Num­bers & Facts

Com­pa­nies 180
Sales (in € *109) ~3,3
R&D quote 12 %
Export share of sales 67 %
Total work­force (indus­try & research) 16.200
Work­force in industry 14.600
Work­force in research 1.600
Average com­pany size (employees) ~81
Trai­nees ~520
Trai­nee percentage ~3,3 %
Grafik_Titel_PhotonicsReport-2019 (003)

This and fur­ther infor­ma­tion can be found in the bien­nial ›Opto­Net PHOTONICS Report 2019‹, which pro­vi­des infor­ma­tion on cur­rent business
figu­res, per­son­nel fore­casts, mar­ket ori­en­ta­tion and exports.

Down­load: Opto­Net PHOTONICS Report 


Jena is the hub of the pho­to­nics indus­try in Thu­rin­gia. Totally 108 busi­nesses with altog­e­ther 9,000 employees are regis­tered in Jena and the sur­roun­ding Saale-Holz­land Dis­trict. They gene­rate about 60% of the sales in the indus­try. Other major sites are the dis­tricts of Schmal­kal­den-Mei­nin­gen, Erfurt and the Ilm Dis­trict, in addi­tion to the Saale-Orla district.

Regional Distribution of Companies


Most firms are small or of medium size. The average num­ber of jobs is about 80. Totally 43% of all employees work in com­pa­nies with a staff bet­ween 11 and 49 peo­ple. Only a few have per­son­nel of more than 250. The two big­gest employ­ers are ZEISS and JENOPTIK with a com­bi­ned total work­force of 3,700.


When asked about their eco­no­mic situa­tion, the over­whel­ming majo­rity of busi­nesses say their sta­tus is >very good< (32%) or >good< (51%). The order back­log is good despite the slightly wea­k­ened eco­no­mic fore­cast at the begin­ning of 2019. The posi­tive deve­lo­p­ment over the last few years allo­wed them to invest in pro­duc­tion capa­ci­ties and to fur­ther streng­then their rese­arch and development.

More than 65% of all busi­nesses were able to increase their tur­no­ver since 2017; only 3% say they had dif­fi­cul­ties in win­ning new orders. Total sales con­tin­ued to rise and scored 3.3bn Euro. This accounts for 9% of the sales in the indus­try in all of Ger­many (source: SPECTARIS).

Two in three of those inter­viewed expect sales to rise fur­ther in 2019, 35% say their ear­nings will remain on the prior-year level; only few expect a decline in sales. Thus, the busi­ness cli­mate in the pho­to­nics indus­try has sta­bi­li­zed on a pro­mi­sing level in com­pa­ri­son to 2017. It remains to be seen how the curr­ently aba­ting dyna­mics in the glo­bal eco­no­mic deve­lo­p­ment will affect the industry.

Totally 67% of sales were gene­ra­ted abroad in 2018. Com­pared to an average 36% export in other manu­fac­tu­ring indus­tries in Thu­rin­gia (Sta­tis­ti­cal Office of the State of Thu­rin­gia), the pho­to­nics indus­try is an extre­mely powerful exporter.

The mar­kets to which most sales are made remain the U.S., China and Wes­tern Europe. All busi­nesses asked see the hig­hest poten­tial in these regi­ons also in future. Those inter­viewed are wat­ching deve­lo­p­ments like the immi­nent exit of Bri­tain from the Euro­pean Union, com­mer­cial dis­pu­tes or natio­nal pro­tec­tion­ism with concern.

One fourth of all busi­nesses is alre­ady affec­ted directly by these issues, ano­ther 35% expect nega­tive con­se­quen­ces for the future. More than half of those inter­viewed expect risks to occur mainly in their busi­ness rela­ti­ons with the United Sta­tes, China or the UK.


The tech­no­logy spec­trum of Thuringia’s pho­to­nics indus­try is uni­que, even com­pared internationally.

No other hub can boast a simi­lar den­sity of busi­nesses in optics or mecha­nics, metro­logy and sen­sors, laser tech­no­logy and opto-elec­tro­nics cove­ring, wit­hout excep­tion, all value-added areas in photonics.

Altog­e­ther seven main tech­no­lo­gi­cal fields can be iden­ti­fied. Many busi­nesses are active in more than one field. The cate­gory into which a busi­ness is pla­ced below depends on their main busi­ness seg­ment. As expec­ted, there were hardly any chan­ges in com­pa­ri­son with the inter­view two years ago. Only pho­to­vol­taics lost its signi­fi­cance after the clo­se­down of Solar World in Arn­stadt, where only a small num­ber of jobs still exist. The remai­ning firms are now pla­ced in the opto-elec­tro­nics segment.

The Thu­rin­gian pho­to­nics busi­nesses sell pro­ducts and tech­no­lo­gies and pro­vide ser­vices mainly to cus­to­mers in other highly spe­cia­li­zed indus­tries. Almost no pro­ducts are sold to end con­su­mers. The Num­ber One tar­get area is indus­trial pro­duc­tion, fol­lo­wed by health eco­nomy and pro­duc­tion-rela­ted ser­vices. Opti­cal com­pon­ents such as object len­ses, sen­sors and came­ras are important parts of modern pro­duc­tion systems.

Lasers enable effi­ci­ent and high-pre­cis­ion machi­ning and pro­ces­sing of metal, glass and pla­s­tics. Opti­cal mea­su­ring instru­ments ensure pre­cis­ion in pro­duc­tion. Ima­ging pro­ces­ses have become important tools in medi­cal dia­gno­stics. Sur­gi­cal micro­sco­pes, spe­cial light­ing sys­tems and spe­cial-pur­pose lasers for dia­gno­stics and sur­gery have become an inher­ent part of modern medi­cal care.

Opti­cal mea­su­ring and ana­ly­ti­cal pro­ces­ses, methods of indus­trial image pro­ces­sing or of light and color mea­su­ring tech­no­logy are pre­con­di­ti­ons for the deve­lo­p­ment of com­pe­ti­tive pro­ducts and effi­ci­ent manu­fac­tu­ring pro­ces­ses in today’s environments.

Spen­ding on rese­arch and deve­lo­p­ment rea­ches a new all-time high. In 2018, busi­nesses inves­ted 12% of their sales, i.e. nearly 400million euro, in inno­va­tion. Thanks to that rese­arch effort, busi­nesses say they occupy lea­ding posi­ti­ons (49%) or are even tech­no­logy lea­der­ship (39%) in their respec­tive mar­ket segment.

During the last two years, many busi­nesses have inves­ted in new plant and machi­nery, purcha­sed new mea­su­ring and labo­ra­tory equip­ment and had own cor­po­rate soft­ware pro­ducts developed.

Digi­tiza­tion is making ever deeper inroads. A large majo­rity (75%) of busi­nesses has plans for invest­ments in this area in the next two years. The focus is not only on adop­ting or expan­ding soft­ware-based plan­ning sys­tems (80 %) or lin­ked auto­ma­tion tech­ni­ques in manu­fac­tu­ring (32 %), incre­asingly digi­tal tech­no­lo­gies are also inte­gra­ted in pro­duct deve­lo­p­ment (70 %).

Many of those asked said they expec­ted that digi­tiza­tion would boost sales and streng­then the orga­niza­tion of sup­ply chains in this highly spe­cia­li­zed and inno­va­tive segment.


The very good busi­ness situa­tion during the last two years crea­ted many new jobs. About 400 new employees found jobs in indus­try or rese­arch. Almost one in four of those asked sta­ted they had recrui­ted new per­son­nel in sub­stan­tial num­bers during the last two years, ano­ther 35% increased their staff levels at least signi­fi­cantly. Staff reduc­tion was not an issue.

This means that totally 16,200 spe­cia­lists are employed in the pho­to­nics indus­try of Thu­rin­gia, 1,600 of them at uni­ver­si­ties or extra-uni­ver­sity rese­arch insti­tu­ti­ons. Asked about employ­ment expec­ta­ti­ons for the cur­rent year, the ans­wers were ›distinctly more‹ (10%) or ›more‹ (58%) employees. The high-tech­no­logy firms in the pho­to­nics sec­tor employ highly qua­li­fied per­son­nel for the most part. At the time of the inter­view, 40 % had a uni­ver­sity degree, every other employee had spe­cia­li­zed skills.


At the time of the inter­view, 68% of all com­pa­nies repor­ted vacan­cies. New employees are not only wan­ted by the big play­ers in the indus­try, small and medium-size firms are also loo­king for many new recruits. More than 600 vacant jobs in pro­duc­tion, design or deve­lo­p­ment are adver­ti­sed but fin­ding inte­res­ted appli­cants is beco­ming incre­asingly dif­fi­cult, inter­view­ees said. Over 70% of all busi­nesses have pro­blems fin­ding sui­ta­ble employees for jobs in pro­duc­tion and design. A little less than 60% believe that the skil­led aca­de­mic per­son­nel pool is ›rather poor‹ (43%) or ›very poor‹ (15%). As a rule, it takes seve­ral months to fill an adver­ti­sed vacancy.

Short of 70 % of those inter­viewed claim that they would have a few more (58%) or signi­fi­cantly more (10%) employees today were it not for the scar­city of qua­li­fied per­son­nel felt for a cou­ple of years. Only one in three busi­nesses replied they were able to fill all vacan­cies adequately.

The nega­tive impli­ca­ti­ons of the lack of per­son­nel are still limi­ted mainly to the exe­cu­tion of purchase orders but no less than 45% of busi­nesses say they had been able to imple­ment fewer new deve­lo­p­ments only. At the same time, 40% of the firms invest in auto­ma­tion, a little less than one fourth shifts at least part of their pro­duc­tion capa­ci­ties to other regions.