A PIONEERING centre for research, optoelectronics and technology employing more than 150 people in North Wales is celebrating its 10th birthday. Glyndŵr University’s OpTIC Centre in St Asaph – formerly Technium OpTIC - was launched on February 24 2005.
Vale of Clwyd MP Chris Ruane was among those who pushed for the £17.5m scientific facility to be constructed in Denbighshire, backed by £6.3m of European Objective One funding.
He paid tribute to the Wrexham-based University for acquiring the site in 2011 – having managed it since 2009 - and building on its initial success.
“The OpTIC Centre has helped to create dozens of hi-tech companies and hundreds of high quality science-based jobs over the past 10 years,” he said.
“It has been wonderful to see the OpTIC Centre grow and develop companies over the last decade and I look forward to its continuing success.”
Wales’ Finance Minister Jane Hutt, who visited the complex last week, added: “The OpTIC Centre is a real success story.
“The building of the centre, with the support of EU funds, has provided the local area with the state-of-the-art facilities needed to boost the commercial success of businesses, and is recognised as a leading research and innovation hub, winning the EU’s prestigious Regiostars award in 2008.
“It has and continues to make a real impact on the local and Welsh economy through its pioneering high-tech technology and scientific innovation.”
The centre itself is a leading business and cutting-edge structure bringing together academics conducting research into highly specialised areas, housing organisations such as the Centre for Solar Energy Research (CSER) and the National Facility for Ultra Precision Surfaces.
OpTIC’s Innovation Centre is home to some of the region’s most revolutionary firms, including Kent Periscopes, Acuity Products and MC Diagnostics.
And as well as links with industry, a team of scientists and engineers on-site are currently polishing prototype mirrors for the European Southern Observatory’s £900million European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), which will be the world’s largest on completion.
Among the innovators at OpTIC are CSER, led by Professor Stuart Irvine, who spoke of his pride at being part of the centre’s 10-year journey.
“The OpTIC Centre has proven to be the ideal location to provide a bridge between university research and industry,” said Professor Irvine.
“CSER has attracted more than £5m of new research funding and secured over 15 jobs. In addition, we have carried out a range of consultancy work with industry from testing new products to advising on large scale PV installations.
“Close links have been established with a number of the Welsh optoelectronics companies including Qioptiq, IQE and Sharp, and our research team is currently engaged in collaborative research with major US corporations.
“The idea of CSER is to establish a world-renowned research centre right here in North Wales at the OpTIC Centre, which industry can rely on to provide a range of R&D support – it’s a fabulous place and we’re proud to be a part of it.”
Tony Hepton, Business Development Director at Acuity Products – which supports the international cable-making community through technology and research – believes being part of the OpTIC community helped take the business to new heights.
“Acuity Products has been resident in the OpTic Centre since 2012, during which time the company has successfully grown the sales of an industrial ultrasonic scanning technology for power cables to first time contracts with two of the world’s leading companies supplying high voltage cables to the oil and gas and wind farm industries,” said Tony.
“Through this growth, Acuity has, as a policy, used as many local suppliers as possible.”
He added: “Being part of the daily life here at OpTIC has been enormously helpful to our growth in North Wales, with local government contact meetings and seminars regularly being held in the building.”
These points were reinforced by John Oliver, Managing Director of Kent Periscopes: “There’s no doubt the OpTIC Centre has been a fundamental part of the successful growth of our company.
“In the past few years we’ve grown from 20 to almost 40 people, and OpTIC has made it easy to accommodate this expansion.
“Its ability to respond quickly to our changing needs is vital to a growing company such as ours, and we congratulate them on their 10th anniversary.”
Since acquiring the building, Glyndŵr University has made huge strides; the commercial arm of the institution – Glyndŵr Innovations – was even named fastest growing company in Wales in 2012 and fourth-fastest in 2013, as well as topping the Creative and Knowledge Industries category in both years.
VIP visitors have included Prime Minister David Cameron, First Ministers Rhodri Morgan and Carwyn Jones, Labour Party leader Ed Miliband and Karren Brady, vice-chair of West Ham FC and a star of BBC’s The Apprentice.
The Welsh Opto-electronics Forum (WOF), made up of industry, university research groups, users and support organisations all dedicated to the profitability of the optoelectronics/photonics sector in Wales, also paid tribute.
A spokesperson said: “WOF is proud to have initiated the development of OpTIC with the then Welsh Development Agency and hopes its success will continue for many years to come.”
Mick Card, Head of Business Development and Funding at Glyndŵr University, is confident the centre will continue to have a major impact in the future, and thanked the many organisations and individuals – at the University and elsewhere – who played a part in its development.
He said: “There’s no doubt the OpTIC Centre is among the most cutting-edge and commercial sites in the country. It is home to some incredible businesses, groups of inspiring engineers and scientists who continue to break down barriers and reach world-class levels of research, and staff who work tirelessly to host events, conferences and ensure this fabulous building is one of the jewels in the crown of science-based industry in the UK.”