Winning a Queen’s Award for international trade during your 70th year of trading is a birthday present never to be forgotten, but that’s precisely what has happened to Artemis Optical.
Established in 1952, the Plymouth-based company is now a world-renowned provider of high precision, optical thin film coatings for some ground-breaking hi-tech applications.
Yet the company, originally founded by engineer Robin Elsworth, has had an interesting evolution, starting out providing visors for the London fire brigade, then master discs for the recording industry, before moving into military and medical markets.
Over seven decades Artemis Optical has become a global business with export sales more than doubling in the last five years alone and overseas sales growth of 65 per cent across the last three years with top markets including the USA, Europe, Singapore, Australia, the Middle East and the Far East.
In the process it has become one of the UK’s largest independent thin film coatings providers with a client portfolio that includes blue chip equipment manufacturers in the defence, aerospace, security, medical and analytical instrumentation sectors.
Chief executive, Nick Hurst calls what they create as “enabling technology”, helping the likes of defence and security suppliers such as BAE Systems, Thales and Leonardo in developing their own high-tech systems.
He said: “We help take something from being a good idea to actually making it work. For example, we worked with BAE Systems on their LiteHUD technology, which is a LED heads up display providing pilots with up to the minute data they can view while also flying the plane.”
They are pretty bright people at Artemis Optical who have been producing very clever solutions for many years. In fact, as far back as 1986 they produced Tom ‘Maverick’ Cruise’s heads up display in the iconic blockbuster film Top Gun.
He said: “One of the reasons for our success is that we focus our attention on what we are really good at rather than trying to be all things to everyone. Consequently, we specialise in some very niche areas – mainly vehicle survivability, heads up and helmet mounted displays, as well as various precision optics, not just for military and medical applications but also other hi tech applications such as LiFi – which is the process of sending data via light.”
“We also took a strategic decision a few years ago to identify more overseas opportunities and we have done very well in developing those new relationships. It’s meant that we now have a global pipeline of potential business worth £140m over the next five to seven years.
“We found that if we became involved early enough in a project we could also save the customer time and money so we have worked hard to position ourselves as advisors rather than just suppliers, with companies now coming to us at the beginning of a project to help with the initial design and specification. Consequently, this has led to a number of new contracts as well as the team being invited to advise on more complex projects. It’s amazing the things we are being asked to help with these days.”
Despite the problems caused by the pandemic Artemis grew its business by 11 per cent, as well as increasing its highly skilled staff by 15 per cent including some “bright young graduates”. The firm expects further growth in 2022 of around 15 per cent.
In light of recent global events many countries around the world are looking to bolster their defences with the sort of hi-tech solutions that Artemis can provide, which by definition is likely to lead to more overseas business for this exciting Plymouth-based company.
The future certainly looks bright for Artemis Optical and a Queen’s Award helps cement their efforts over the last couple of years. Nick said: “It’s a fantastic accolade that not only recognises the team’s hard work and contribution to the business over the last few years but the ingenuity, creativity and tenacity they’ve all demonstrated in that time as well.
“It’s a huge stamp of approval for us and will lead to new opportunities. One of the challenges we face as an SME sometimes is getting in front of the right people in large corporations. Winning such a high-profile approval as a Queen’s Award will hopefully help turn some of their heads our way.”
Definitely not mavericks, but certainly industry leaders.