Long-term development in Lithuania is driven by the interaction between industry, science and education and is mainly centered around a knowledge-based economy. This, in turn, leads to the establishment and growth of high-tech companies producing high added value and thus creating job opportunities for top professionals in Europe.
This report is about one of the strongest areas of Lithuania’s knowledge-based economy – the laser industry.
The laser industry, which encompasses biotechnology, information technology (IT) and mechatronics, is the most advanced field of production in the country.
The output of the Lithuanian laser sector consists of different kinds of lasers, optics, electronics, mechanical laser elements, assemblies, components and different combinations thereof. It is even common for the same product to have different names among different customers. For example, one customer needs a multicolor laser, another customer wants to have a parametric oscillator, while another one requests an optical device to be integrated into the system.
Research into laser technology in Lithuania has been ongoing for almost 50 years, while the training of top professionals in the field has been going on for 40 years. The Lithuanian laser industry as a whole has just celebrated its 30th anniversary. The creativity and determination of those working in the industry have turned Lithuanian laser technology into a world-leader whose top-quality goods are exported to developed countries around the world. Lithuanian scientists working in the field are well-known, frequently cited and have presented their research at some of the most prestigious conferences in the world.
The growth of the laser industry over the last six years has truly impressed the Lithuanian public. Sales have more than doubled from EUR 29.4 million in 2009 to 70 million in 2014. About 90% of production is for export. A decade ago, there were ten companies working in the industry; by 2015 there were 25 companies. Initially, the industry was focused on scientific lasers but in recent years it has expanded to produce products tailor-made for industrial production. Currently, such lasers and related equipment account for a quarter of all sales.
The relationship between the Lithuanian laser industry and Japan is an encouraging one. In 1993, Lithuanian lasers were the only Lithuanian product being exported to Japan. Over the past six years, however, they have constituted between 10-25% of all exports to Japan.
It should be noted that the state of the laser industry regarding exports is quite unusual. Although there is constant growth in the volume of exports, the industry is also experiencing a relative decrease in export share. This paradox can be easily explained. Twenty years ago, virtually no one in Lithuania could have afforded Lithuanian laser products; thus all products were exported. Nowadays, in contrast, Lithuanian companies and scientific institutions can acquire world-class goods made in Lithuania.
At first glance the contribution of the laser industry towards Lithuania’s GDP may seem small. However, in relative terms, the added value of its products is almost three times greater than the industry average.
Saulėtekis (Sunrise) is an important new project that is bringing together business and laser production. The project is rapidly growing, resulting in new areas and opportunities for cooperation between laser scientists and business. Ten years ago, the laser industry accounted for only 1% of GDP, and seemed like something of a Utopian dream. But with the rapid growth of the industry in recent years, it has become a driving force for the Lithuanian economy.
The Lithuanian laser industry
One of the key factors in the success of the Lithuanian laser industry is the continuous and diverse collaboration between researchers from scientific institutions and engineers from the private sector. This has given rise to a dynamic and constantly expanding expertise in cutting-edge laser technology.
The products manufactured by the Lithuanian laser sector are extremely diverse. They include all kinds of lasers, optics, electronics, mechanical laser components, assemblies, elements and other combinations.
After starting out with scientific lasers 30 years ago, the Lithuanian laser sector has recently also gained a foothold in the industrial laser market, which exceeds scientific lasers by an order of magnitude (Laser Focus World, January 2015. Laser Marketplace 2015). In 2014, a third of total sales were for the industrial market.
Both the pioneering Lithuanian laser companies and the most recent industry players were all established by private initiative without any foreign investment or direct support from the government.
To begin with, there was a strong focus on collaborating with domestic scientists but now there is also close collaboration with foreign universities. Within two decades the national added value chain has developed: ideas for new products produced in research labs are propagated through the manufacturing chain all the way to the wider global network of distributors and service branches.
In 2014, the Lithuanian laser industry generated up to EUR 70 million in sales. It has enjoyed an annual average growth rate of more than 15% and a similarly high level of growth is predicted for the next few years.
Research on Lithuanian lasers
Laser science and technology in Lithuania started 50 years ago, just a few years after the invention of the laser. Lasers have since become ubiquitous in a wide range of research and development areas, from physical lasers and optical technologies to biomedical lasers.
The following avenues of scientific research have been pursued over the past decades:
Source: Laser Fair