by both university and employer, appears to engender almost the exact converse set of advantages and disadvantages, minimizing individual accomplishment and maximizing team accomplishment.

The Product Development and Technology Transfer Processes

Many reports have described the technology transfer process within a corporation in Japan, not only the transfer of information between the stages of development from conception to manufacture, but also the transfer of personnel along with the project. The JTEC panel went to some lengths to understand this technology transfer process and to compare it to similar processes in the United States. While the panel observed considerable variation among companies' styles of technology transfer within both Japan and the United States, even within individual companies, there do appear to be common themes within each country. Briefly, the differences in themes appear to be based on those cultural differences noted above that in Japan recognize team accomplishment and in the United States recognize individual accomplishment. As discussed in the previous section, this culture is reflected at all levels and is reinforced by the university training afforded engineering professionals in the two countries. To draw a more complete picture of the technology transfer process in Japan, it is helpful to examine a single company, Sanyo, as an example.

Technology transfer at Sanyo can occur by several different means, but in general it involves a three-level process starting with generation of new technologies in the central research center. A new technology is shifted to an appropriate development center for final development, and then it is finally placed into manufacturing. Sometimes, although not always, the transfer of technology is accompanied by the physical transfer between the research and development centers of members of the engineering staff. The panel's hosts at Sanyo described an "example transfer" of a project that might begin with a joint effort of ten researchers. Once the concept is proven in the lab, perhaps three of these engineers would move to the development center to facilitate technology transfer. Since the development and the research centers are located in different cities, moving the researchers would entail moving their families as well. According to the panel's hosts, the researchers make the move willingly, since they feel a sense of commitment and of ownership of the technology. In the final stage, one or two engineers might accompany the technology from the development center to the manufacturing facility (usually at the same location).

Engineers who go all the way from research to manufacturing do not generally return to the research environment, but rather go into the marketing and business side of the company. Those who go only to the development stage either stay there or sometimes return to the research center, where they take on the next research challenge. The total time from research to manufacturing is, of course, highly variable, depending on the technology. A laser technology transfer might take five years in the research stage, followed by two years in development; projects in very-large-scale integrated circuit (VLSI) design may take only six months at each level.

It must be emphasized that this movement of personnel to effect technology transfer is only one of several methods, even within Sanyo, and it generally applies in cases of immature technologies not yet firmly established in the development centers. In those cases, transferring experienced engineers from the research center is necessary to efficiently build a technology base in the development-oriented labs. In the case of new VLSI designs, only paper plans are typically transferred between research and development, since the technical foundation for that technology already exists in the development center.

The success of such a team-oriented product cycle depends critically on incentives provided to researchers to "move with the project," and there do appear to be considerable rewards given by Japanese companies to researchers for making the various career transitions. The JTEC panelists noted, however, that dedicated Japanese scientists and engineers do not seem particularly interested in moving all the way from the research to the manufacturing environment. Nevertheless, the main contrast between the U.S. and Japanese systems lies in the fact that since World War II and until recently, there has been very little incentive provided in the United States for researchers to follow their work into manufacture. This has changed somewhat in the last few years, due to the pressure on businesses to explore new means to maintain competitiveness in photonics. There is now some evidence of reward structures being instituted in U.S. industry that more adequately recognize accomplishment at the product manufacturing level; however, there remains a considerable gap in this recognition of manufacturing accomplishment between the industrial cultures of the United States and Japan. The JTEC panelists believe that this gap is a principal reason why Japan has been so much more successful than the United States in developing competitive products.

The Role of Government Funding

The JTEC panel made some attempts during the course of this study to assess the relative importance of government intervention and incentives to the growth of the optoelectronics industries of Japan and the United States. This topic is subject to a great degree of interpretation, since ferreting out the specific details in both countries with which to make a meaningful comparison is extremely difficult, if not impossible. For example, funding levels reported from government sources provided at the time of this study (DOC 1994) indicate that U.S. government funding of the U.S. optoelectronics industry far outstrips Japan's government funding of the Japanese optoelectronics industry. This simple comparison, however, neglects the fact that a significant amount of U.S. government funding is earmarked for development of specialized products that meet niche government needs, such as the infrared (IR) imaging arrays used by NASA or by the Department of Defense. Another problem in comparing the figures is that a considerable amount of Japan's government funding to improve competitiveness is via tax incentives and low-interest loans and channeled through funding agencies other than Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) and the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications (MPT), whose budgets are the most accessible to U.S. observers. Alternate funding sources are extremely difficult to track and to assess accurately.

Also, to fully appreciate the role that the Japanese government has played in the development of Japan's domestic optoelectronics industry, one must examine its historical involvement in the technology. Ten years ago, Japan's government (via MITI) and industry (via the Optoelectronics Industry and Technology Development Association, OITDA) joined forces in a large-scale program that catalyzed industrial activity in photonics. Jointly funded projects, which at the time appeared to be quite speculative (such as the funding of a large-scale program in optoelectronic integration), nevertheless provided incentives to companies by constructing a common vision of the anticipated role for optoelectronics in future technology. In addition, OITDA has since 1987 carried out a large range of feasibility studies of optoelectronic equipment at numerous sites worldwide as a means of setting standards and of gaining acceptance of this equipment in systems applications.

No such momentum toward technology development was encouraged on a similar scale in the United States at that time. Indeed, no U.S. counterpart to OITDA existed until the very recent establishment of the Optoelectronics Industry Development Association (OIDA). Furthermore, in 1985, virtually all of the U.S. optoelectronic technology developments were privately funded by the telecommunications industry or through the consumer industry, with government funding primarily channeled toward R&D for specific (non-commercial) defense- and space-related projects.

The JTEC panel's observation that current Japanese government support for optoelectronics appears to be small relative to its "long-range" or "blue sky" projects such as the Real World Computing Program must also be placed in context to be fully understood. The long-range programs are designed to provide future markets and applications for technologies being developed today. "Blue sky" funding must, therefore, be considered as part of the overall Japanese strategy for supporting optoelectronics. Furthermore, the MITI initiatives in optoelectronic integrated circuit developments put forth a decade ago were also considered "blue sky" initiatives at that time. Hence, Japanese government funding of optoelectronic research has long followed a pattern of investing in highly speculative, forward-looking projects, a few of which eventually take root and develop large payoffs.

Based on the large number of interrelated programs (though none large in itself) and practices by which the Japanese government directly and indirectly supports optoelectronics, it was apparent to the JTEC panel that optoelectronics is one of the most important technology fields currently being supported by the Japanese government, by Japan's industrial sector, and by Japanese society in general. Indeed, in light of the panel's conversations with Japanese hosts, it appears that optoelectronics is regarded as a major vehicle to propel Japanese electronic product dominance into the next century. In contrast, in the United States, optoelectronics is by no means held to be so crucial a technology. This is due in part to the greater diversity of the U.S. economy, which leads to a very heterogeneous array of interests and opportunities. While optoelectronics is regarded as important in the United States, this technology field has not achieved anywhere near the levels of visibility and significance that it has in Japan. The panel regards this as a significant long-term problem for the United States as it struggles to maintain its worldwide leadership in electronics technologies in the future. In this respect, the Japanese have a much clearer understanding of the crucial role that optoelectronics technology plays in the development of all future electronic and communication systems.

Relative Status of U.S. and Japanese Optoelectronics Technologies

Table ES.1 (Executive Summary, p. x) summarizes the JTEC panel's findings concerning the relative status of the five technologies the panel was charged to investigate in Japan and the United States, along with two "interdisciplinary" topics of importance -- consumer optoelectronics and custom optoelectronics -- that involve more than one of the major optoelectronic technologies. The relative position of a particular product developed within one of the major subject areas shown by the table may not be consistent with the overall assessment in that area. As noted above, for example, while Japanese companies clearly lead in consumer optoelectronics, Hewlett-Packard still remains the world leader in the production of LEDs for the consumer market.

It is the panel's overall assessment that Japan leads in consumer optoelectronics, that both countries are competitive in the areas of communications and networks, and that the United States holds a clear lead in custom optoelectronics.

For the United States, the largest untapped area of opportunity for growth appears to be optical sensor technology. As Table ES.1 shows, the Japanese R&D posture in this field lags behind that of the United States and is expected to remain behind. The optical sensors field has tremendous (if not explosive) growth potential in several important specialty areas that U.S. industry is well positioned to exploit. However, the sensors area is a somewhat fragmented segment of the optical component business, and hence it is difficult to predict the role this business will play in generating revenues in the immediate future.

One other area in which the panel felt the United States might succeed in capturing a significant market share is optical storage. While the Japanese photonics industry is at present ahead in both R&D and manufacturing, there exist opportunities for major advances to be made in both read/write device technology and storage media technology. Thus, there are some realistic opportunities for the U.S. optoelectronics industry to gain a foothold in the optical storage market by making advances in its rapidly evolving technologies.

Finally, it is important to put these various markets into context with regard to scale. According to a recent OIDA analysis (1993) of optoelectronic equipment, consumer optoelectronics equipment (concentrated primarily in CD memories of various types) accounts for approximately 50% of the worldwide optoelectronics market, while communications equipment constitutes only 3% of that market. The other major market segment is optical data storage -- again, a market clearly dominated by Japan. By the same estimates, data storage currently constitutes about 40% of the optoelectronic industry market. These proportions are expected to be maintained into the early part of the 21st Century. Thus, Japan now dominates some 90% of the world's optoelectronics markets and can be expected to continue its dominance for a number of years. The current size of the Japanese optoelectronic industry is $40 billion; that of the United States is $6 billion.


Published: February 1996; WTEC Hyper-Librarian