Profiting from a new vision with Omni

Innovation awards finalist Ash Technologies has developed an advanced digital microscope that delivers increased speed, accuracy and automation of inspection systems.

 Louis Ryan (left), director of R&D at Ash Technologies; Martin Cahill, chief operating officer; and Hugh Maguire, founder and chief executive

Louis Ryan (left), director of R&D at Ash Technologies; Martin Cahill, chief operating officer; and Hugh Maguire, founder and chief executive

 

The Omni from Ash Technologies is an advanced digital microscope specifically designed to meet the exacting inspection and measurement requirements of a range of industry sectors including electronics, automotive, medical devices, and aerospace. The system was developed in response to extensive user research which identified unmet needs for increased speed, accuracy and automation of inspection systems.

The company has a long history in vision systems, as founder and chief executive Hugh Maguire explains.

“We established the company in 1994 to manufacture electronic magnifiers for people with visual impairments. This sustained us for many years until about 2010 when we were faced with increasing commoditisation of our market. We had always chased the technology curve and integrated the latest advances into our products. For example, we adopted HD into our products very early on.”

This policy served the company well, and the turning point came at a trade show in the UK in 2011. “It was a production industry show, and a few manufacturers came to our stand and put some parts under our device and they were very impressed with the results. It was pure serendipity. That was our lightbulb moment.”

They followed this up with a visit to a German trade show devoted to inspection systems and came home with orders for an adapted version of their existing product. That early success presented a number of challenges, however. Not least of them was the business model.

New territory

“We had to pivot from being a B2C company to aiming at a B2B market,” Maguire recalls. “This was new territory for us. We had to find the potential end-users, establish their needs, and then engage in an innovation process to develop a new inspection and measurement solution.”

The company participated in the Enterprise Ireland Innovation 4 Growth programme which he says was very important. “It helped us with the innovation process and getting the culture and approach right. This was very important as we had to do it quite rapidly.”

The result is a high-definition video camera system with a zoom range of up to x250 which is easy to use, pre-calibrated in the factory, and can be operated in a range of industries including electronics for the detection of faults in circuit boards, medical devices for the examination of stents, biopsy needles and other products, and aerospace for the inspection of engines and engine parts.

“We developed the hardware platform based on our high-definition camera technology,” says Maguire. “It has very powerful communications capabilities with ethernet, USB and other ports enabling it to send live data to other systems. It is a smart detection and measurement system.”

Ireland’s strong base of medical device, pharmaceutical, and electronics companies has proved to be fertile ground for the company.

Pivot the company

“We didn’t plan to have a market here five years ago but it is very important to us,” he notes. “Business is growing very well. We found ourselves in a very difficult situation six years ago and managed to pivot the company and develop the Omni system completely organically. It has all been debt funded.”

The Omni now accounts for 90 per cent of sales for Ash Technologies.

“We still supply low-vision products to loyal customers in Ireland, the UK and France, ” says Maguire. “But the strategic focus of the company is now on the inspection and measurement business. We are targeting sales of €4 million to €4.5 million this year in that area, with 90 per cent exported to over 30 different countries around the world.

“We now have nearly 30 people working in the company, and this will grow to about 35 by the end of the year. We have a great bunch of people working here in the company, and they all really enjoy what they are doing.”

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