Automation firm’s success demonstrates power of innovation

Stuart Jarvis, chief technical officer of a British manufacturer of precision opto-mechanical automation systems, believes that the need for SMEs ‘to collaborate to innovate’ has never been more urgent to develop new markets.


The company manufactures among others microscope automation systems – image courtesy of Prior.

Cambridge-based manufacturer Prior Scientific Instruments was founded nearly 100 years ago; and its core business is predominantly based around the microscope and imaging industry.

Stuart Jarvis, the company’s CTO, said: “I would describe ourselves as a provider of automation and robotics for the microscope industry. Many of our products will be automating microscope or the imaging processes.”

“Years ago, we were a traditional microscope manufacturer. But we stopped our routine microscope manufacturing in 2000. Instead we concentrated on the continued development of our microscope automation and specialist microscopes manufacture. “

Jarvis said Prior Scientific was urged to change the business model to become a microscope automation specialist, simply because it could not compete with the low-cost microscope units coming from the far east. The CTO stated: “We were not losing money, we were just not making any.”

Innovate and enter new markets

Therefore, the microscope manufacturer was continuously urged to innovate on all possible levels, as Jarvis described; around 15 years ago, the company had to consider entering new markets for new products.

Jarvis said: “We are a manufacturing company of automation equipment, and we can apply that knowledge across other areas as well. Recently we have looked into the industrial metrology area, they have moved into optical imaging as part of a measuring business.”

Metrology is described by the International Bureau of Weights and Measures as the  the science of measurement, embracing both experimental and theoretical determinations at any level of uncertainty in any field of technology.

Jarvis said, a large section of metrology has been based around contact measurement, coordinate measuring machines (CMMs) would position a probe to make physical contact with the part to be measured.

More recently measuring machines have employed non contact methods. Automated microscopes can take pictures of the part and this image can be analysed like a biological sample.

Jarvis added: “Because the measuring stages in metrology are of a similar construction to our microscope stages it is an area which we have been able to move into without a significant amount of development.”

New technology: ‘Innovate to collaborate’

Jarvis said: “Over the past few years, the phrase ‘collaborate to innovate” emerged, which gets to the heart of the UK company’s real need. Firms in the UK feel more and more that collaboration and partnerships are essential for their development and economic growth.”

For Jarvis, the biggest opportunity for UK companies is the urgency to work with other businesses specially to bring new available technologies on quicker. The emergence of new technologies requires a new way of thinking.

Jarvis concluded: “We need to think in a cross-perspective, to compete globally. One difficulty is to compete in low cost environments, the other challenge is the difficulty in recruiting qualified and experienced engineers.”

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