John Lewis presenting at the London TSB Launchpad event in December
(Credit: STFC 2013)
We spoke to John Lewis, Managing Director at 2DHeat Ltd and asked him about his company, and why they joined STFC CERN BIC.
1. Tell us about your product / service
We have created a unique type of heating element and have the knowledge of controlling the manufacturing process to create certain specifications for our customers.
We buy in metal powder alloys essentially nickel, chrome and iron in specific ratios and are very careful about what else is in the mix including added diluents, surface modifying chemicals or impurities. We then do a transformation by putting it through a specially designed flame, to create a partially oxidised material which we then isolate and dry to become our commercial starting material. We then take that and flame-spray it to produce the element. The metal powder goes through a double heat treatment process that gives two successive oxidation treatments. The control of that is absolutely critical; if this is not done correctly the heating of the element is very difficult to control and very inconsistent. Our knowhow is all about how to control this process and therefore control the heating elements that they produce. We are unique in out offering in terms of the chemistry, the metallurgy and the properties.
Depending on the size of our customer organisation, we can license the technology or do the manufacturing ourselves. This would depend on the offtake amount, how routine the product would be used, and how much enhancement it would require.
2. How did you find out about STFC CERN BIC?
I have been involved with the Sci-Tech Daresbury site for 5-6 years. I joined 2DHeat in 2008, which was the first time we had technology, funding and premises. At this stage we talked to Daresbury about the ultra-high vacuum markets which we were keen to get into. We produced our first samples for the Accelerator Science and Technology Centre (ASTeC) and the Cockcroft Institute in 2009-2010. We tried to market the samples to catalogue suppliers that CERN and STFC buy ultra-high vacuum products from; however it was unsuccessful as there just wasn’t the market for it. We were involved in making these weird and wonderful vacuum vessels which involves lots of downtime in terms of set up times, changing operator sequences etc. We said forget it, the volume isn’t big enough to justify that, so we switched our focus to domestic white goods. So we spent the last two and a half years trying unsuccessfully to break into the domestic white goods markets, in particular focusing on tumble dryers which are very intensive energy users. We were trying to economise the energy use cycle, but we didn’t succeed as the companies didn’t want to take the risk of disrupting their backwards supply chain which spanned across seven industries. So we reluctantly decided to disengage in white goods.
At this time, we got the first details of STFC CERN BIC. We said ‘that’s good!’ and at the same time there was a call for the TSB Northwest Manufacturing and Materials Launchpad which was centred upon Sci-Tech Daresbury and the Runcorn Heath Business and Technical Park. That is too much of a coincidence to get two initiatives that focus on an industry we are trying to pursue to ignore! So we applied for both and were successful in both.
3. How do you anticipate working with CERN and STFC will help your company?
We don’t know the ultra-high vacuum industry, and CERN’s unparalleled knowledge of it will be vital for us. CERN knows the engineering requirements and the design capabilities; which will help us tailor why anybody would want to use our technology, how they would use it and what would be the best way of presenting the product. All this knowledge will be essential to get us through the ‘bloody nose stage’ before we get to bringing our product to the market. In particular CERN are very familiar with proton beam therapy which is an area we would like to expand into. It is not just the techno-commercial aspect; CERN and STFC’s extensive network of relevant contacts in all of the major built and planned high vacuum installations across the world will be a fantastic resource for our company for facilitating introductions.
We have had positive comments from our visit to CERN in June that they were intending to use our technology on the Large Hadron Collider in the future. If we had this endorsement from CERN it would vastly commercialise our offer to other large facilities.
4. How has your involvement with Sci-Tech Daresbury helped grow your business?
I have been actively involved in the networking breakfast events held at Sci-Tech Daresbury on a monthly basis, and I have been using the contacts from the Cockcroft Institute on a regular basis which have now been formalised as we are part of the site. The biggest asset of the STFC CERN BIC scheme will be direct face to face contacts with the relevant experts. We have moved our pilot line to a new industrial site in Warrington which is shared by our fellow incubatees Croft Additive Manufacturing. The knowledge of the location came about from networking at an event on the Sci-Tech Daresbury campus. We have also benefited greatly from the recent TSB North West Materials and Manufacturing Launchpad where STFC was cluster champion providing a unique business support package that we were really able to benefit from.
5. What are your plans for 2DHeat at STFC CERN BIC?
The incubation contract is for two years, for a finite amount of resource; however I would rather have the formal involvement with CERN and STFC for as long as possible. So much benefit can come by association of the brand names of STFC and CERN, which I consider to be the real nugget in the whole thing. For the next two years, I see the company increasing the number of useful contacts it obtains and increasing the positive relationship with CERN and STFC.