A glass act: St Asaph firm propelled to success with fighter jet deal

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Tony Palframan, the MD of Phoenix Optical Technologies, and Lizzie Peters, key account manager, with the Armourdillo Toughened glass at their site in St Asaph Business Park.

A glass manufacturing firm that’s pioneered an ultra-strong optical glass for the cockpit of military fighter jets will be sharing its vision for success at a new business event.

Tony Palframan, the MD of Phoenix Optical Technologies, and Lizzie Peters, key account manager, with the Armourdillo Toughened glass at their site in St Asaph Business Park.

Phoenix Optical Technologies Ltd, based on St Asaph Business Park, is toasting success after launching its Armourdillo Toughened Glass following a three-year development process.

The product is a revolutionary type of glass – made exclusively in North Wales – which undergoes chemical strengthening to help it withstand a higher impact than standard glass.

The glass is being used in the cockpit of F16 fighter jets, which can fly at speeds of up to 1,350 mph, as a transparent information screen (heads up display) directly in front of the pilot to enable aviators to view data safely without looking away from their flightpath.

Phoenix Optical Technologies, which launched the product in San Francisco this month, is among a host of businesses helping to promote Denbighshire’s economic potential at the ‘Denbighshire for Growth: Advanced Materials and Manufacturing’  event next month to mark March for Business, Denbighshire County Council’s Business Month.

The firm, which was founded by Tony Palframan in 1991, will represent St Asaph’s growing glass industry in the networking conference, being hosted at the OpTIC Technology Centre in St Asaph on March 30.

The MC for the event will be Sarah Dickins, the BBC Wales Economic Correspondent.

The guest speakers will include Peter White, Managing Director of St Asaph based high tech firm Qioptiq, Professor Chris Hancock from the School of Electronic Engineering at Bangor University and Neil Ashbridge, the former Wales Agent for the Bank of England.

Lizzie Peters, 25, key account manager (sales) at Phoenix Optical Technologies, said: “We think we could potentially double our turnover with this one product. It’s a very exciting time for everyone involved and we’re looking forward to sharing its capabilities with other businesses in Denbighshire.

“It’s a completely unique glass designed for chemical strengthening and we’re the only company that has the recipe to produce it. It can be used in a variety of situations from aircraft heads up displays through to windows to protect military camera drones.

“During ‘bird strike’ tests, the glass can withstand a 1kg steel ball being dropped from a six-metre height without any scratches or damage.

“Eventually, when the glass does reach its cracking point, it is designed to break into small pieces rather than large shards of glass, increasing the safety of pilots and protecting electronic equipment.

The business event, which runs from 10am until 3.30pm, will feature a wide range of academic, industry and government speakers who will share their insight into future opportunities for the advanced materials and manufacturing sector in Denbighshire and the wider region.

Hugh Evans, the Leader of Denbighshire County Council, said: “Denbighshire offers businesses a fantastic opportunity for growth and innovation and many firms are already reaping the rewards.

“We’re very pleased to be welcoming Phoenix Optical Solutions along to the Denbighshire for Growth event and hope that its success inspires other businesses to grasp the opportunities out there for expansion on both a national and global stage.”

Phoenix Optical Technologies founder Tony Palframan originally worked as an apprentice for Pilkington Special Glass, one of the original St Asaph-based optical glass manufacturers, before being handpicked to work for large US firm Perkin Elmer. When Tony moved back to the UK he established Phoenix Optical Glass Ltd making glass trophies.

The company, which has worked with local glass artist Rhian Haf to win the Arts, Business & Employees Award by Arts and Business Cymru, supplies glass, infrared material and plastics for use in cameras, periscopes, military equipment, rifle sights, cinema equipment and night vision goggles to name but a few.

The firm, which employs 45 staff and, according to Lizzie, they’re proud to be the main sponsor of St. Asaph Cricket club.

The company also has one of the largest diamond turning facilities in Europe – this is a type of mechanical cutting and shaping technique used on infrared materials such as silicon and germanium for use in telescopes, video projectors, missile guidance systems and lasers.

“We’ve recently launched the new Armourdillo products at San Francisco’s SPIE Photonics West 2017 Exhibition,” said Lizzie, from Kinmel Bay, Conwy, who has been working for the firm for seven years.

“The feedback from that event was brilliant. We’ve had at least 80 sales leads from that launch show alone showing the huge potential of the product internationally.

“The glass is unique to Phoenix and the optics are manufactured and chemically strengthened in St Asaph. A typical use for this glass would be on a military drone where the camera is likely to be hit by dust, rain and stones.

“Our glass would survive in these conditions ultimately extending the lifetime of that camera system.

“Phoenix Optical Technologies has been at the forefront of the growing optical industry in North Wales for many years. St Asaph now has a wealth of highly advanced optical businesses in the area which complement one another and provide a rich source of specialist expertise.

“Tony Palframan was a board member of the newly formed Optic Technium which has become a major success and employer in the area. Tony is very proud of his association with the Technium project.

“Lots of jobs have been created in the process which is really positive for the local economy.

“We’re really looking forward to the opportunity to talk to other businesses about our products with the intention of creating further business opportunities.

“Phoenix is really proud to be based in North Wales and flying the flag for the region while competing with the very best advances in technology globally.”

The ‘Denbighshire for Growth:  Advanced Materials and Manufacturing’ event takes place on March 30 at the OpTIC Technology Centre in St Asaph.

Key speakers also include Rebecca Maxwell, Corporate Director of Denbighshire County Council; Iwan Thomas, Regional Programme Manager: Skills and Employment at the North Wales Economic Ambition Board; James Evans, Denbighshire County Council’s Lead Officer for Inward Investment and High Growth and  Caroline Gray, Director of Glyndwr University’s OpTIC Technology Centre and Peter White, Managing Director of Qioptiq.

James Evans, the county council’s lead officer for inward investment and high growth, said: “Denbighshire County Council is passionate about nurturing its local businesses and giving them the tools they need to grow and thrive, ultimately boosting the economy. This event aims to promote the county and the North Wales region as the ideal destination to do business as well as highlighting the development work underway between partners to attract further investment in the future.”

For more information about the even visit: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/denbighshire-for-growth-sir-ddinbych-o-blaid-twf-tickets-31410338167?aff=med and for information about how to invest in Denbighshire go to  http://www.investindenbighshire.co.uk/en