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ARM Innovation Hub
24 February, 2012 - 21:40 By Tony Quested

Ubisense on course to be Cambridge’s next £1bn company

Automotive assembly line

It’s 10 years since Ubisense spun out of Cambridge University’s Computer Laboratory – such fertile territory for technology greats.

The rich potential identified by the founders has every chance of ensuring the Real Time Location Systems specialist becomes Cambridge’s next £1 billion company. CEO Richard Green certainly believes the achievement is well within Ubisense’s compass.

Events in a dizzy 2011, reinforced by a stunning start to 2012, have strengthened the company’s hand. So, too, has the market intel that highlights the scale of the sectors Ubisense technology can leverage.

A recent report from Cambridge based IDTechEx forecast that the RTLS market would rise from $255 million to $293m in 2012 and then power up to nearly $4 billion in 2022. It stressed how well placed Ubisense was to exploit the opportunity. As Business Weekly recently reported, Ubisense, could increase headcount by 50 per cent in 2012 after winning a string of new orders and lining up a potential bonanza in Asia. Acquisitions could fast-track the growth process, according to Green.

He says: “We went from 100 staff at the start of 2011 to 170 by the end of the year. Crystal ball stuff – we could easily be up to 250 people by the end of 2012.

“Cambridge is a great place to be with bags of talent when a technology company is in growth mode and acquisition might be a good way for us to maintain that talent pool.”

In recent months Ubisense has won a surge of new orders with Airbus, truckmaker PACCAR, BMW plus another German automotive company – and broken into Korea by landing a contract with Hyundai.

Green said that after a few false dawns for RF technology, “This time it looks like its time is ripe – the market makers certainly believe so. We had an absolutely stunning year in 2011. We thought the high spot would be the London stockmarket listing in the summer but between then and the end of the year the orders just continued to flow. New contracts are still coming in.”

Prime among these was the signing of a new global licensing agreement with Airbus. Ubisense tracking technology is now installed at 10 Airbus sites – up from three at the start of the relationship.

The relationship with BMW goes from strength to strength – the latest installation being a significant one in China, given the company’s growth ambitions in Asia.

At the end of 2011, Ubisense landed a contract with another big German automotive company. And the cup was overflowing when Ubisense clinched a new relationship with PACCAR, the multinational truckmaker headquartered in Washington State.

Ubisense then broke into Korea – courtesy a landmark Asian deal with Hyundai. An alliance with Jaguar Land Rover, which has its own ambitions for growth throughout Asia, could also prove important.

The sheer diversity of major markets in which Ubisense’s tracking technology holds a USP may prove the most accurate barometer of its future fortunes.

The company was pleased to establish a stronghold in the energy market with two important contracts. It won a landmark deal with partners S3ID for AGIP – the Italian automotive gasoline and diesel retailer subsidiary of multinational petroleum company Eni. This followed its success with partner, PA Consulting Group, in winning a contract with a large energy utility in Washington State.

Ubisense’s collaboration with Atlas Copco is meanwhile opening up some terrific business opportunities in the field of automotive.

In the past six months, Ubisense’s Tool Location System (TLS) solution has been deployed by six new Atlas Copco customers including BMW, Jaguar Land Rover, Audi, GM, Hyundai and Paccar. The sizes of the installations vary from single production work stations through to multi-global site installations.

The Atlas Copco-branded TLS software was jointly developed with Ubisense under a collaboration agreement signed in 2009 for the research and development of Real-Time Location Systems applications for industrial tooling.

Green said: “The fact that one in every three cars in the world is assembled with Atlas Copco tools highlights the enormous growth opportunity for the TLS, particularly as the solution is now being sold through the Atlas Copco catalogue providing increased exposure to a greater number of automotive manufacturers across multiple geographies.

“As the TLS is adopted more broadly, we are finding that manufacturers require additional applications relevant to the assembly line, further endorsing our RTLS solution in the automotive industry. It also highlights the important benefits that can be driven by collaborating with the world’s leading industrial tool manufacturer.”

The TLS is comparable to small scale GPS but instead of using satellites, customers use sensors inside their manufacturing plants to monitor the position of tools and assets in real-time and with precision accuracy to 15cm.

This allows error-proofing to be taken to the next level and allows customers to ensure that tightening is performed reliably at the correct tool setting and at the correct work station.

The solution is compelling for automotive manufacturers as it provides a range of benefits for the assembly line floor – including increased productivity, improved quality and, importantly, helps to reduce costs. The TLS is now available from Atlas Copco’s worldwide application and customer centres and installations in North America and Europe have already been achieved.

Ubisense’s financial transparency and clear focus have already made the company something of a darling with London stockmarket investors. More remarkably for any hi-tech business, while its technology has continued to evolve Ubisense hasn’t had to pivot to the contortionist levels forced on some of its Cambridge contemporaries to gain global market traction. Strong and sustainable international growth will be the likely – and thoroughly deserved – reward.

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