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Andor shortlisted for top UK engineering award

15 May 2012

Developer of high-performance cameras one of three firms nominated for the Royal Academy of Engineering’s MacRobert Award.

Andor Technology, the photonics spin-out from Queen’s University, Belfast, that specializes in scientific cameras, has been short-listed by the UK’s Royal Academy of Engineering (RAE) for its prestigious MacRobert Award.

Nominated for the development of its “Neo” high-performance CMOS camera, which is used in next-generation life-science imaging applications including super-resolution microscopy, Andor is up against JBA Consulting, shortlisted for a flood risk modeling system, and Jaguar Land Rover for its “Range Rover Evoque” concept car. The winner, set to be announced June 26, will receive a gold medal and a £50,000 cash prize.

First presented in 1969, the MacRobert Award was established to recognize both innovation and commercial success among UK engineering firms. John Robinson, who chairs this year’s judging panel, is keen to highlight the importance of the engineering sector as a key part of the country’s economic recovery.

“We have been bombarded with bad news about the economy in the last few years, so it is all the more encouraging to see three such innovative and successful companies doing so well in very different sectors,” he said.

“There is engineering like this going on all over the UK and we are delighted to have three of the best examples shortlisted for the MacRobert Award this year.”

Previous winners of the award have included EMI in 1972 for its development of the X-ray CT scanner, as well as Cambridge Display Technologies (CDT) in 2002 for organic LED displays – a technology that is now widely used in smart phones thanks mostly to Samsung, and is due to debut in the form of ultra-thin and ultra-light televisions this year. The renowned University of Cambridge scientist Sir Richard Friend, whose laboratory spun out CDT, is part of the judging panel for this year’s MacRobert Award.

The Andor team nominated for the MacRobert Award is: sCMOS Solutions Manager - Oliver Petersen, Senior Software Engineer - George Wright, Senior Software Engineer - Dermot McCluskey, Senior Embedded Systems Engineer - Ken Strang, Mechanical Engineer - Daryl Fegan; all are based at Andor's Belfast headquarters.

European development funding
Launched in 2010, the Neo sCMOS (short for “scientific CMOS”) camera offers a combination of high, CCD-like sensitivity, coupled with low read-out noise and fast frame rates, setting it apart from conventional detectors.

The technology was initially developed under the “Neo” project, which was financed by the European Regional Development Fund. Since that launch, Andor has highlighted the commercial success of the camera, and in June 2011 said that it had decided to add manufacturing capacity to meet an unexpectedly high level of demand.

That included the company’s largest-ever single order, from an OEM customer wanting to use the camera in a DNA sequencing instrument, and an order for 100 of the cameras to be used in Raman spectroscopy.

In its short-listing of the three innovations, the RAE also highlighted the potential for the Neo sCMOS to enable sequencing of the entire human genome “within a matter of hours”, an application area that is set to grow quickly as companies such as Illumina and Complete Genomics develop high-speed sequencing tools for the emerging personalized medicine market.

Expansion plan
Under CEO Conor Walsh, Andor is also looking to expand its operations significantly. Late last year, the company announced an £18 million investment plan designed to double turnover in just five years. In the year ended September 30, 2011, the firm posted sales of £57.4 million.

Andor is already planning to recruit 70 engineers for a ramp in production at its Belfast manufacturing headquarters, and has introduced a slew of product innovations this year. They include the new “Zyla” sCMOS camera, designed as a fast, compact and cost-effective version of the “Neo” to enable more flexible integration by OEM customers.

Colin Coates, Andor’s product manager for imaging, said at the time of the Zyla release in April: “While sCMOS sensors do not possess the raw sensitivity of EM (electron-multiplying) CCD cameras for extreme-low-light applications such as single-molecule detection, they do dramatically outperform interline CCDs across several key parameters. Zyla benefits from a markedly compact and cost-effective design, bringing sCMOS technology firmly into the interline price bracket.”

Other product innovations launched this year have included the “iXon Ultra 897” EMCCD, which boasts a maximum frame rate of 56 frames per second, and the firm’s “EX2” technology for CCDs, which improves sensitivity in the blue and near-infrared regions thanks to a new dual anti-reflection coating process developed by fellow UK detector firm e2v Technologies.

Andor Technology is scheduled to report its interim financial results on June 11.

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