Microscope and 3D digital inspection and measurement specialist, Vision Engineering has created a Technology Exploitation Division to explore new business opportunities for its innovations and strengthen the manufacturing services and capability it offers to potential partners. Ed Hill hears more.
It’s one thing to have a great idea for a new product but another entirely to go through the processes of design, sourcing, prototyping, certification to full blown manufacturing. There are numerous promising start-ups that have fallen into the so called ‘valley of death’ – that difficult gap between initial R&D through to design for manufacture, production, let alone distribution and marketing.
It’s at this point that having an experienced partner to assist on that journey could be invaluable, and what better partner than one of the UK’s most established and recognised companies for its own technical innovations and manufacturing capability; Vision Engineering.
Widely recognised and awarded for its expertise in both optical and digital microscopes and imaging systems – including a Queen’s Award for Enterprise in 2020 for its Lynx EVO stereo microscope – the Send, Surrey-based company has been offering its manufacturing services for some time to other companies, start-ups or entrepreneurs who may need help with manufacturing expertise.
Additionally, Vision is now expanding its reach into wider markets utilising its own technology advances for a broader range of applications beyond microscopes and inspection, particularly its TRITEQ³ advanced 3D viewing innovation used on the DRV-Z1 (Deep Reality Viewer) that enables the operator to see a clear stereo high-definition 3D image of the subject on an ergonomic screen rather than through an eyepiece.
This explains the timing of Harry Curtis’ appointment as head of technology exploitation at the company, a role looking to explore more diverse markets for Vision but also develop partnerships utilising its design for manufacture, production engineering and even marketing expertise to achieve what it calls ‘Concept to Consumer’.
In a strategic move, Vision has expanded its own manufacturing capability with the acquisition last year of Hinckley-based Milturn Precision Engineering into the group, a longtime provider of advanced machining and anodising services to Vision, further bolstering its subcontracting services that are available.
Added capacity and capability
“The acquisition of Milturn significantly increases the capacity of the Vision Group and is part of our strategic aim to grow as a company,” Mr Curtis comments. “Since the acquisition we have been working with their talented group of machinists and other staff to streamline and modernise manufacturing practices and increase production.”
Explaining Vision’s aim to reach wider markets he continues: “With the launch of our DRV digital stereo viewer we saw the potential that innovation has in lots of other sectors, so the TRITEQ³ division was set up to find new avenues and applications where we can apply the technology outside of our traditional sales avenues.
“We also want to continue to utilise our manufacturing capabilities to work both as a solution development partner and a subcontracting manufacturer. Over the years, a number of companies have come to us with product ideas at various stages of development in product areas that we don’t traditionally deal with, however, the manufacturing principles are still the same and we have been able to advise and support them with our own experience of product development.
“The new Technology Exploitation Division is tying those elements together not just through TRITEQ³ but also further developing the manufacturing services side of our business.”
Previous projects that Vision has worked on with partners include a high magnification viewer used in jewellery to identify identification numbers inscribed on diamonds in submicron text, a device to clean surgical instruments, micro welding systems and even a range of men’s luxury grooming products.
“We’ve been manufacturing our own products for 65 years and this starts with a blank piece of paper, progressing to a fully-fledged product being distributed and sold all around the globe. We are very experienced in all the development steps in between, so we can help with any one of those stages to help facilitate any partner who comes to us,” Mr Curtis explains.
“Furthermore, we have very good machining and manufacturing capabilities, further enhanced with Milturn Precision and its expertise with machining and anodising. We have manufacturing facilities both here and in the US, and produce products to ISO accredited standards with highly skilled staff.
“So, we assist customers with design, utilise our optical, mechanical and electronics expertise, provide rapid prototyping with our machine shops and additive manufacturing processes, deliver design for manufacture and production engineering services and help with verification, assembly, quality assurance and distribution needs.”
A particular area of Vision’s expertise, not surprisingly, is optics and sourcing optical components.
“Optics is a key area that we really understand but can be an unknown to many,” Mr Curtis says. “Custom optics design and specification, sourcing and quality checking are all services we provide for customers. It’s a particular knowledge area we offer that sets us apart from other subcontractors.”
In terms of its own manufacturing capability Vision’s UK investment in its headquarters in Send probably represents one of the most state-of-the-art sites available. Aside from the machine shop it houses assembly stations, temperature-controlled environments, clean rooms, a paint shop and quality and inspection facilities.
And the company is already reaching out to potential start-up partners through an initiative with the Russell Group of universities to introduce new companies to business partners and it has also recently joined the government backed NATEP (National Aerospace Technology Exploitation Programme) initiative which supports innovation and business development for SMEs in the aerospace supply chain.
“We can produce the same quality we have with our own products for anyone we collaborate with,” Mr Curtis affirms. “We have lots of start-ups in this country. They have great ideas but often don’t have the capabilities or the facilities to productionise them and take things to the next step. In our own product range, we produce volumes ranging from thousands-off a year to some of just 10-off so we know the whole spectrum of what might be needed in terms of volume production.”
Vision itself frequently upgrades and improves its own products and technology, which can mean significant changes to design and manufacturing when a new model is introduced. This was the case recently with the global launch of the latest version of its best-selling Mantis stereo microscope.
Mantis is already used in tens of thousands of R&D, manufacturing and analytical sites around the world and the new models incorporate the latest developments in optics, digital cameras and adjustable LED lighting, to keep the system at the forefront of stereo imaging.
It is designed for precision engineering, electronic engineering, medical device manufacture, and a wide range of other applications that require high-quality images and superior ergonomics and features a patented eyepiece-less design that produces a large, high-quality optical stereo image directly into the user's eyes, making it more comfortable and easier to view than traditional microscopes.
“This is the third generation of the Mantis family that we have produced since the mid-1990s,” Mr Curtis says. “It features the same core optical principles as the first models we produced but over time we have improved it by employing and iterating the latest technology of the day across the three generations. That includes better lighting, improved camera technology and improvements to the optics with improved developments in manufacturing. All those elements plus our understanding of design have helped us to push the Mantis 3rd Gen to the next level.”
So lastly, how does Mr Curtis feel about his new role as head of technology exploitation? “It’s very exciting because there are already some great new avenues that we are progressing and it’s a great opportunity for us to create more growth for the company,” he enthuses.
“The manufacturing services part of the business has already had some very successful partnerships, so it proves we can take on any scale of challenge that companies want help with and work together to produce successful products.”
Vision Engineering Manufacturing Services