DUNDEE, SCOTLAND - According to news reports, Ferranti Photonics-a 35-year veteran of the laser and optoelectronics industry-has gone under. In the April 13 edition of the Scottish newspaper The Herald, liquidator Deloitte blamed the company’s collapse on the loss of a single-bid contract. In addition, the high value of the pound and a manufacturing downturn had severely weakened the company and left directs with “no alternative” but to put the company into liquidation.
Ferranti Photonics has operated continuously since 1970, specializing in the design, manufacture, and supply of CO2 lasers and laser systems for applications primarily in industry, but also in defense and R&D. During that time Ferranti Photonics has had a number of different ownerships, and over the years has traded as Laser Ecosse and Howden Laser in addition to using the well-known Ferranti name. The laser group started work in the 1960s as part of the Ferranti Valve Lab in Edinburgh, and the group’s commercial involvement in CO2 lasers began by supplying a water-cooled slow flow laser design based on work carried out at SERL (Services Electronics Research Laboratories) Baldock.
In 2002 Ferranti Photonics formed a joint venture company, PhotoSynergy, with the University of St. Andrews. PhotoSynergy was set up to commercialize the diode-pumped solid-state laser (DPSS) technology developed at the university, and has received Scottish Enterprise and Scottish SMART award funding. The company currently produces infrared (up to 1 W) and green (up to 300 mW) DPSS lasers, aimed at the display, emergency lighting, graphic displays, reprographics, particle sizing, medical, and R&D markets. It is believed that PhotoSynergy will continue to operate despite Ferranti’s demise.
Donald Walker, managing director of PhotoSynergy, says that the company is still very much in business. Although a joint venture with Ferranti Photonics, PhotoSynergy shares are held by a separate company, Ferranti Holdings. Walker explained that the product design had stabilized, sales and marketing are being handled separately, and that in effect Ferranti Photonics had only been providing subcontract engineering services.
“Although this is inconvenient and disappointing it will not affect our long term outlook,” he said. “Assembly and test can be brought in house to the university in the short term, and in the longer term we are evaluating alternative sources for engineering subcontract services. For the time being the board of directors, including those from Ferranti Photonics, will stay the same.”
Ferranti is not the first Scottish optronics firm to struggle in recent years, despite a strong and ongoing effort by the government to grow the commercial laser/optoelectronics industry in Scotland. Unfortunately, market conditions have left several Scottish companies in flux over the past few years. Terahertz Photonics, (Livingston) and Essient Photonics (Glasgow) both went out of business in 2003, while other companies remain in business although under new ownership. Kymata was sold to Alcatel in 2001, which sold it to Avanex in 2003, which in turn sold it to Gemfire in 2004. Also in 2004, CRL Opto (Dunfermline) was acquired by two venture capital firms, Amadeus Capital and Doughty Hanson Technology Ventures; earlier in the year the company had acquired the microdisplay production assets of MicroVue Limited (Edinburgh) from the MicroVue liquidators.