When Glyndŵr Innovations picked up the Innovative Product of the Year at the Wales Technology Awards at City Hall Cardiff in June, it capped off an incredibly successful and groundbreaking period for the commercial arm of Wrexham Glyndŵr University.
Glyndŵr Innovations’ ultra-lightweight telescope for ground imaging applications was the judges’ pick, beating off stiff competition in a hotly contested category. The technology and skills required were developed from an earlier project to produceoptics is being used in the European Southern Observatory’s Extremely Large Telescope, which is currently being built in the remote Atacama desert in Chile. Previously, making one mirror was a six-to-seven month process. In the full production phase the client will need one every three days – there are just under 800 in the telescope.
It will allow astronomers to see deep into the expanses of space when it reaches completion in 2022, via a telescope half the size of a football pitch. The telescope is comprised of lenses using processes developed and engineered in Wales. These processes allow precision polishing to within 7.5 nanometers of accuracy – essentially an atomic level.
“The design of the Ultra Lightweight telescope for the High-Altitude Pseudo Satellite (HAPS) application was a new challenge, and took core skills of the whole group here,” explains Caroline Gray, director at Glyndŵr Innovations. “The challenge laid down was groundbreaking in itself to produce an instrument that met with the extreme size and mass requirements of the platform."
There’s a long track-record of lens and glass production in St Asaph dating back to when global giant Pilkington came to the area in the 1950s, attracted by the region’s naturally pure air which was perfect for making glass. Electro-optics soon became a major player in the region’s local economy, with Qioptiq, another electro-optics specialist establishing itself in the 1960s. “There’s a great pool of skill and expertise here – it’s a really good example of when an anchor company comes to an area and other companies spring up around it,” says Gray.
While Pilkington left St Asaph in 2008, the tiny Cathedral city of around 3,500 inhabitants continues to punch well above its weight when it comes to science and innovation. The Glyndŵr Innovations OpTIC Centre has certainly played its part in this, providing a much-needed business and technology hub in the area. The facility has space for conferences and meetings and it’s also home to a buzzing community of diverse tech companies in its business incubation centre. “We provide support services – signpost them towards funding and business support,” Gray explains.
You get the impression that you wouldn’t need an Extremely Large Telescope to see that the future of Glyndŵr Innovations looks good. The company is also developing a Lidar system with local neighbours Airbus. “It’s a very disruptive technology – there’s never anything been this lightweight for this application,” Gray adds.
Glyndŵr Innovations has already felt the benefits of ESTnet membership since joining this year. "Glyndwr Innovations at OpTIC Technology Centre joined ESTnet in order to grow our network and increase opportunities for collaboration," Gray reveals. "ESTnet is the ideal network to highlight the services our precision optical systems and components group can offer, as well as promoting the business support and facilities available to high-tech, innovative businesses and start-ups at OpTIC."
ELT image: Wikipedia Commons