R&D lights the way to LED sales spike

“Thanks to Enterprise Ireland’s RD&I grants, we do the knowledge-economy part in Ireland now. This has created jobs and been a great success for us.”

– Pat Kelly, Research, Development and Innovation Director, LED Group

 

Case Study: LED Group

Innovation in its ROBUS brand is a crucial driver of growth for the LED Group, a leading provider of LED lighting technologies, founded in 1984.

Its products, sold mainly via electrical wholesalers worldwide, offer energy savings, a long life and ease of maintenance. “Traditionally, customers put halogen fittings in their homes, but now there’s an array of LED products to choose from with far longer lifespans,” says marketing manager Deirdre Howard.

In 2014, the company set up a team focused exclusively on research, development and innovation (RD&I), underpinned by grants from Enterprise Ireland. This allowed it to win market share abroad and strategically exit manufacturing in China.

“When I came in as a research, development and innovation director in early 2014,” says Pat Kelly, “we had a relatively small share of the residential downlight market in Britain.” Kelly, who arrived at the company with a physics and engineering background, initiated a project that incorporated new state-of-the-art knowledge into a downlight: driver-on-board technology.

The grant funding allowed the company to test around 20 prototypes of the new technology before achieving a breakthrough.

“We introduced a product called Triumph Activate that substantially expanded our share of the market. It allowed us to tender in new areas because of its reliability, and its sales have put a significant amount of money on our topline too.”

KEY TAKEOUTS

  • Product reliability substantially increased market share and opened new areas for tender.
  • Adapting products for foreign markets created rapid growth and built brand perception.
  • Enterprise Ireland’s RD&I funding provided a safety net against risk and helped seed investment

When LED light fittings are powered by mains electricity, the current has to pass through a special electronic device called a driver. Often separate from the light fitting itself, this device is based on old capacitor technology and contains bulky components that must be soldered together. As a result, it’s often the first point of failure.

LED Group developed driver-on-board circuitry that can be included in the light itself. It’s essentially a pod that can be dropped into the light fitting, making the system much more efficient and reliable, improving its longevity, and requiring less power. All components are placed by machine, minimizing the potential for human error.

The company launched a version adapted for the Australian market; it only entered this market in 2010 but has already seen rapid growth there. “Introducing products such as Triumph Activate gets people talking and is a really positive force in building brand perception,” says Howard.

Another RD&I project saw the company convert one of its range of small fluorescent outdoor lights to LED, then move the technology to bigger lights for car parks and develop a patented retrofit capability for them. “We can retrofit not just our own fitting, but those of 16 other manufacturers,” points out Kelly.

LED Group is also part of LEDLUM, a European-funded project which aims to reduce the weight of the LED driver by 90 per cent and increase its lifetime. “This enables us to play senior hurling on the research stage,” quips Kelly. He hopes it will ultimately enable the company to offer a ten-year warranty on fittings by 2020.

Another ambitious goal that Enterprise Ireland’s RD&I funding supports is the development of ‘human-centric lighting’. This will bring outdoor light quality indoors, replicating natural light by tuning the blue content that our eyes use to set our body clock. “The lighting behaves as if it’s morning or afternoon,” explains Howard. “We hope to launch products in universities, schools and hospitals next year.”

Click here to learn more about Enterprise Ireland’s Innovation supports.

Ding credits innovation for growth

“We looked at ways of automating our day-to-day operations so as much of the business as possible is focused on R&D and creating new features & products.”

– David Shackleton, CEO, Ding

KEY TAKEOUTS

  • Developing proprietary technologies led to huge competitive advantage.
  • New products and improved technology enhanced user experience and drove success.
  • Enterprise Ireland offices abroad enabled rapid expansion into foreign markets.

Case Study: Ding

Irish SME Ding offers consumers an easy way to deliver mobile top-ups to friends and family in over 130 countries. People can add data or minutes using the Ding app or website, or by walking into one of 600,000 stores worldwide.

The company allows users to deliver credit to phones from over 400 different operators, with a reach of four billion phones.

“It’s a simple idea, but the complexity becomes a huge challenge when you do it at scale,” explains Ding CEO, David Shackleton.

The company started selling phone top-ups in 2006, but with just a little marketing new customers quickly came on board.

“Back then we had a pretty clunky technology platform, but as people realised they could use this service to provide a gift in another country, word quickly spread,” recalls Shackleton. Ding is especially popular among expats with links to Africa, Asia and the Caribbean.

Ding received RD&I grants from Enterprise Ireland that were particularly crucial in its early days. “We were able to invest and build up proprietary technologies and push the envelope in terms of the platform’s scale, which has given us a massive competitive advantage,” says Shackleton.

The three major corridors for Ding’s business are currently North America to Latin and Central America, Europe to Africa, and the Middle East to Asia. With 190 employees, 130 of them in Ireland, the company had gross revenues last year of half a billion dollars. It continues to enhance the user experience by improving its technology. Shackleton believes that: “every pre-paid phone in the world – which is 85 per cent of phones – should have an app that’s able to do top-ups. That’s a huge opportunity.”

One project supported by an Enterprise Ireland grant illustrates how solving a complex problem can simplify life for consumers. A customer can walk into a shop, ask to put €5 onto a mobile phone number elsewhere in the world, and Ding handles the rest. “We developed a piece of technology that allows us to predict from somebody’s phone number which mobile operator they use,” says Shackleton.

“It’s a really nice, seamless experience for the user, but behind the scenes there’s a lot of complexity involved in doing it.”

The Enterprise Ireland funding pushed the company to think about what represented business as usual and what was innovative. “Recently, we looked a lot at ways of automating our day-to-day operations so as much of the business as possible is focused on R&D and creating new features,” explains Shackleton. Ding often releases over 20 updates in a single week, such as support for new mobile operators, improved user flow on Ding’s website, or improved content on the app. “You could develop an app for €10,000 but to be truly world-class and operate at scale, the backend system needs to be sophisticated, which takes millions of euros and years upon years of learning and development.”

The core platform runs hundreds of transactions every second, with a surge at peak times on Friday nights and Saturdays. The company also runs deep learning algorithms and machine learning to manage and monitor fraud, and underpin digital marketing initiatives. According to Shackleton: “We can do a reasonably accurate prediction of what a customer might be worth to us over time, which enables us to spend confidently in terms of digital marketing.”

Headquartered in Dublin, the company has regional offices in Miami, Dubai, Barcelona, San Salvador, Bucharest and Dhaka. Shackleton credits Enterprise Ireland offices abroad with allowing the company to expand to markets as diverse as Russia, Vietnam, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia: “we couldn’t have done business in all those countries without their help.”

Ceramicx – Using Technology Transfer for New Product Development

“Licensing new technology has enabled Ceramicx to develop cutting-edge innovation that will power the company’s latest wave of international growth.”

The Aston Martin BD9 touring car contains aluminium panels alongside fibre-reinforced plastic panels that are bound together with super-strength adhesive, developed by Irish company Ceramicx through an infrared heating process.

The West Cork-based company is now announcing a world-first in launching the Herschel, a machine that measures and maps infrared heating.

“Infrared is invisible, of course, so it’s a hard thing to quantify. Usually people measure infrared output as the heat produced as a secondary reaction, but the Herschel maps the output of an emitter in watts [power] per cm2,” explains Cathal Wilson, director at Ceramicx.

The technology, first pioneered at Trinity College Dublin’s Manufacturing Research Facility, is named after William Herschel, the German-born astronomer who moved to Britain in the eighteenth century and became famous for his large telescopes. He also discovered infrared radiation and the planet Uranus.

The licensing deal with Ceramicx and subsequent process of technology transfer was the fruit of an Innovation Partnership, part funded by Enterprise Ireland. In turn, it has unleashed a new avenue for international sales for the West Cork company.

Ceramicx is up-skilling its staff of 63 and preparing to double its floor space, adding further labs, offices and manufacturing capacity. The Ballydehob firm is no newbie, though. The company has been perfecting its infrared heat work for 25 years, and it exports to 65 countries, with key markets being China, Germany, UK and the US.

Ceramicx will use the breakthrough technology to further refine the infrared heaters and ovens it develops in-house for food and other manufacturers. But the company also expects demand for Herschel as a test instrument for large companies that rely on infrared energy in manufacturing.

Like baking a cake, there is a heat recipe in every material, and there are a number of variables that must be controlled to get the best, most efficient and most cost-effective solution. The Herschel will allow manufacturers to refine the dial on their heat recipe with amazing precision.

“There are probably five or six major companies in the world that would be interested in this new technology,” Wilson says. These include the likes of Corning Glass, European Aerospace, Boeing and leading-edge tech companies serving likes of NASA.

The company came to realise the need for a machine like Herschel after it had worked through a challenging assignment developing a finished oven for Corning Inc., the makers of the Gorilla Glass used in mobile devices such as the Apple and Samsung smartphones. A curved piece of glass 0.7mm-thick was required, and the initial calculation and trial stages of the glass finishing project engaged five Ceramicx engineers for over a week. “If I had been able to put the problem in front of the Herschel, I could essentially have had the figures immediately,” Wilson explains.

Within its own processes, the machine is enabling Ceramicx to create more energy efficient thermoforming machines for industry.

Another application is in the production of energy efficient ovens for manufacturers of foods such as biscuits, cereals and pizzas. Ceramicx has developed 12 food-industry related patents for Black and Decker, and the Irish company holds the commercial rights for the application of these patents in industrial-scale projects in Europe.

In the case of the Aston Martin BD9, Ceramicx designed and built not only a radiant infrared emitter, but it came up with the best possible solution so that the energy would be adequately absorbed, and the cure would take place in sympathy with the best chemical and mechanical characteristic of the bond. The result is an adhesive bond stronger than a weld, explains Wilson.

Commenting on the impact of Herschel, Cathal’s father, Ceramicx founder and managing director Frank Wilson observes: “For thousands of years, man has played with steel, trying out various heat works to it to make it suitable for certain jobs. In recent years, the plastics industry and other materials sectors have begun to realise that there is a whole range of heat work that can also be applied to improve the performance these materials also.” For these industries, he says, the benefits will be immeasurable.