Tuesday 27 June 2017

Renishaw lasers in on way forward in 'driverless' sector

Renishaw is supplying similar laser-scanning components for use in self-driving cars (stock photo)
Renishaw is supplying similar laser-scanning components for use in self-driving cars (stock photo)

John Reynolds

Dubliner David McMurtry's precision engineering firm Renishaw has emerged as a supplier of high-tech laser altimeters used by drones and is also supplying similar laser-scanning components for use in self-driving cars.

Though mainly associated with high-tech manufacturing - the firm is known to supply machinery used in the 'mega-factories' of the giant Chinese and Korean makers of Apple and Samsung smartphones - the company of the Clontarf-born former Concorde engine troubleshooter is also developing other such product lines, including medical robots and industrial 3D printing machines.

The Bristol-headquartered business, in which the 75 year-old car enthusiast owns a 36pc, €910m stake, employs more than 4,300 around the world, some 200 of which are in Swords, North Dublin.

"Our laser modules are used in unmanned aerial vehicles as well as other aircraft, and this is a small part of our metrology business. We've been involved in the 'driverless' sector as far back as the early 2000s, when our encoders [which detect and measure distance] were first used in test vehicles," a company spokesman said.

"In relation to where we are today, for confidentiality reasons, we can't say very much, other than that we are working with a variety of companies on the application of products we manufacture, for their possible use in the development of self-driving vehicles.

"Our laser altimeters are used in planes, helicopters and UAVs, to measure the distance of the aircraft from the ground, to identify obstacles, and to support accurate flights and landings.

"The lightweight and compact design of our modules has made them an especially popular choice for integration into both fixed wing and rotary UAVs," the firm's website explains.

A further section outlines how LiDAR (light detection and ranging) laser scanners use Renishaw high-tech measuring encoders. "Self-driving cars, in particular, require sophisticated LiDAR systems to automatically control vehicle speed, distance from other vehicles and braking, in accordance with traffic conditions.

"Many of the world's leading LiDAR manufacturers have developed vehicular LiDAR laser-scanning systems with Renishaw's high-performance optical encoders onboard, to provide precise and accurate co-ordinate measurement data for the purposes of road infrastructure mapping and surveying."

The company's recently released mid-year results revealed strong demand and the weaker pound had boosted its sales by 21pc and profit by 25pc. It now expects its sales for this financial year to reach €588m-€624m, with a profit of between €100m and €124m, McMurtry said.

It also revealed how it was expanding its factories in Detroit and Mexico to better service car manufacturing customers, while expanding other capabilities in Chicago and Canada. A boost to the firm's sales may come if a maker of Apple's iPhones begins manufacturing them in India.

In relation to the company's concerns about the consequences of Brexit, McMurtry - one of Ireland's most successful businessmen and a leading inventor - told this newspaper: "EU countries accounted for 23pc of our 2016 sales and we have 16 EU subsidiaries.

"When it comes to the outcome of the negotiations between the UK government and the EU, we're actively lobbying through trade bodies such as the CBI, Manufacturing Technologies Association and directly with government representatives for the maintenance of simple access to EU markets; no customs administration duties, or tariffs; regulatory equivalence with the EU; continued access to EU academic projects and appropriate access to skilled workers wherever they're located in the world."

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