Measured success

A third-quarter sales lull stifled what looked to be a promising year for Millbrook Scientific, the designer and manufacturer of instruments for measuring films and coatings at nanoscale level.

Headline sales at the Blackburn company increased by 32 per cent but it admitted the 12 months was not as strong as was hoped. The downturn was attributed to several customers failing to secure capital budget allocations in time, though sales recovered towards the end of the year.

However, with a steadily growing global presence — new markets last year included Australia and Greece, while sales in Asia grew by 92 per cent — executive chairman Dr Peter Stefanini remained confident.

‘Last year’s principal achievement was that we completed the development of a number of new products that greatly enhance our range. These are now ready to market and have already generated substantial interest. Compared with last year, the order book is stronger, the product range is broader and the cost base is reduced,’ he said.

The company’s technology base is centred on three core products.

The first, MiniSIMS, provides a means of chemically analysing a material by bombarding the surface atoms to generate a 3D image, showing what the material is made of and what it looks like.

The second, called Nanotest, is based on a technique that measures the mechanical properties of a thin film without interference from the substrate material. This is achieved by using of a small diamond probe fixed to a vertical pivoted pendulum.

Finally, Aquila nkd characterises the optical properties of a thin film, including its thickness, through a sophisticated technique that produces a numerical measure of the light reflected from a material and also simultaneously any light transmitted through transparent samples.

‘In north America we have set up a joint selling venture for Nanotest and are considering a similar strategy for the MiniSIMS,’ said Stefanini. ‘Our performance is strongest in Asia which is good news, because market projections show Asia as the region where disproportionately high growth in scientific instruments is expected in the next few years.’

He also cited a number of recent reports that could prove a fillip to sales — in particular the NanoRoadMap project (co-funded by the Sixth Framework Programme of the European Commission) emphasising the expansion of the surface engineering and nanocoatings market.