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23 March, 2006 - 16:26 By Staff Reporter

Hi-tech security firm raises cash for global surge

An Essex company bringing next-generation, Fort Knox-style lock technology within the reach of the ordinary consumer has raised £5.5m on London’s AIM market to expand its manufacturing capability and fund global growth.

An Essex company bringing next-generation, Fort Knox-style lock technology within the reach of the ordinary consumer has raised £5.5m on London’s AIM market to expand its manufacturing capability and fund global growth.

Harlow based Servocell has developed a low-cost, low-power electromechanical lock which lends itself to use in a bicycle lock or filing cabinet as much as a shipping container or prison door.

The float marks the first phase in the firm’s ambitious ‘Urban 500’ target whereby whatever town or city they are in across the globe, they are within 500 metres of Servocell technology.

Servocell has cunningly updated the same basic technology that makes a quartz watch tick – the piezoelectric effect. Piezo materials are those, like quartz, that change their shape slightly when a voltage is applied.

Servocell’s Active Latch technology employs piezo ceramic actuators to engage and disengage a locking mechanism – and here’s where the real innovation comes in – activated by an incredibly small electrical current.

The Essex firm has also finely honed the production process which means that its locks are very cheap to manufacture, a key driver in the widespread adoption of electric locks.

Chief executive, Simon Powell said: “Our devices are based around piezo actuators that traditionally have high cost and limited movement. Through the application of novel techniques, Servocell’s products generate relatively large movements and motion with low energy inputs.”

The company estimates that the electromechanical segment of the global locks market is worth around £3.4bn in annual sales.

Servocell raised about £4.7m net of expenses, via a placing of just over 10 million shares at 54p a share. The shares rose marginally on early trading to 59.5p.

Servocell said the proceeds would provide it with the financial resources to make the transition from the research and development phase to volume manufacturing and sales.

Some £1.3m will be used to build a fully-automated production line in Malaysia, with a further £700k used to boost its global sales and marketing function, developing growth regions such as the US and the Far East: £1.3m will fund the firm’s ongoing working capital requirements, including securing raw materials supply.

The company currently employs 15 at its Harlow base and this is not set to rise dramatically following the float.

Active Latch’s low power consumption gives it a host of selling points according to Servocell: It can operate for a number of years on a small battery or even solar cell, making it truly mobile and it can be powered by telephone or network cables, so there is no need for expensive mains electric infrastructure.

It is also small enough to be retro-fitted into existing doors and is also compatible with a host of different kinds of digital entry systems such as biometrics.

The firm says the technology is sufficiently small and cheap that any door or window anywhere can now be the subject of a hi-tech access control system.

It envisages a scenario whereby an ordinary householder can give a plumber, for example, access to their home while at work, using their mobile phone or PDA.

Servocell’s designs have been integrated into a number of OEM’s products, some of which have already been launched.

The company’s first customer, Codelocks, launched its Codelocks 5000 electromechanical lock, in 2004, while Beloxx, a German cabinet lock manufacturer, demonstrated its ‘Active Handle’ at a US expo in 2005.

The float caps a productive start of the the year for Servocell, with a number of deals penned with lock manufacturers across a broad range markets.

In January, Jin Kun, a Taiwanese automotive lock manufacturer that has developed an electronic motorbike steering lock using Servocell’s AL1 technology, confirmed it would be bringing the product to market during 2006 and supplying it to a major motorbike manufacturer.

In February, Soha Sun, an access control specialist based in the Middle East, confirmed that it will be using Servocell’s Active Latch technology as part of its integral RFID electronic door lock for use in its intelligent building systems.

Also in February, the largest global manufacturer of padlocks confirmed that it was in early discussions with Servocell regarding several applications, saying it hoped to be able to take at least one application to market during 2006.

Since the launch of its second generation lock, AL2 in September 2005, over 25 prototypes have been sold, the company says.

Servocell’s third generation technology, due for release in the last quarter of 2006, is targeted at applications that require a vibration-proof lock, for example a cash register or turnstile.

The fourth generation version, due for launch early in 2007, is aimed at the market for high strength locks to secure main entrance doors, such as those used in institutional and commercial buildings.

The company was founded by Powell in 1997 following its demerger from industrial group, Greenbrook.

The company originally concentrated on the use of piezo ceramic actuators in the electrical ‘circuit-breaker’ market but moved into locks when it realised it was a much larger market.

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