Global firm developing new communications technology

An international firm is getting closer to launching its new high-speed communications technology, which is being developed in Devon.

The UK team of US-owned firm BB Photonics is developing new technology for global companies that will make data centres run more cheaply and efficiently. Based at Plymouth University’s Brixham Laboratory, the team is aiming to take its product to market within 12 months.

To develop its innovative technology, the firm is using the world-class facilities at Plymouth Electron Microscopy Centre (PEMC), part of Plymouth University. PEMC was transformed in 2012 as part of a £1.3 million three-year project, jointly funded by the University, JEOL (UK) Ltd and a £579,960 grant from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). It has created a world-class centre for electron microscopy, giving the University state-of-the art support for research, teaching and industrial collaboration.

BB Photonics is one of a growing number of South West business to seek PEMC’s expertise, through GAIN (the Growth Acceleration and Investment Network). GAIN enables Plymouth University to work with partners across the South West to help businesses achieve their growth potential.

The new system being developed by BB Photonics is designed to be faster and cheaper than existing technologies. In particular, it eliminates the need for cooling. Air conditioning costs to reduce the heat generated by existing data technologies currently account for half of a data centre’s electricity costs, so this would represent a huge potential saving for a large company.

The firm has worked with PEMC to hone the design of tiny devices called spot size converters, which form a key element of BB Photonics custom Photonic Integrated Circuit technology. Seeing them up close, only possible using electron microscopes, means the team can analyse the precise quality of their fabrication and improve their performance. Since using PEMC’s cutting-edge microscopes, the firm has tweaked their designs and is getting closer to having a marketable product.

Bill Ring, BB Photonics CEO, said:

“Working with PEMC is helping us to build world-class spot size convertors, which are a really vital component in this new technology. Our aim is to sell our system to the world’s biggest IT companies so we need it to be perfect before it goes to market. The tests we are able to carry out at the University, along with our own lab measurements, are helping us make constant improvements. PEMC is now like an extension of our own facilities.
“For our business, having PEMC just a few miles away is essential. We are working with tiny materials and being able to access world-class microscopy equipment is vital to us continuing to be competitive in the future.”

BB Photonics is part of a burgeoning high-tech sector in Torbay, which now employs nearly 1,000 people generating over £108 million a year. The firm is benefiting from being part of a local cluster of photonics companies in Torbay that can share ideas and knowledge. As an official member of the Torbay High Tech Forum, PEMC is supporting this fast-growing sector by offering state of the art imaging and analysis.

Jason Buck, Investment Development Manager at Torbay Development Agency, said:

“Companies identify Torbay as having the skills and expertise to enable their businesses to grow but also recognise that key facilities are available locally to support them. Many Torbay Hi Tech forum members, including BB Photonics have used PEMC services as an integral part of the product development process and we are lucky that we can access them readily. PEMC are long established, valued members of the Torbay Hi Tech Forum. The new Electronics & Photonics Innovation centre, opening in 2017, at Whiterock in Paignton offers further opportunities for PEMC and the Torbay sector to develop even closer links.”

Head of GAIN at Plymouth University, Adrian Dawson said:

“This is a great example of how businesses can innovate and accelerate their growth using the University’s world-class facilities. Ambitious and innovative firms like BB Photonics not only need the latest equipment, they also require a fast turnaround and a team that understands the complexities of their work and PEMC provides exactly that.
“We are delighted that the University is supporting such exciting high tech developments in Torbay and look forward to future collaborations with BB Photonics and other businesses in the High Tech Forum.”