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30 January, 2012 - 00:02 By Tony Quested

Cambridge cash backs lean manufacturing technology

Nathan Hill, managing director, Qi3 Accelerator

Cambridge investors have helped tee up global expansion opportunities for a company whose industrial inspection instruments carry an environmental payback.

The investment in Phase Vision, a Loughborough University spin-out, holds broader implications for both the economy and the ‘green’ dividend as the UK’s High Value Manufacturing and engineering model gains worldwide credibility.

The company has just closed a £1.5m funding round led by Cambridge-based Qi3 Accelerator along with Octopus Investments.

Other backers in the syndicate included Martlet – the angel investment vehicle launched by Marshall of Cambridge and led by Peter Cowley – Cambridge Angels and Cambridge Capital Group.

Phase Vision’s instruments help the aerospace, automotive and nuclear industries manufacture and test systems more quickly and cheaply – and with reduced environmental impact.

Nathan Hill, managing director, Qi3 Accelerator, is a hot gospeller for cutting waste out of manufacture and hence lowering the carbon footprint and says Phase Vision handsomely fulfils this mantra.

Phase Vision’s white light metrology products bring analysis tools that Hill says were once the domain of the metrology lab to the production line, aircraft hangar or shipyard.

Results are obtained in seconds – not the hours or even days required by other systems.

Hill says this is crucial to 21st Century manufacturing. Phase Vision’s systems are already installed in a variety of manufacturing applications.

Hill said the company would use the new cash to employ more staff and grow its UK and export sales.

Hill, who has joined the board as a non-executive director, told Business Weekly that the rationale driving Phase Vision’s global expansion held wider beneficial implications for business.

He said: “I am passionate about participating in the resurgence of British High Value Manufacturing and engineering businesses. Phase Vision’s products enable efficient manufacture with reduced wastage and therefore environmental impact and its international potential is exciting.”

Phase Vision’s commercial success has been a long time in the hatching. It spun out of Loughborough University about 10 years ago so it has taken a while to perfect the high precision instrumentation and shape it into a tried and tested product for sale.

Hill said: “I absolutely believe that HVM is part of the future for international manufacturing and engineering and that Britain has a lead role to play in this regard globally.

“Cambridge is well known for its IT, biotech and other tech clusters and has had its share of stellar companies as well as a lot of lost souls – ones that fizzle out after a promising start.

“But in common with other hotspots in the UK it also has some leading players in the field of HVM. We excel at customer facing engineering. We can add considerable value in the areas of test and support to manufacturing and engineering applications in industry.

“The value is not in the nuts and bolts we make and sell but in the waste we eliminate in manufacture, the intellectual capital invested at the drawing board and prototype stage which ensure smooth and cost-effective production – getting it right first time, ensuring the manufacture of higher quality, durable products for global customers.”

He intends to urge Prime Minister, David Cameron, and other influential Government figures to fly the flag for HVM when he meets them at Downing Street on February 10.

Hill believes Phase Vision is ripe for international expansion. While the key focus markets will initially be aerospace, automotive and nuclear, he foresees many other applications in a broader cross-section of industries.

“The environmental benefits of the instrumentation are enormous, reducing metal and carbon fibres used in manufacturing – reducing waste and scrappage. As an investor this is the type of business I want to support – companies that are doing some good for the environment – and I am sure it’s how investors in my funds would want their money spent.

“If others want to invest in companies that make their billions by spending on drugs and bombs that’s up to them.”

Peter Cowley, investment director of Martlet, flagged up another potentially significant aspect of the deal. He said: “I am very pleased that Martlet has selected Phase Vision to become an important part of our portfolio – especially as there is such a strong synergy with the Marshall of Cambridge engineering operations.”

• PHOTOGRAPH SHOWS: Nathan Hill, managing director, Qi3 Accelerator

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