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First Light Imaging joins Oxford Instruments

17 Jan 2024

Camera developer will sit alongside Andor as part of the UK firm's scientific imaging portfolio.

First Light Imaging, the developer of high-specification scientific cameras operating in the visible and infrared spectral regions, has been acquired by the UK-headquartered industrial technology firm Oxford Instruments.

In a deal worth up to €18.7 million, France-based First Light will join Oxford Instruments’ existing portfolio of scientific cameras - largely provided by Andor Technology, the Belfast firm acquired by Oxford for £176 million nearly ten years ago.

Based near Aix-en-Provence, First Light was founded in 2011 after emerging from the “Optitec” cluster of expertise in southern France. It specializes in high-speed, low-noise scientific cameras, including applications in astronomy and life sciences.

Although those are some of the same application areas served by Andor, Oxford says that the First Light hardware is highly complementary to the firm’s existing scientific camera portfolio, with the acquisition expected to enhance offerings from both parties, enabling them to expand into adjacent markets.

One recent application highlighting First Light's expertise was the deployment of one of its "C-RED 2" cameras on the new "HiRISE" instrument - part of the European Southern Observatory (ESO)'s Very Large Telescope (VLT).

The high-speed, low-noise short wave infrared (SWIR) camera, based on indium gallium arsenide (InGaAs) sensors, is optimized for long exposure times and will help astronomers studying known exoplanets and their atmospheres.

Industrial and commercial support
The structure of the acquisition sees London-listed Oxford Instruments pay an initial cash consideration of €15.7 million, with a further €3 million contingent on First Light's trading performance over the next year.

In 2023, First Light had an estimated revenue of €8 million, although with a lower profitability than the Oxford Instruments average.

Oxford Instruments CEO Richard Tyson said in a statement to the London Stock Exchange: “We are delighted to welcome the talented First Light team to Oxford Instruments.

“Like us, they have a reputation and track record for quality, innovation and scientific expertise, and their leading range of products dovetails well with our scientific camera portfolio.

“Joining forces will significantly enhance our world-class camera offering to our combined customer base and drive First Light's next phase of growth as part of the wider Group.

“Our expanded portfolio will help us accelerate our customers' roadmaps in the life science market and in physical sciences, a long-standing area of strength for Oxford Instruments.”

First Light co-founder David Boutolleau added: “Joining Oxford Instruments and Andor is a real opportunity for First Light Imaging.

“After 12 years building First Light as a successful independent business, it became clear that to take the business to the next stage of its development, we would need industrial and commercial support to reinforce our manufacturing, technology and routes to market.

“Our acquisition by Oxford Instruments Andor accelerates our growth and secures our future for our customers, partners and employees.”

Belfast expansion
In its most recent half-yearly financial results announcement, Oxford Instruments indicated that it was investing in its camera business, with the technology driving a strong performance in what it calls the “Research & Discovery” segment.

“Growth has primarily been driven by strong sales and demand for our optical microscopy, scientific camera, and optical spectroscopy products,” reported the UK firm in November, adding:

“We are making significant investment in people and processes, boosting production capacity and operational effectiveness across the sector, to support the growing demand for our products and services.

“In particular, as demand grows for our optical microscopes and scientific cameras, we are investing £15 million in the purchase and fit out of an additional building, adjacent to our existing Andor Belfast site, to boost our operational capacity.

“The site expansion will significantly enhance our production and research and development capacity, allowing us to meet demand from our growing customer base once operational in autumn 2025.”

Oxford Instruments pointed to strong order and revenue growth in research applications, particularly in the fields of fluid and plasma dynamics, where customers are deploying its high-speed scientific cameras to capture fusion reaction dynamics at sub-nanosecond intervals.

“In astronomy, we are building market share in Europe and North America through optimised solutions for large sky surveys, including exoplanet detection and near-earth asteroid detection, and atmospheric research,” added the firm.

“The purchase of a building adjacent to our current [Belfast] site will unlock substantial growth in production capacity and facilitate improved production workflows for our scientific cameras, microscopy and optical spectrometer products to meet heightened demand.”

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