GIBSON INDEX NEWSLETTER – MARCH2016 – Issue 117
Welcome to the UK’s most comprehensive and best-read Newsletter on Small Technology Companies, Academic Enterprise and Latest Innovation
Renewing our trade links with the Rest of the World – beyond Europe?
Prior to the UK joining the EU a significant proportion of the UK’s trade was with the former countries and continents of the Empire. Oddly, today, those countries and their higher-than-average growth economies and close, enduring links with the UK, appear to be this country’s main hope for an export-led recovery long term.
Most recently, Britain’s goods-trade gap with the European Union widened to a record, with exports in the last three months falling to the lowest in more than six years. Data from the Office of National Statistics showed a deficit of £8.1 billion in January and £23 billion over the past three months. Both figures are the highest since the data began in 1998. Exports to the 28-nation bloc in the quarter ended January declined to 32.7 billion pounds, the least since 2009.
The UK’s total goods trade deficit was at £10.3 billion in January, matching economists’ median estimate. There was a surplus on services, leaving the overall goods and services gap at £3.5 billion.
With the UK holding a referendum on EU membership in three months, every aspect of the economies’ relationship is being fought over by campaigners. Those who want to leave - a so-called “Brexit”, say the UK should focus on new markets, while those in favor of remaining argue Britain can benefit from the EU’s clout in global trade.
The widening in the trade gap with the EU in January was largely due to an increase in imports. The bloc remains Britain’s biggest trading partner, accounting for almost 50 percent of exports.
The ‘Vote Leave’ chief executive Matthew Elliott, albeit not an unbiased opinion,said “EU trade is shrinking,” said. “Yet we are held back from striking deals with emerging markets as we’ve given up control to Brussels.”
One glaring issue rarely spoken about in the EU is the continuing problem of ‘closed’ markets, such as the French engineering market, and Italian retail trade, or many areas of Germany’s food & drink manufacturing and distribution, where few foreign sellers are able to gain a foothold. If there is to be a UK trade recovery it is unlikely the EU will provide that opportunity for the UK. That liessolely with the ‘Rest of the World’.
The Newsletter is compiled and edited by Marcus Gibson, former Financial Times technology correspondent, who has been covering enterprise and innovation for more than 20 years. The Newsletter aims to highlight developments in at least 100+ companies each month. It is derived from the wide-ranging news-gathering operation that produces the Gibson Index SME database, which now contains profiles on more than 60,000 UK-based technology SMEs.
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COMPANY OF THE MONTH
Epos Now expanding their business into US, says 32-year-old owner Jacyn Heavens
Having grown the business to no less than 10,000 customers from a standing start in 2011, Jacyn now concentrates on strategy. His fast growing technology business Epos Now has launched into the US and its chief executive is now on a “recruitment mission” to target further growth in Norwich.
The firm, which provides retailers with software and electronic till equipment, has just opened a satellite office employing 15 people in Florida in a bid to grow its US market share.
The Future50 firm, based at Norwich Business Park, generates about 6,000 new leads a month and is expecting turnover to reach £10m for the first time this year. CTO Wayne Taylor leads Epos Now’s 30-strong programming team.
In 2015, it was ranked the fastest-growing tech firm in the East of England, and 13th nationally, in the 15th annual Sunday Times Hiscox Tech Track 100. Manufacturing its hardware in a company-owned factory in China has enabled a greater margin, and allowed the company to grow, according to the aptly named Mr Heavens. It currently employs 120 people.
Breaking with convention, Mr Heavens has avoided the US technical hub of San Francisco, opting to open an office in Orlando, to make the most of university graduates and lower costs. He hopes to grow the office to a staff of 80 within two years. He added: “Recent US legislation changes relating to chip and pin payments means that American businesses are currently having to make major upgrades to their payment systems; so it’s an opportune time for us to launch our offering into the US market.”
Further expansion could come from Germany and Japan he said. But despite a predicted 153pc growth next year, Mr Heavens said he had no current plans to look for outside investment.
“There are companies in our sector that have had $60m of investment,” said the very determined Mr Heavens. “I have been offered $30m for 30pc of the business but I started this because I wanted my own business. If I sell half it wouldn’t be my business.”
SME NEWS – ENGINEERING, CONSTRUCTION & ENERGY
92-metre airship gets ready for launch from hangar in Cardington, Bedfordshire
Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV) said its Airlander 10 had its engines, fins and mission module attached - as the world’s largest aircraft prepares for a return to flight in 2016.
So far, Airlander has secured over £60m of customer funding, more than £6m of grants and over £12m of equity funding. Further finance is being raised ahead of a planned Initial Public Offering on the Alternative Investment Market (AIM).
The 92m airship, designed by technical director Mike Durham, has recently had its aft carbon composite battens added, which will provide structural support to the rear engines. Other components attached in the final weeks of 2015 include the port tailcone, as well as the first engine pylon. In addition, Airlander’s flight simulator is now operational, and engine testing which began in February 2015 is ongoing.
Airlander’s four 325hp, 4l V8 direct injection, turbocharged diesel engines will enable the aircraft to fly for five days non-stop. Two engines will be mounted forward on the hull and two on the stern for cruise operation. All four are configured in ducts with blown vanes to allow vectored thrust for take-off and landing.
The ability to land on almost any surface without the need for airport infrastructure, on top of the aircraft’s cargo-carrying capacity, means Airlander has significant potential to disrupt the air-freight market. According to HAV, the market for Airlander has been independently validated at more than $50bn over the next 20 years, and could create over 1,800 high-tech jobs in the UK. In the past year, the company has expanded its workforce from 20 to 115.
Back in November, HAV reached an important milestone when Airlander received its first helium fill and was floated to the front of the 248m hangar in Cardington, Bedfordshire where it is housed. Ground tests on the aircraft are due to take place over the coming weeks, with the maiden test flight scheduled for the first quarter of 2016.
Mirus Aircraft Seating awarded grant to create manufacturing facility in Norfolk
The team at Mirus are applying expertise developed in the automotive and motorsport industries to the world of aviation and are set to unveil their lightweight economy seat at an aviation exhibition to be held in Hamburg, Germany, in April 2016 with production beginning soon after.
It will result in 40 new jobs, including production technicians, supply chain and administration staff. It also won a multi-million pound contract to manufacture tens of thousands of aircraft seats for an international airline.
Mirus Aircraft Seating Ltd is an innovative new entrant in the aircraft seating market. Based near Norfolk Mirus is a rapidly growing company and already has a launch customer for its first generation lightweight economy aircraft seat, which will be displayed at the Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg (AIX) in 2016. Mirus will also showcase another tested design at the show, pushing the boundaries and perceptions of what is possible in aircraft seating design to the limits.
Ben McGuire, chief operating officer of Mirus, said: “The support from New Anglia LEP and South Norfolk Council was instrumental for getting the business off the ground.
“The LEP funding gave us credibility which helped to secure more investment to equip the factory. Coupled with a talented workforce which has the skills to work in the aviation industry this meant that we chose to locate the business in the East of England.”
Since its launch in 2013, the Growing Business Fund has awarded £13.5million in grants to 244 businesses across Norfolk and Suffolk, which will help create more than 1,700 new jobs and release £77m of private sector investment.
Chris Starkie, managing director of New Anglia LEP, said: “The Growing Business Fund is helping to power growth for the best and brightest manufacturing businesses in Norfolk and Suffolk, businesses that are injecting innovation into the way they work and setting themselves apart from the rest of the world.”
Magnomatics, Rolls-Royce exploreproduction of magnet-driven azimuth thrusters
Rolls-Royce Marine is leading a three-year, £1.7 million project investigating propulsion applications of a magnetically geared motor developed by Sheffield-based company Magnomatics.
The tripartite cooperation, with high-voltage induction motor specialist ATB Laurence Scott also involved, will see the partners design, manufacture and test a new 2.5MW marine propulsion motor, based on Magnomatics’ magnetically geared propulsion motor.
Rolls-Royce is already exploring how to put permanent magnet-driven azimuth thrusters into commercial production. The motor features inner and outer rings of permanent magnets, with a static outer ring and rotating inner ring. A middle rotating ring of steel segments alters the magnetic field between the two rings of permanent magnets, causing the middle steel ring and the inner magnet ring to rotate at difference speeds and creating a gearing effect. A stator around the stationary outer ring enables greater magnetic force.
As torque is transferred non-mechanically and parts do not touch, there is no need for lubrication. According to Magnomatics, the system – known as the pseudo direct drive (PDD) gear – is more than 99% efficient at full load and highly efficient at part loads. It is said to require little maintenance and boasts low noise and vibration.
In its abstract submission to funding agencyInnovate UK, which is contributing £926,000 to the project, Rolls-Royce noted that the motor “may offer significant benefits for marine propulsion by increasing the electrical efficiency by up to 7% compared to existing state of the art electrical machines”.
The company added: “It is estimated that the use of this machine within a vessel propulsion system could increase the total vessel efficiency by up to 10% and deliver a very low maintenance and robust propulsion system, suitable for a range of new build vessels and retrofits. The aggregated efficiency benefits and low operational maintenance advantages would allow more flexible propulsion systems to be used on many types of vessels leading to an improvement in average fleet efficiency and therefore emission reduction.”
Northumberland-based startup builds air-powered net launcher against drones
OpenWorks Engineering has produced the SkyWall, a new shoulder-mounted, compressed-air launcher that fires shells containing a net and parachute to capture and bring a drone back to the ground without damaging it. The missile-shaped projectile contains the net and parachute to capture the drone and bring it safely to the ground.
The Northumberland firm’s launcher looks like something out of a computer game, complete with a targeting computer and holographic scope to predict a drone’s flight, which the company says will help police to snag potentially dangerous targets.
The launcher weighs 10kg, uses compressed air and can fire almost silently at drones up to 100m away, reloading in 8 seconds, according to the company. The efficacy of the SkyWall will rely on the accuracy of the human controlling the launcher, as well as the drone not changing direction after the projectile has been launched.
The managing director of OpenWorks Engineering, Chris Down, said: “OpenWorks Engineering believes that security enforcement authorities need a cost-effective and proportionate way of protecting the public and high-profile individuals and we wanted to put a system on the market that offered just that.”
Drones are becoming an increasingly difficult problem. The small, versatile machines, which can be bought for less than £100, can fly virtually unrestricted over and within sensitive areas. Recent events at airports, the White House, around German chancellor Angela Merkel, and sporting events – where a camera drone narrowly missed downhill skiing champion Marcel Hirscher on a slope in Italy – have highlighted the need for drone control and safety.
The SkyWall is among other technology-based solutions dubbed drone falconry, where a drone fires a net at another drone. Other solutions use radio-frequency jammers to block the control of drones, however, these can interfere with other nearby devices such as radios and mobile phones.
Wales-based Nu Instruments supply measuring equipment to Nasa and universities
The precision equipment made by Wrexham-based Nu Instruments is used in everything from pioneering new techniques in cancer diagnosis to analysing items which fall from outer space.
Nu Instruments, which in 2015 celebrated its 20th anniversary, manufactures and installs a range of sophisticated measuring instruments which are snapped up by universities, laboratories and commercial organisations across the world, including Nasa.
The state-of-the-art mass spectrometers it makes at its base on Wrexham Industrial Estate provide the ability to analyse many materials. One instrument was used in the United States to determine the origins of a murder victim.
MD Alan McCall, 58, set up Nu Instruments in partnership with two leading scientists: Dr Philip Freedman, the innovator behind the technology, and the well-known entrepreneurial Professor Keith O’Nions, who wanted his technical manufacturing and business expertise to assist in helping develop and then produce a new generation of inorganic mass spectrometers.
Mr McCall said: “Together in 1995 we set up Nu Instruments in just a single room within the current premises. At first we had just one employee and now we have about 130, including many highly qualified scientists, working at our Wrexham base and at the operations we have set up in China and Japan.
“We have agents in many countries and sell and install our mass spectrometers on every continent of the world apart from Antarctica at a cost of between £80,000 and £1.8m each.We make 10 different types of mass spectrometer and are currently the only provider in the world producing two of them. Although it’s not had a very high profile our company is something of a hidden gem and in the past five years turnover has grown from £4.7m to £18m.”
Mr McCall added: “There is high demand for our spectrometers from leading universities across the world, including Oxford, Cambridge and latterly Cardiff to Harvard in the States, which use them on a range of research projects. We sell our instruments to many national laboratories and commercial groups internationally, including the mining industry in Japan which uses them for metal analysis to help produce the purest copper in the world.
Specialist industrial design group in the Black Country enjoys record year
Futura Group, which works with the likes of JaguarLand Rover, Bentley and McLaren, saw sales top£25m. The group, which includes Futura Design, Futura Recruitment, Clark Abel and Futura Deutschland, employs 290 staff. The group provides design, technical recruitment and prototyping through its five companies.
In the past year, new orders worth £3m pushed revenues to £25m and led to the creation of 50 jobs across its studios in Oldbury and Wootton Wawen in Warwickshire.
“The recent growth has been driven by the development of our studios, with the design departments of all of the UK’s major automotive OEMs taking full advantage of Futura’s model creation capabilities,” said group MDPaul Cadman. “Everyone is looking to create models that are lighter, produce less emissions yet still offer even better comfort and performance.”
After securing backing from the Regional Growth Fund and Green Bridge, Futura has invested more than £2m on the two facilities comprising five design studios, two workshops and three paint booths.
Cadman added: “Adding value and innovation in design are the UK’s biggest selling points and we have to do everything we can to build on this competitive advantage.
“This means investing in the latest technology and ensuring we develop the most skilled designers and engineers in the world…with this in mind we have just committed to training 20 CAD specialists by 2017.”