Philips started manufacturing incandescent lamps in 1891. Gradually, it became clear that in order to keep up with competition, it was needed to start a physics laboratory. Therefore, in 1914 Dr. Gilles Holst was hired. Under his leadership, this laboratory (then known as the Natuurkundig Laboratorium ('Nat. Lab.'). became a major industrial research laboratory, a center of technical competence and innovation.
In the early years, the work done in the laboratory was aimed at improving incandescent lamps, and understanding materials and manufacturing processes. However, within a few years, the work diversified into new areas such as gas discharge lamps, X-ray tubes, and radio valves.
When Philips decided to produce radio sets, the activities in Research supported this by focusing on improving the properties of radio valves, such as the invention of the pentode as well as developing broadcasting and receiving technology. Improving materials with focus on magnetic materials let to the invention of the Rotary shaving system.. Work on electronic systems led to experiments in TV and sound recording. Also X-ray tubes were improved in order to improve the X-ray diagnostic equipment by lowering the dose and improve image quality.
After his retirement in 1946, Dr. Gilles Holst was succeeded by Hendrik Casimir, who advocated that Research should become a cradle for creating future options for the company. This was a period of expansion for Philips. The development of television systems built on research carried out in the 1930’s, and TV sets became a mass-produced consumer product. Transistor technology – obtained by an IP exchange with Bell Labs – initiated research into semiconductor materials and processing. Philips Research built up a strong patent position in magnetic materials, leading to the compact audio cassette (1963) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Laboratories were started in England, France, Germany and the USA.
During this period, Research made some very important contributions that created very profitable products, such as the Plumbicon, a pick-up tube for television cameras that every company in the television broadcasting business had to have to remain compatible. Another success was LOCOS (LOCal Oxidation of Silicon), a silicon process technology to create local silicon dioxide areas on silicon to insulate the individual MOS transistors from each other. In the IC world of the 1980’s, no company could ignore LOCOS. Both innovations have brought Philips a lot of income and cross-licenses from intellectual property rights.
From the early 1970’s, Research became more oriented towards converting scientific developments into Philips products rather than exploring new scientific fields. The development of digital optical information storage on a disc can be considered as one of the major breakthroughs Philips Research has created in the consumer electronics area. On the basis of its broad capabilities in Research, Philips (together with Sony) launched the highly successful compact disc in 1979. Later on, this success was repeated with other optical storage formats, such as DVD and Blu-ray Disc.
During this period, many innovations were created in the fields of computers, video recording, and submicron ICs, but they did not always lead to business successes for Philips in the market. Research in areas like data compression and other data processing techniques led to major innovations in television, and in the area of semiconductor technology, high precision combined with miniaturization led to the creation of a wafer stepper, laying the basis for ASML. In the medical sphere, Research made great strides forward in magnetic resonance imaging and ultrasound.
In the mid-1990’s, Philips concentrated on high-volume electronics such as TVs, recording and mobile telephones. This was reflected in the activities done within Research with focus on displays, perception research, magnetic recording, and signal processing. However, gradually Philips started changing its business portfolio. The Components and Semi¬conductor divisions as well as the display, audio and television activities were spun off – in 2006, Philips sold 80% of its Semiconductors business as a new independent company, NXP, was created.
From that point onwards, there was increasing focus on healthcare, lighting, and consumer products in the areas of health and well-being. The role of the Medical division was expanded to become a Healthcare sector. In Lighting, focus has shifted to LEDification and to providing services using light, and in Consumer Lifestyle, there is a strong focus on wellness and well-being products. These changes meant that research activities in the field of electrical engineering, data processing or displays had to be re-directed to healthcare-related topics, and many researchers have become experts in a completely new area. Moreover, with the growing importance of emerging economies, laboratories were created in India and China.
Philips Research today
Philips Research is a co-creation innovation partner for all of the Philips businesses in the areas of medical technology, personal care, digitization, and LED-based lighting systems. Together they drive to continue delivering meaningful innovations.
In recent years, Philips Research’s expertise has contributed to innovations such as the AlluraClarity interventional X-ray system that achieves excellent visibility at low X-ray dose levels, the world’s most energy-efficient LED lamp breaking the 200 lumens per watt barrier, and the AirFloss oral healthcare technology from Philips Sonicare.
Today, Philips is focused on delivering personalized experiences in the digital realm through a deep understanding of people’s needs and translating that into solutions.
The Philips hue personal wireless lighting system, the Philips Smart AirPurifier and a range of complete solutions for minimally-invasive surgical procedures for healthcare, including smart catheters and systems that combine imaging and navigation tools, testify how Philips is leading in innovating in the digital world to find new insights and bring value and meaning to people.