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Two UK motor-makers win Queens Innovation Awards

21 April, 2020

A Surrey-based servomotor manufacturer has won a Queen’s Award for Enterprise in Innovation for a range of direct-drive integrated servomotors that combine brushless DC motors, drive electronics, position encoding and software in a compact package, capable of precise, smooth and silent motion. Woking-located Overview’s Servotorq motors are aimed at applications such as surveillance platforms, precision cameras, lasers and military sensor systems.

Founded in 1985, Overview employs around 45 people and manufactures more than 75,000 camera and sensor positioning systems every year. The company says that its motors can solve complex positioning challenges faster and with lower development and production costs than before.

Frustrated at the limitations of existing positioning systems, and not being able to find suppliers of positioning motors with the characteristics it needed, the company realised there was a gap in the market and set out to develop a product to fill it. It collaborated with Newcastle University and received support from Innovate UK to develop the technology.

“As an organisation which invests heavily in research and development, we are thrilled to be recognised for innovation at this level,” says CEO, Graham Jones. “The Queen’s Award is testimony to the dedication and talent of our entire team as well as their pursuit of the very best in continuous product innovation.”

The Queen's Awards for Enterprise scheme, now in its 55th year, is recognised as a mark of excellence with awards going to UK businesses that demonstrate strong commercial success through innovative products or services. This year, 220 UK businesses have been recognised for their contribution to international trade, innovation, sustainable development and promoting opportunities through social mobility.

Another 2020 Innovation Award has gone to Aeristech, based in Leamington Spa, which was established in 2006 to develop and commercialise a new type of variable-speed permanent magnet electric motor. The high-speed motor is incorporated into a high-performance centrifugal air compressor that is used for applications including industrial air compressors, air-side compression in hydrogen fuel cells, and superchargers for automotive engines.

The motor and compressor are protected by a portfolio of patents, with the largest versions being rated above 20kW. Aeristech’s technology splits the control system for torque and speed, enabling smaller, more efficient controllers, coupled to dedicated motors.

In fuel cell applications, the devices can replace positive displacement compressors, and are said to be smaller, lighter, and less than half the price. Users have reported increases in energy efficiency of up to 40% over existing compressors.

“Over the past few years, Aeristech has developed and commercialised what we believe to be the most advanced, oil-free, high-speed electric motor systems available, and it is very gratifying to have this recognised by receiving a Queen’s Award for Enterprise,” says CEO, Richard Wall. “I am very proud of our talented team and am delighted to have won this award. Our clients in the automotive industry, as with other sectors we operate in – such as aviation, stationary power and industrial – are adopting our technology as part of their strategy to reduce emissions.

He adds the company plans to “build on its position at the forefront of electric motor design, not just in automotive, but across other sectors which require continuous, clean air from an oil-free source. These include pharmaceutical, aviation, industrial and aerospace. Winning the Queen’s Award is a great way to start.”

Other winners of 2020 Queens Awards for Innovation include:

• Berkshire-based Xtrac, which has designed and developed an integrated, lightweight range of gearboxes for the single-speed electric vehicle (EV) market. The gearboxes can be configured for precision differential or torque vectoring and packaged for front-wheel, rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive systems. Aston Martin, McLaren, Williams and other car brands are planning to include the technology in future models.

Overview developed its integrated servomotors to plug a gap in the market

• Warwick-based 3P innovation, a custom automation company formed in 2006 to develop innovative manufacturing machinery and processes. Its award is for a patented gravimetric filling technology called Fill2Weight, that is used for micro-dosing and weight-checking of pharmaceutical powders. The precision equipment combines stirring, vibration and controlled apertures to ensure powders flow and are weighed accurately. A simple user interface allows rapid adjustment to deliver different powders. Fill2Weight is used in filling machines from laboratory bench-top systems to full-scale manufacturing.

• Birmingham-based Jonic Engineering was formed in 1966, initially to produce a range of conventional hydraulic cylinders for a large UK manufacturer. Faced with severe contraction and the risk of losing the business, Jonic developed, and patented, a lower-cost ejector cylinder. This uses a shaft made from single pieces of chrome-plated tube, and does not need pistons or separate retaining glands. The design saves on material and machining by using a faster, cheaper “centreless grinding” process.

The winners of 2020 Queen’s Award for Enterprise for International Trade include:

• Suffolk-based PCE Group (owned by Snap-on UK), which designs and manufactures automated systems for sectors such as fast-moving consumer goods, industrial automation, build to print, and medical/pharmaceutical. Originally founded in 1961 to build luxury day cruisers, the company pivoted to become a manufacturer of packaging machinery in 1981. Today, it employs 72 people and combines technologies including robotics, vision and additive manufacturing. PCE has customers in the UK, Europe, US, Canada, Central and South America. Its overseas sales have grown by 2,061%, and the percentage it exports has risen from 3.5% to 36%.

Drive System Design, located in Leamington Spa, which specialises in power transfer systems, mainly for the automotive industry. It designs and develops drivetrains for internal combustion and electric vehicles, including control systems and power electronics. The company has a subsidiary in the US and sells across the US, Europe and Asia. In the past three years, its overseas sales have climbed from £2.1m to £5.4m – a rise of 155%. Overseas sales as a percentage of total sales have risen from 36% to 49.5%.

• Hampshire-based Kwikbolt which has developed and patented a temporary fastening system that allows rapid fastening from one side. The system is said to increase quality and production speeds, while cutting labour and assembly costs compared with rival products. It works with manual, power-assisted (nut runners, power tools) and robotic automation systems. In the past three years, the company’s overseas sales expanded from £108,649 to £432,359 – a growth rate of 298% – and now represent 72% of its sales. Kwikbolt is one of only four companies this year to win Queens Awards for both Innovation and International Trade.

John King Chains, based in Elmet, North Yorkshire, which manufactures heavy and bespoke conveyor chains for the mechanical handling of bulk materials. The fifth-generation family business has around 100 employees, and subsidiaries in Africa, South America, North America and Central Europe, with plans to open in Australia later this year. Over the past three years, overseas sales have grown by 77%, including sales to clients in Sweden and Hong Kong.

• Lancashire-based Slingco, which makes products that simplify the installation and support of industrial electrical conductors, cables and hose. Its overseas sales have grown by 178% in the past three years and the proportion of its sales exported has increased to 86%. In 2016, Slingco won a Queen's Award for International Trade.

• London-based Andrew Reid & Partners (Consulting Engineers) which offers specialist knowledge in complex engineering relating to the design and commissioning of mechanical and electrical building services. In the three years to March 2019, its overseas sales grew by more than £5m to £7.2m – a 155% growth rate. The company's markets are spread across Europe, Singapore and Australia.

Aeristech's variable-speed permanent magnet motors are designed for use in high-performance air compressors

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