It's not well known that Hastings plays host to a cluster of high-tech companies in the ultra-high vacuum, photonics and optics fields
Hastings in East Sussex has established itself as a global centre for high technology companies. Ever since Hastings and Bexhill-based John Logie Baird produced the world's first television image here, Hastings has been synonymous with high technology, innovation, and invention.
Vacuum technology surrounds us everywhere in our daily lives, although we are often not aware of it. Many products that we take for granted including mobile phones, pharmaceuticals and television screens could not be made without vacuum, which has become indispensable for the contemporary lifestyle we lead.
With the help of Locate East Sussex we were able to purchase state of the art equipmentDavid BatesManaging DirectorTorr Scientific
There is a significant cluster of Ultra High Vacuum (UHV) businesses in the Hastings and Rother area. In addition, there are many machining sub-contractors involved in the supply of components for High Vacuum manufacturers. In Hastings alone, 11% of the working population works within the manufacturing sector which makes up 14% of the county’s GVA. The area’s manufacturing sector provides higher employment levels than the south east average.
The high tech companies in this cluster embrace fabrications used in the most advanced university and commercial research facilities, especially in space and aerospace industries. This includes both ultra-high vacuum (UHV) technology and photonics which is used in technological products for laser and fibre optic applications. As a result of the advanced technologies employed, the industry is better insulated against economic recession than most.
Apollo 11 moon landing
The UHV cluster grew organically from modest beginnings in 1962 when Vacuum Generators (VG), now VACGEN (previously VG Scienta), was established by innovative engineers, Dr Bernard Eastwell OBE and Dr Doug Latham. At an early stage, a local manufacturing unit was set up in Castleham Industrial Estate in St Leonards-on-Sea. In 1968 a Chell company, with its ‘Hastings’ series of products, provided the sensor to measure the vacuum levels (in the Apollo 11 moon rock box) on Apollo 11 and the first moon landing.
Growing local talent
Mike King, a production engineer at Photek, is the embodiment of a successful career in the engineering sector in Hastings. After studying product design locally at William Parker School, Mike went on to study engineering at Hastings College. On completing his diploma he joined Deutsch UK, a world-leading connectors company as an apprentice toolmaker/machinist with a cohort of five other apprentices.
Over the three years of his apprenticeship, Mike worked in Deutsch’s impressive machine shop on every conceivable machine in the business. This varied from precision engineering to making and fixing the multitude of jigs and fixtures that are essential to the assembly line. Following the successful completion of his apprenticeship training, Mike was promoted to quality engineer for the Auto Sport assembly department. This was a fantastic opportunity to work with components that would eventually grace F1, NASCAR and international Superbikes.
After five successful years at Deutsch, Mike took the challenge of working in the photonics sector with St Leonards based Photek, a specialist manufacturer and global supplier of vacuum based tubes and camera systems for photon detection. Photek’s products support applications in physics (high energy, particle, nuclear), defense industries (threat warning), physical chemistry, bioluminescence, space science, material, and biological inspection.
Working as one of the company’s leading production engineers, Mike now works on products as diverse as night vision goggles to highly technical vacuum sensors on the outside of aircraft. No one day is the same, with clients in the space industry to specialist research and design projects for solar blind detectors.
Mike’s decade of working in engineering clearly illustrates the kind of interesting careers that are available in Hastings and across East Sussex (it also serves as a reminder that with hard work and regular training, Mike recently completed a top up Bsc (Hons) Mechanical & Manufacturing at Sussex Coast College), that an East Sussex engineering career is out there for the taking!
Tec 66 is an industry cluster association for Vacuum/Ultra High Vacuum and Photonics to promote the many companies now based in the area, and raise awareness of this thriving sector. Companies in the cluster include: Thermic Edge Ltd, ITL Vacuum Components, HiVac Engineering, Kurt J Lesker Co Ltd, Photek, Torr Scientific Limited.
The cluster has worked closely with East Sussex College to work with young people to promote technology careers and developed an industry-specific accredited vacuum training course for employees within the industry.