Jonny Williamson blew into the Midlands to witness the unveiling of Lontra’s advanced Technology Centre.
The Manufacturer has been following the story of Lontra, and its entrepreneurial founder/CEO, Steve Lindsey, for several years; so it was with a sense of excitement that I found myself travelling to Napton-on-the-Hill.
Upon my arrival, however, I feared that there had been some mistake. Rather than the technology / industrial park I had anticipated, Lontra is in fact on a relatively small site sandwiched between two farms and surrounded by rolling fields.
The location isn’t quite as startling as it would first appear. Lontra sits almost slap bang in the middle of Britain’s ‘Motorsport Valley’, benefitting from one of the world’s highest concentrations of innovation and engineering skill.
It also meant I got to enjoy a delicious, made-to-order lunch from food measured not in miles, but in metres.
Lontra is a fast-growing Midlands success story, driven in large part by the triumph of its flagship innovation – the Blade Compressor®.
Representing a step change in air compression technology, the patent protected, double acting compressor delivers three principle benefits – oil-free operation, increased reliability, and significant energy efficiency improvements.
Aiming to accelerate the advancements of its trademark compressor technology, Lontra is hoping the capabilities offered by its new world leading Technology Centre will help deliver even greater energy efficiency and reliability.
Described as a “significant milestone” for the company, the new facility is hoped to take Lontra’s technology to the next level and push its capabilities to new limits, according to Lindsey.
“We foresee that this will enable us to develop our product for new applications, enter new markets, and craft further innovations,” he added.
A centre such as this is more typically associated with universities or far larger, globe-spanning firms, not one with a workforce just 20-strong. Yet its existence stands as a testament to the power of not only “Made in Britain”, but “Thought in Britain”.
“Much of the best design happens when people assume it’s been done before, the idea being so simple it has to have been thought of previously; but more often than not, it hasn’t,” Lindsey explained to me.
Lontra’s Blade Compressor® is a perfect example of that preconception in action. It’s crisp, clean design is brought to life from commonly-used materials, worked in traditional ways.
“If the Victorians could have imagined this design, they could have manufactured it. And would have to,” Lindsey continued.
“The devil is in the details; in this case, geometry. The better the geometry, the slower and quieter the Blade Compressor® can run, saving energy and meaning oil isn’t necessary.”
Lontra’s Blade Compressor®
Everywhere you look, you’re likely to see a compressor of some sort; underlining modern life in an unobtrusive, almost hidden way.
Ten percent of industrial electricity used across Europe powers compressors; similarly, one percent of electricity used in the UK is utilised by wastewater treatment – a process dominated by compressed air.
Extrapolate these two facts across the world and it presents a situation where even moderate efficiency savings can translate to a substantial decrease in global energy consumption.
A technology more typically driven by evolution, rather than revolution, the Blade Compressor® represents a step change. It takes the traditional piston and cylinder, but wraps the unit inside a ring – replacing the up-and-down movement with a circular mechanism delivered via a rotating blade (acting as the piston).
This clean-sheet design means the Blade Compressor® has an almost continuous cycle of drawing in air behind, and compressing air in front. The technology has demonstrated more than 20% reductions in energy use compared to competing products, as well as being smoother and quieter to boot.
It wasn’t long before our conversation turned to Britain’s so-called “valley of death” – with ideas, designs and potential innovations on one side, and a commercially-viable product brought to market on the opposite.
History would suggest we are quite good at the two in isolation, but successfully bridging the pair appears to be a more challenging task.
So what advice does Lindsey have for the nation’s innovators?
“Conversations regarding the sales cycle have to start early. Sales cycles take time and money doesn’t automatically start flowing into a business immediately following the launch of a product or technology.
“A ‘build it and they will come’ mindset only works eventually, and even then not for everyone.”
“Don’t try and innovate in secret, that tactic typically only pays dividends for large companies, not SMEs. Constant revisions cost you money, time and resources.
“Take steps to protect your IP, but don’t be dissuaded from discussing your idea with those it purports to help.
“It will assist you in securing orders prior to actually producing a finished widget, and is a strategy which has proven incredibly beneficial to Lontra.”