In July global synthetic diamond manufacturer Element Six will open a £20 million research centre near Oxford, which will employ 110 people and advance the use of diamonds for industrial applications.
TM: Why has this investment been made now?
Currently our R&D facilities are globally distributed and this has resulted in fragmented research programmes. We also found that some of our global locations were finding it increasingly difficult to recruit the talent they needed to keep R&D progressive.
As new and more challenging research into new applications for synthetic diamonds develops we wanted to consolidate and coordinate our research capability.
TM: Why was the UK chosen as the location to do that?
The front runners for our central R&D location were the USA, the UK, Germany and Switzerland.
In the end, the UK came out top because it still has three top science and engineering universities for the disciplines we need. We believe those universities will give us access to the right talent now and in the future. Another reason why the UK was attractive is that it supports a good IP culture where the laws protecting IP are respected. The recent launch of the Patent Box and an improved R&D tax credit scheme were additional positive factors.
Finally, the UK is a good global hub which offers the connectivity we need as a dynamic global business. We chose Oxford as a location within the UK, in part because of the University, but also because it is a central national location with easy access to Heathrow – yes we would support the development of an extra runway! It would increase the airport’s efficiency and further ensure easy travel for international colleagues and customers.
We also chose Oxford in order to be near the Harwell Science Park which is a centre for innovation and has strong energy security and generation capacity. Energy connectivity is important to us because the diamond manufacturing process is very energy intensive.
TM: What research will take place at the new R&D facility?
As our primary innovation centre the new site will host diverse R&D activities. Manufacturing research will focus on further exploiting the hardness of diamonds for cutting applications in industries like aerospace and automotive. We need to increase the durability and performance of diamonds used for these, now traditional, applications.
More research will look at the other material properties of diamonds, such as hyper conductivity, so that we can find new applications for diamonds in the advanced electronics industry and for medical radiotherapy. We’ll also explore the optical qualities of diamonds to enhance high power lasers.
TM: Would you ever base scale production of diamonds in the UK?
We have a small manufacturing facility in Ascot but at the moment it seems unlikely that we would expand our manufacturing capabilities here.
This is largely because of the cost and security of energy in the UK. Energy prices are constantly rising ahead of those where we already have production capability, mainly in South Africa and Sweeden. I also have deep concerns about the generating capacity in the UK going forward.
A lesser but additional concern is the cost of labour in the UK.
TM: How valuable is the industrial diamond industry? The global market for industrial diamonds is worth more than $1.5 billion and it is growing all the time as customers look to use more challenging and abrasive materials and increase tooling efficiency for faster operations with fewer repair and maintenance delays.
Western economies still hold the competitive edge in synthetic diamond production and application. There is growing capability in China but it is fair to say that this is mostly for lower end applications.
If your company finds energy costs and security in the UK a concern too, why not attend TM’s Future Factory: Energy Management conference on July 16?