Thin films are key to Victrex's success
Royal Academy of Engineering

Member Article

The secret ingredient in your smartphone?

It’s in your smartphone, car, and maybe even inside your body: meet one of the North West of England’s greatest business success stories

It’s often said that Britain doesn’t ‘make’ anything anymore, but this couldn’t be further from the truth - high-tech manufacturing is booming. According to a report published by the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, it contributes £22 billion to the UK economy. One example is Blackpool-based Victrex – its material polyetheretherketone (PEEK) has been quietly revolutionising UK manufacturing for decades. Found in over a billion consumer electronic devices, it’s not an exaggeration to say that PEEK has been a critical component in the booming smartphone sector. Called APTIV film, this version of PEEK is the highest-performing ultra-thin plastic in the world. It enabled the development of small-scale speakers that provide the incredible sound quality we expect from today’s slim smartphones.

But the same material also solves a host of other challenges. The reduction of CO2 emissions remains a dominating global trend, and with transport contributing approximately 22% of worldwide CO2 emissions, finding routes to improving vehicle efficiency is a key priority. More than 200 million cars now rely on PEEK in their anti-lock braking systems and over 15,000 aircraft flying today use the material to reduce weight and save millions in fuel. Victrex’s PEEK polymer can be found somewhat closer to home too - millions of people now live every day with replacement spinal discs and dental implants made from the plastic developed by Victrex.

Established in 1993, following a management buy-out from Imperial Chemical Industries (known as ICI), Victrex was listed on the FTSE250 in 1995. Today it has a market value of around £2 billion and 2014 figures showed that revenue had reached £252.6M, with pre-tax profits of £102.7M. Half-year results for 2015 also show renewed growth – up from £48.9 million in 2014 to £53.9 million this year. In addition, in April 2015, Victrex successfully commissioned a new manufacturing facility at their HQ in Thornton-Cleveleys. Their planned polymer innovation centre (announced in February) will turn lab concepts into real-world solutions and processes, enabling the scaling up of new products for a global audience. Most staggeringly of all, 97% of Victrex’s revenue comes from exports across more than 40 countries.

With the heart of the company firmly rooted in the North-West of England, Victrex has also grown an international presence, with offices in Germany, China, Japan and the US. Employing over 750 people, including around 500 across its three UK-based facilities, Victrex has one eye on the future, regularly engaging with local schools and hiring an ever-increasing number of apprentices (with 12 currently in training). It also work closely with universities in the North-West, including Manchester, supporting year-in-industry placements and hiring both graduates and PhD-qualified scientists.

The company continues to go from strength to strength; In recognition of its outstanding work, Victrex was recently named as a finalist in the running for the UK’s premier engineering innovation prize – the MacRobert Award – from the Royal Academy of Engineering.

This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by Royal Academy of Engineering .

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