Backed by leading UK technology venture capital firm, Foresight Group (“Foresight”), Aquasium comprises two divisions:
• Cambridge Vacuum Engineering, (“CVE”) – a global leader in the design, manufacture and support of vacuum furnaces and electron beam welders based in Cambridge, England (www.camvaceng.com); and
• EBTEC Corporation, (“EBTEC”) – a provider of high energy materials processing and specialist manufacturing services to aerospace, power generation, defence and medical device customers, based in Agawam, Massachusetts, USA (www.ebteccorp.com).
Since acquiring CVE in 2001 and EBTEC in 2005, Aquasium has worked closely with TWI (formerly The Welding Institute), the world leader in materials joining and surface engineering, to develop and commercialise a portfolio of next generation electron beam technologies with substantial potential.
1. Surface Texturing – Surfi-Sculpt™
The ability to engineer a surface is critical to the bonding or joining of dissimilar materials, be they titanium and bone tissue in an orthopaedic hip implant or polymer composites and aluminium in an aircraft fuselage.
CVE with TWI, has developed a turnkey technology platform Surfi-Sculpt™ that deflects a particular electron beam to create up to 3,000 surface features per second in metal and non-metallic substrates. Precise, geometric arrays of protruding and re-entrant features (on scales from several millimeters to 10 microns per feature) can be achieved, dramatically increasing the surface area and performance characteristics of a given material.
Surfi-Sculpt™ surface texturing systems are now in commercial use for semiconductor applications. A Surfi-Sculpt™ surface texturing capability has also been established at EBTEC and batch volumes of high specification aerospace and medical device components and pre-production prototypes are now being processed for third party customer evaluation. Two further Surfi-Sculpt™ systems will be delivered in early 2008 to develop the process for use in orthopaedic implant and composite-to-metal joining applications. Substantial growth is expected thereafter as the process enters widespread commercial use.
CVE is TWI’s sole supplier of electron beam systems, its preferred partner for Surfi-Sculpt™ and the only supplier worldwide qualified to produce electron beam systems and software for this process.
2. Reduced Pressure Electron Beam Welding (“RPEBW”)
The high integrity of electron beam welds has long resulted in their use for demanding applications such as aerospace, military and nuclear. More widespread use of electron beam welding has however been restricted because the process typically requires that welding takes place in a high or “hard” vacuum.
To address this challenge, CVE and TWI have developed and are commercialising a “reduced pressure” electron beam welding process that uses a coarse local vacuum, greatly reducing cost and removing previous limitations on the type and scale of components that can be welded. Without the size constraints of a conventional vacuum chamber, RPEBW can address substantial new markets for electron beam welding, such as the on site fabrication of large, offshore wind turbine structures and the manufacture of waste storage containers for the nuclear industry.
CVE is TWI’s preferred and only supplier of electron beam systems for RPEBW and the only supplier worldwide qualified to produce electron beam systems for this process. The first sales of RPEBW systems and software are expected in 2009 with rapid growth thereafter as the process shifts from development and evaluation to full commercial use.
3. Electron Beam Free Form Fabrication
Working with a North American technology partner, EBTEC is developing a free form fabrication process whereby wire feedstock is progressively consolidated by an electron beam to create a near net shape billet. This process has the potential to produce near net shape parts or repair damaged components from expensive materials such as high nickel alloys and titanium. Aquasium anticipates initial revenues from this technology during 2008, with rapid and substantial growth potential thereafter.
Commenting on the decision to seek strategic partners, John Cumberland, Chairman of Aquasium, said: “Electron beam processing has been used for demanding but often niche applications since the 1950’s. Our new technologies now bring its considerable benefits to substantial new manufacturing applications. Combining the long-standing pedigree, experience and reputation of CVE and EBTEC with next generation electron beam technologies, we expect Aquasium to be at the forefront of a resurgence of interest in electron beam processing”.
Donald Maclennan, Partner at Foresight, said: “Aquasium has been transformed since our original investment in 2001. Following significant investment at both CVE and EBTEC, and with favourable conditions across their key markets, both businesses expect strong, profitable growth during 2008 and thereafter. We believe that Aquasium now offers a very exciting growth opportunity for a large industrial group able to harness the renewed potential of electron beam technology across international aerospace, automotive, power generation, clean energy and biomedical markets”.