All posts by Julian Nettlefold

Thermoteknix – Shooting The Moon! By Julian Nettlefold

BATTLESPACE Editor Julian Nettlefold travelled up to Cambridge to meet Dr Richard Salisbury, Managing Director of Thermoteknix Systems Ltd.

Dr Richard Salisbury is a candidate for BATTLESPACE Businessman Of The Year 2019

History of Technical Innovation, Service & Quality in Thermal Imaging

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thermoteknix was founded in 1982 and has a distinguished history of consistent technical breakthroughs in infrared (IR) thermal imaging and thermal measurement based hardware, systems and software application products. Recognized in 1998 by the prestigious ‘Queen’s Award For Export Achievement,’ the ‘Queen’s Award for Enterprise (Innovation)’ in 2008, then again in 2015, Thermoteknix is one of the world’s leading sources of thermal imaging expertise and excellence.


“What drove you to form Thermoteknix in 1982 in such a technically challenging and cut-throat market with large multi-national corporations as your main competitors?”

 

 

 

 

 


“Thermal Imaging technology today is a mature science but in 1982 it was in its infancy. Back then, thermal imaging equipment was very large and heavy and the computer systems powerful enough to process real time video data and imagery only existed in Ministries of Defence. Such technology was certainly not commercially available to the scientific community, industrial monitoring nor law enforcement markets. At that time I was a physician specialising in Rheumatology at Cambridge, with both clinical medicine and academic research posts.

“We recognised the need for a computerised thermal imaging system to quantify inflammation, assess response to therapy and prevent long term damage to diseased joints. I had previous experience in this area having been a doctor at the Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases in Bath which was a leader in medical thermal imaging at the time. In collaboration with computer scientist Mike Prees, we put together a computerised hardware and software processing system for thermal imagers and realised that it had wider applications outside the field of our immediate use. We contacted Agema in Sweden, who were the manufacturers of the Thermovision 680 – the thermal camera we had already interfaced to our own designed digital electronics and processing software, which was then operating on an Apple II/CPM micro-computer. Agema recognised the potential of our technology for their customers and we formed Thermoteknix in order to commercialise and OEM the product to them for their global customer base.

“The “PC” market was developing rapidly and we saw the need to develop our technology into real-time video based image processing and to move the platform onto IBM PC/Intel technology. Our state-of-the-art electronics and software were ideally suited to the needs of another US infrared camera manufacturer, Inframetrics Inc, and we supplied them exclusively as an OEM with our wide range of Scientific, Military and Predictive Maintenance digital
hardware and software products. This arrangement endured successfully for 12 years until 1998, when FLIR purchased Inframetrics. Some years prior to this, we realised that reliance on a single customer and route to market embodied significant commercial risk and limitation to the company’s growth. We therefore needed to broaden the Thermoteknix portfolio by developing a range of vertical market products with our own routes to market.

“Early IR instruments were created by mechanically skilled developers in many companies yet they lacked the data capture electronics and software analysis tools needed to obtain the best value from the IR data generated by their instruments. With our unique experience and insight into the science of image processing, signal analysis and industry software standards, Thermoteknix developed TherMonitor® Reporter and ThermaGRAM® electronic hardware and software in the early 1980’s. We marketed them in partnership with leading IR camera suppliers for the next 20 years. Those products have become the ‘de facto’ IR industry standard tools and helped Thermoteknix’ marketing partners become the largest camera and systems suppliers of their time.”

“Was the defence and law enforcement market the key driver then?”

“No, defence and law enforcement markets came later with the development of our own thermal imaging cameras and modules. The scientific community was the main driver for our original OEM imaging market products with a focus on Research and Development, subsequently Predictive Maintenance and then Defence and Security. Running parallel to that was the development of a range of industrial thermal cameras built for continuous operation in the cement industry. These cameras must operate 24 hours per day, 365 days per year in very challenging environments, subject to extreme weather conditions and exposed to high levels of dust, shock and vibration. Thermoteknix have now sold over 1000 systems in more than 50 countries around the world. Having created camera systems which survive outdoors in severe conditions, (-40°C to + 60C and up to 1200°C inside a cement kiln) we now had the experience needed to design, build, supply and support thermal imaging solutions for a number of other sectors. These included security, surveillance and defence where durability, robustness, miniaturisation and unfailing reliability are all essentials.”

 

 

 

 


“Recognising the ability of our products to withstand extreme heat and vibration, Formula 1 were interested in using our technology to record and manage on track tyre temperature and heat distribution – a factor critical to performance. In 2008, we were contracted to develop a real-time miniature thermal imaging camera suitable to be installed on F1 race cars to monitor tyre temperature during testing and race practice. The data recorded by cameras enabled F1 team engineers to make adjustments to the suspension and other componentry to optimise traction and handling. This huge success was followed by a project with Red Bull Racing who wanted a similar system for their IndyCar team. This led to our big break with Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab who were working with CISCO to install systems on helicopters and Rapid Response vehicles. The team were also working on the Aegis Anti-Balistic Missile Defense system and we became a key supplier with our miniature thermal imaging cameras being used onboard for Aegis missile tests.

“Then came our most significant and prestigious contract to date which was working with NASA on the LCROSS (Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite) program, a complex mission to confirm the presence of sub-surface water on the Moon. We developed and supplied a space certified miniature thermal radiometric camera which was installed onto the Lunar robotically controlled spacecraft to film the debris and material resulting from the impact when the Centaur upper stage booster was deliberately driven from space into the Lunar surface. Analysis of the resulting plume conclusively proved the presence of lunar sub-surface water ice. We were the only non-US company selected for the LCROSS sensor project and we also captured the first and only thermal images of the dark side of the Moon. It was a truly exhilarating moment when five of our Thermoteknix team attended NASA Ames Mission Control during the closing stages of the LCROSS mission to witness the impact of the Centaur rocket booster into the Moon and the thermal images captured by our camera following six minutes behind in its wake. We are also proud to have one of our thermal imaging cameras now permanently embedded in the Moon!”

“In 2004 FLIR purchased another key infrared camera manufacturer Indigo Systems. Indigo were an OEM customer of ours and we saw the need to drastically redirect our business. This was to take into account the growing trend to online sales and the companies like FLIR developing very broad product ranges to address the industrial, law enforcement and military markets.

“Our new strategy was to restructure the Thermoteknix product offering into three related yet separate market sectors:
Industrial systems, OEM thermal imaging cores and modules, and Security, Surveillance and Defence vertical market products. Our aim was to develop a range of leading technology, non-ITAR, low power, high performance, cost effective products incorporating the best Size, Weight and Power (SWaP) combined with our proven expertise in quality, reliability, customer support and service.”
Segment Breakdown
Industrial – 30% with 10% compound growth p.a.
OEM Cores (Defence) – 30% with 10% – 30% compound growth p.a.
Security, Surveillance and Defence – 40% with 15% – 20% compound growth p.a.”


Thermoteknix Process Industry IR Monitoring Systems


Thermally driven processes in modern manufacturing industrial production plants require accurate and reliable monitoring for the overall plant success. IR measurement science offers ideal tools for process monitoring and optimization. The challenge of supplying effective instrumentation products starts with the harsh environments typical in cement plants, lime plants, paper mills, power plants and steel mills. Thermoteknix’ patented developments and creation of the Centurion IR linescan and ThermaScope® IR imaging video cameras, are designed for long life and high performance accuracy in the harsh environments found in these industrial applications. Thermoteknix WinCem® kiln shell scanning software provides 3D visualization of rotary kilns, WinStrip® networks thermal data and imagery within steel plants and Thermoteknix WinBrix® Refractory Management Systems provide major manufacturers with vital analysis, tracking and reporting in the multi-million dollar world of refractory selection and installation.


After more than 30 years, customers around the world still enjoy Thermoteknix on-going support including field service and are kept up to date with their Thermoteknix process industry monitoring systems. All major cement producers worldwide now purchase and rely on Thermoteknix Process Industry IR Monitoring Systems for use inside and outside their kilns.


The Thermoteknix MIRICLE® and MicroCAM range of OEM thermal imaging cameras were developed to offer integrators, system builders and end-users a self contained, high performance thermal imaging camera or module that exceed the performance of other units available. Thermoteknix thermal imaging cameras are available in a range of resolutions and lenses, from hermetically sealed space qualified units to hand held imagers, to multi-function target locators, fixed surveillance cameras and unattended ground sensors. Supported by Thermoteknix integral signal processing and image enhancement with flexible configurations, Thermoteknix thermal imaging cameras can provide a self-contained solution in a miniature package.

Thermoteknix continuously develops and enhances its thermal imaging products to today’s technology and in support of thousands of customers’ needs and applications in a wide variety of fields.

“You have developed an expertise in the development and manufacture of advanced cores?”

“We pride ourselves on the ability to design, manufacture and test our products under one roof. We have installed a top of the range shock test system as well as environmental test chambers to test our products to withstand the harshest conditions including weapon shock. Our in-house mechanical, electronic and software engineering departments are able to create vertical market off-the-shelf products as well as working directly with clients to develop or customise unique solutions to their specific program requirements.
The Thermoteknix range of MicroCAM 3 long-wave thermal imaging cores are suited to a wide variety of applications and are available with a choice of array sizes, pixel pitch and lens options. They also incorporate Thermoteknix’ patented XTi Shutterless Technology® so viewing is never interrupted. This also does away with moving parts making MicroCAM 3 ultra-reliable, silent and super power-efficient.
All MicroCAM 3 cores can be delivered as self-contained camera units or as OEM modules for integration into end-user products.”

The Thermoteknix Military and Law Enforcement range includes NVG image intensifiers, handheld and helmet mounted thermal imagers, target acquisition and location systems and image fusion devices.


The thermal and night vision range includes Thermoteknix NiCAM-14 NVG Image Intensifiers, TiCAM thermal imaging monoculars and binoculars, award-winning ClipIR clip-on thermal imagers for enhanced situational awareness using fused thermal and night vision and the small FuseIR monocular goggle combining high performance night vision and thermal imager.


TiCAM 1000C Target Acquisition and Location System

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Thermoteknix TiCAM 1000C is a day and night, rugged, surveillance, target location, acquisition and reconnaissance system that delivers accurate target location and real time visual and thermal imaging. It combines a LWIR uncooled thermal imager and high-resolution daylight CCD channel with Global Positioning System (GPS), eye-safe Laser Range Finder (LRF), Digital Magnetic Compass (DMC) and Laser Pointer. Targets are acquired quickly and accurately with a variety of methods to communicate essential location and target imagery to the observer and host systems.
Built-in image and video recording ensure that operationally critical information is recorded in camera or accessory device and presented in a clear format via the interactive user interface. The

TiCAM 1000C delivers a 24-hour capability in a wide range of challenging operational scenarios with a low training and support burden. The TiCAM 1000C is lightweight but housed in a compact, robust Aluminium clamshell case and operates from 8xAA batteries or external power. It can be connected directly to various Battle Management Systems (BMS) for real-time data exchange. Other TiCAM models in the range, including TiCAM 90, 600, 750, 1000A and 1000B provide a full suite of capabilities for the dismounted warrior or security professional.


ClipIR Small Clip-On Thermal Imager – Fused Thermal and Night Vision

 

 

 

 

 

The Thermoteknix ClipIR is a miniature self-contained uncooled thermal imager which attaches directly to most monocular, bi-ocular or binocular Night Vision Goggles (NVG’s) to deliver fused thermal and night vision when required. This extends and improves operational capabilities in all dark and low light conditions by providing enhanced situational awareness and threat identification. Fused thermal imaging and night vision synergistically increase engagement capability for the dismounted fighter. This is particularly important in urban environments, in buildings, caves or on jungle missions where intensifiers alone cannot deliver operational effectiveness due to limitations of NVG functionality in such situations.


ClipIR – with patented Shutterless XTI Technology® is the only clip-on thermal imager with a real-time 40° Field of View fused image. Small and weighing only 150g, with 4½ hours battery life from 1xAA battery, ClipIR is a compact, powerful addition for every NVG.
FuseIR Fused Thermal and Night Vision Monocular Goggle
Thermoteknix FuseIR is a lightweight goggle combining thermal imaging and image intensifier. Helmet mounted, the FuseIR provides superior capability in all low light conditions or on missions in complete darkness. I² only, Thermal or Fused I2 and Thermal only operation can be selected from a dedicated mode switch, while choice of various overlay and edge enhancement modes and other operating parameters can be selected from a simple to operate scroll wheel. FuseIR plays a vital role in night time operations for key, fast response fighters and intercept users. ClipIR and FuseIR are not for sale or use in USA.


NiCAM-14 Monocular NVG


Thermoteknix NiCAM-14 is a small and lightweight night vision monocular NVG which is available with onyx or green intensifier tubes and a choice of performance levels to meet the demands of the night fighter, from patrol to special operations. NiCAM-14 is usually helmet-mounted but can also be hand-held or weapon-mounted. The Thermoteknix NiCAM-14 features a fully integrated mounting bracket allowing instant attachment of a Thermoteknix ClipIR thermal imager for fused thermal and night vision capability.
The NiCAM-14 is one of Thermoteknix’ range of image intensifiers which also includes the NiCAM-7 bi-ocular and NiCAM-31 binoculars, all compatible with Thermoteknix’ ClipIR thermal clip-on imager.


TiSIGHT-DV50 Direct View Thermal Weapon Sight


The Thermoteknix TiSIGHT-DV50 is a rugged, direct view thermal weapon sight utilising a Thermoteknix MicroCAM thermal core which delivers up to 14 hours uninterrupted operation on 4xAA Lithium batteries. TiSIGHT-DV50 has Thermoteknix’ shutterless XTi technology with silent operation and without interruption to live image display usually found in other thermal weapon sights which require regular image calibration, particularly when live firing.
TiSIGHT-DV50 has a machined high grade Aluminium housing giving long term durability but lightweight on the weapon. It has a standard Picatinny rail for automatic and semi-automatic assault rifles without the need to “zero” or calibrate the system. It can also be used as a spotting scope when not weapon mounted.

A Clip-On model,TiSIGHT-CO50 is available for use in conjunction with a standard weapon sight.


The key enablers for Thermoteknix military products are:
1. High quality, innovation and reliable performance
2. The ability to customise systems
3. The development of specialised products and systems
4. Price Competitive with added value
5. Product Support and the training and support of agents across the world
6. Attention to detail and working with customers to ensure that the relationship continues post sale.

“Given the current budget squeeze in the UK, has this affected your sales figures?”

“No, we are an international business with a broad range of customers across the world, so we are insulated to some degree from the current UK MOD budget problems. We are patient as priorities change and MOD programs invariably move to the right. Our goal is always to deliver and support the best performing, best value products. This is not always “cheapest” but through life cost, reliability, longevity and the performance engineered by design into our products bring us success. Obviously, our overseas customers take comfort in the ‘chosen by UK MoD’ label which they hold in high regard, and reduction in UK MOD spending affects the long-term survival of UK SME’s in the defence industry.”


Sales detail by Region:
1. UK MoD 10%
2. Mainland Europe 25%
3. Asia 35%
4. North and South America 25%
5. Other 5%

The Future

Thermoteknix currently employs 69 people at its Cambridge facility with agents representing their products all over the world. Many of these agents are highly qualified engineers with a breadth of capabilities from embedded and UI software through microelectronics in thermal imaging.


“How do you see Thermoteknix in the next twenty years?”


“My co-founder, Mike Prees, retired in 1992 and Thermoteknix has been family owned since then with my wife Geraldine as co-director. We currently turn over between £10-12m per annum without external investment. We have a history of innovation, recognised by three UK Queen’s Awards, technology development unsurpassed in the industry and a reputation earned over thirty years for quality and customer dedication by our long serving, and extraordinarily gifted staff. We work closely with our agents on the ground and we have products in use and still supported for more than twenty years. I am indebted to my wife and co-director, Geraldine who has shared the trials and tribulations and successes of our Company since its inception and to our children who have been part of our journey into the dark. I would obviously like one or more of our sons to take a role in driving the business forward in the future and to bring their energy and skills to grow and adapt the direction of the company. Finding the best staff is always challenging and the current Brexit debacle is a real obstacle to recruitment with its negative climate for stability, investment and business development. The sooner the UK’s position and role on the world’s stage are confirmed and agreed, the better it will be for UK PLC.”


“In the military product segment our mission is to develop and deliver a range of products extending from a simple sensor for the dismounted war fighter to a variety of sophisticated multi-function devices integrated across the battlefield and to the HQ.”


Dr Richard Salisbury, aged 69 has been married to Geraldine for 32 years. They have four boys, Max, an A&E doctor, Jonti, territory sales manager at Thermoteknix, Ben, European sales manager at the London Stock Exchange, FTSE Russel Group, and Charlie who is a data analyst at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange

 


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