The future of photonics markets in China

We started roughly two years ago to investigate Chinese photonics markets to understand the market potential for Spectral Engines OEM sensors. I joined in Spectral Engines at that time. I have to say I was very impressed by the technology from this innovative start-up company already in our first meetings. It was immediately clear for me that there must be good marketing potential in China for the products of Spectral Engines thanks to obvious benefits related into Spectral Engines’ products, the maturity of products and, of course, very innovative team. So it was natural to join in the team by bringing my cultural understanding about Chinese partner candidates and develop market entry model to China. I used to work at Nokia 17 years and my role was to build product strategies and portfolio and I was also responsible of Asia and Pacific product management. This gave a good starting point to help Spectral Engines team to position their technology particularly in China market.


Well-developed bench-top and in-line NIRS market in China

In China, research and development in NIR spectroscopy (NIRS) technology can be traced back to the 1970s. The NIRS ecosystem gradually formed its shape by the 1990s with investment and business activities ramped up covering technology, products, applications and solutions. I studied Chinese markets for material sensing more or less 6 months first and noticed that the typical NIRS application areas in China are more or less similar to those in global market and have developed well in agriculture, food & feed, tobacco, oil refining, and pharmaceutical sectors. Of course there are some special strong applications, for example, NIRS instruments are widely used in tobacco industry with established industry standards, covering raw material selection, process monitoring, flavor analysis and other applications. Chinese liquor brewers have widely adopted NIRS technology to monitor fermentation process. Those applications range from bench-top in lab, to on-site portable devices, and integrated in-line process solutions. Maybe the biggest difference I noticed was that China market offers more opportunities to field inspection applications compared to our initiative assumptions.


Solid first step to China market

About in a year ago, we were ready to select the partner with whom we can accelerate our market entry strategy. Spectral Engines entered China market by partnering with Hanon Instruments, one of the leading analytical instrument manufacturers and distributers in China. Hanon’s main customer sectors include pharmaceutical, food, agriculture, petrochemical, environment/pollution control etc., which align well with Spectral Engines’ target customer industries. Hanon and Spectral Engines also share some similar long-term vision about future potential of NIR sensors in consumer and mass-market applications. It was so obvious choice to select partner who has also technical expertise to support customer request and technical questions.


I was very pleased when Spectral Engines’ entry into China market through Hanon partnership was listed as one of the top events of NIR China market in 2017 by the #1 industry online portal As the first truly scalable low-cost miniature NIRS sensor family, NIRONE products immediately received attention from large number of potential customers with tens of evaluation and pilot projects started during the first six months already after product launch in China. At the same time, we have paid attention to train industrial and research partners in joint seminars with Hanon. One highlight of the year has been the Sixth Asian NIR Symposium (ANS2018) which was held during June 21 - June 24, 2018 at the Yunnan Expo Garden Hotel in Kunming, China. I gave a talk about our newest NIRONE Scanner platform which combines affordable sensor platform and combined with modern cloud computing algorithms. The talk was well taken by audience and hopefully we can publish some collaboration partnerships next year.


High demand for scalable miniature NIRS sensors and systems

For long time, Chinese customers have seen the potential of miniature NIRS sensors that may expand NIRS use cases and enable totally new applications. In response to such market demand, there have been increasing investment and attempts to develop NIRS sensors based on commercial components or in-house technology in China since the last decade. However there had not been any technically proven and commercially scalable NIR spectroscopy products matching the performance and cost level of Spectral Engines’ offering. Customers commented that NIRONE range of sensors, devices and system would enable them ‘to focus on developing innovative NIR applications based on a mature, scalable and cost-effective platform’.


With support from Spectral Engines, our partners have developed successful prototype products/solutions with potential volume reaching hundreds or even thousands units in petrochemical and liquor/beverage industry.  There are also many early concepts developed targeting consumer market. We are confident on the NIRS market growth in China and looking forward to emerging of some ‘killer apps’ from China market, hopefully, sooner than later. This has been a unique opportunity also for me to see Finnish high-tech product market entry to competitive and challenging Chinese market. Though we are still in early phase to estimate all the results at this point, I’m very convinced about the customer feedback we have got so far - we are on the right track!


By Jian Ni, Business Development Manager, China