Innovative County Durham manufacturer Thomas Swan is set to grow its business involving wonder product graphene after being awarded four Government grants.
The Consett-based company, established by Tommy Swan in 1926, last year launched a range of graphene products known as Elicarb on a pilot line capable of manufacturing up to 1kg a day.
Now the firm has been selected to take part in a pioneering project – called Realising the Graphene Revolution – set in motion by Innovate UK, devised to identify and optimise the ways in the which the crystalline carbon can be used.
The firm, which employs 165 people, has secured four projects as part of the programme, which will see it work with other leading companies including Sharp Laboratories, M-SOLV Ltd and experts from Manchester, Bradford, Surrey and Nottingham Trent Universities.
Managing director Harry Swan said: “We see graphene as a significant growth opportunity which will add new products into new markets and extend our portfolio of speciality materials. As our graphene products contain high quality graphene platelets we expect them to be used in applications requiring high conductivity such as printed electronics, energy storage and touch panels.
“We were delighted to secure four UK Government grants from Innovate UK in the fields of energy storage, separations, printed electronics and touch panels; and are particularly pleased with the calibre of partners we will be working with.
“Interest in our graphene products has continued to grow since the product launch in April 2014.
“Initially we were supplying small quantities for research groups; now with the start-up of our pilot line in November 2014 we can supply customers with kilogram quantities for development of commercial products. We are selling products to all regions Europe, North America and Asia through our own international offices or via distributors.”
News of the Government grants follows publication of the firm’s accounts for the year ended March 31 2014, in which turnover had a small lift from £25.07m to £25.35m.
Operating profit, however, dropped from £1.4m to £225,484, due in part to increased utility costs for gas and electricity.
The rising bills led to the construction of an anerobic digester, using locally-grown grass to provide power for the nanotechnology firm. Research and development costs also played a part in the drop in profit.
Mr Swan said: “We were pleased to maintain the level of turnover for the business on a year-on-year basis. However operating profits were reduced because of the effects of increased energy costs, additional depreciation arising from major capital expenditure and a significant increase in R&D expenditure to support our ongoing strategic new product development programme.”
“Increased utility cost for last year was another reason why we have sought to establish an AD plant on site to provide our electricity requirements at a predictable and stable cost.”
Over the course of the year the firm invested £2m in a new contract manufacturing plant, which increased the company’s depreciation costs, and Mr Swan – named by The Manufacturer Top 100 report as one of the UK’s most inspirational individuals within UK manufacturing – said the firm continues to invest in upgrades.
He said: “We have made investments associated with new regulatory requirements, improved equipment on site and the new graphene plant.
“We continue to invest in upgrading our plant at Consett. This is mostly a general upgrade to improve the safety, reliability and efficiency of our equipment but occasionally we will make a project specific investment which we will announce on a case by case basis.”
The company, which has offices in New Jersey and Shanghai, produces advanced materials and performance chemicals for use across a whole host of sectors, exporting to more than 80 countries worldwide, and demand from US customers has been strong.
Mr Swan added: “This year has been particularly strong for our household care sector. We have secured new business in the USA for this sector and we hope to see this demand continue for the next 12 to 24 months.
“We are also seeing a healthy demand for our contract and toll services with a strong product pipeline for the next 6 to 12 months.”