By Ian McConnell

A cutting-edge photonics design centre, serving markets including the space sector, is being created in Scotland by German-owned Alter Technology TÜV Nord.

The centre, which will be located in Livingston or at the University of Strathclyde’s Technology Innovation Centre in Glasgow, will focus on supporting development of highly integrated, miniaturised photonic products to be used in quantum-enabled positioning, navigation and timing systems and satellite optical communications.

Around €6 million (£5.1m) is to be invested by Alter in the design centre and in its existing UK manufacturing site at Livingston in the next three to five years to fund equipment, facilities, personnel, and other research and development costs.

Alter Technology, a Spanish-based unit of German group TÜV Nord, acquired the Livingston operation with the 2016 purchase of electronics company Optocap, which had been founded by Scottish Enterprise before being bought in 2009 by the firm’s management.

Stephen Duffy, who was business development director of Optocap and is now chief executive officer of Alter Technology TÜV NORD UK, told The Herald that the workforce at the Livingston site had risen from 30 at the time of the 2016 acquisition to around 50.

Around a further 20 jobs are expected to be created on the back of the €6m investment. As well as investment of around €5m to create the design centre, the Livingston manufacturing site will benefit from about €1m of capital expenditure in associated state-of-the-art, robotic-based manufacturing equipment and processes for photonic products.

Mr Duffy said that, of the 20 new recruits, it was likely that around 10 to 15 would be engineers in the design centre. The other five to 10 new recruits would be additional manufacturing staff in Livingston connected to the design-centre activity.

The Livingston operation uses robotic machines to work on semiconductor chips that can be as small as grains of sand and counts the European Space Agency among its customers.

Mr Duffy said: “We recently had some semiconductor components manufactured by us on the Mars Perseverance Rover mission, building on our space pedigree with [the] European Space Agency.”

If Livingston is chosen as the location for the design centre, the new facility would be on a different site from the existing manufacturing operation, Mr Duffy noted.

Alter Technology TÜV Nord said: “The new design centre will be strategically set up in the central belt of Scotland to tap into the strong quantum and space funding landscape within the UK and to be close to the vibrant Scottish photonics, quantum and space ecosystem and talent pool.”

Mr Duffy highlighted the importance of the business’s cooperation with UK universities and research institutes to the decision to locate the centre in Scotland.

He noted the operation’s “current interactions in terms of technology development” are with the University of Strathclyde and the University of Glasgow. He added the Fraunhofer Centre for Applied Photonics in Glasgow had been its key technology partner.

Mr Duffy described this as a “good example of bringing together Scottish industry, academia and research institutes”.

He said: “Today’s investment builds upon the significant progress already made within Alter UK on laser products for quantum applications and optical transceivers for intra-satellite communications and will provide the resources and expertise to fully exploit these emerging and growing markets.

“Funding from the UK National Quantum Technologies Programme and UKSA (UK Space Agency) and the close co-operation with UK universities and research and technology organisations has been a key factor in the decision to locate this centre in the UK. I look forward to the continued successful partnerships with our stakeholders as we advance our exciting product roadmap in the years ahead."

Luis Gomez, group chief executive of Alter and chairman of TÜV NORD Aerospace BU, said “The announcement today marks Alter Group’s further expansion in the UK following our acquisition of photonic and microelectronic manufacturing services company Optocap Ltd in 2016. Since that time, we have significantly grown our core manufacturing services offering and made significant progress in our photonic product portfolio. The opportunities for photonics to enable new quantum and space applications are huge but require significant advancements in both design and advanced manufacturing technologies. We are confident that this investment will position the group well in these future areas and trends”.

Dirk Stenkamp, chairman of the board of management at TÜV NORD AG, said “TÜV NORD Group is already a leader in the area of post-quantum cryptography and is driving the certification and standard activities for many of the new and emerging quantum applications.

“As part of our 2025 strategy we see photonics, quantum, space and secure comms as key enabling technologies to address many of the global mega-trends. We view this design centre as [a] key step to keep TÜV NORD at the forefront of crucial technological innovations for the next few decades. We are delighted to support our aerospace business unit and Alter UK with this investment and look forward to growing our presence further in the UK.”