Award for electronics firm ends year of strong trading [Herald, The (Scotland)]
(Herald, The (Scotland) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) A GLASGOW-based electronics company is aiming to finish its current trading year on a high after picking up a prestigious product engineering award.
Future Technology Devices International (FTDI) designs USB chips, which serve as a "bridge" between computers and industrial control products such as test and measurement equipment.
Apple, Intel and Microsoft are among the technology giants that use FTDI products when they test new products and upgrades to existing models.
The firm's expertise in the field was recognised by its peers when it recently picked up the British Engineering Excellence Award for Product of the Year 2013. FTDI won the award for the FT800, an embedded video product designed as a graphics chip, which the firm has nicknamed "Eve".
Graeme Cook, FTDI's vice- president for finance and operations, said: "It is a real recognition that we have engineered a very high- quality, innovative product that isn't a USB product. It has shown that we can move into other product lines. We are constantly bringing out new products."
FTDI specialised in application-specific integrated circuits when it was founded by chief executive Fred Dart in 1992. Among the companies is supplied were NEC in Livingston, IBM in Greenock and Intel and Microsoft in the US.
Mr Dart expanded its strategy when he saw the opportunity in USB chips.
The company began developing chips to effectively provide a bridge between computers and "legacy peripherals", for example printers with multi-pin, serial ports.
The USB bridges are also used to connect other industrial control products that use serial port interfaces, such as point-of-sale units in shops.
The product award comes as FDTI looks to register a slight increase in turnover this year compared with 2012.
Mr Cook, who revealed the firm plans to launch three new semi- conductors in the first quarter of next year, said: "Over the period we have had good growth.
"Electronics is always a somewhat cyclical business, but 2013 has been relatively good for us.
"It is going to be 1% or 2% higher than last year, which I think economically has been good.
"But 2012 was a very strong year for us and we grew significantly in that period.
"Last year our final sales were pound(s)25.4 million - we will probably be just a little bit more than that when we close."
Asked why 2012 had been such a strong year for the business, Mr Cook said it reflected a more benign economic conditions as well as "continuing engagement with our different product lines".
He noted the firm had also started to sell high-speed USB devices, an upgrade from its previous full-speed device.
Mr Cook said: "Our FT232R, which is a very well-known part that we do now, continued to grow. We are still selling more than 12 million of those per year.
"We also had some ramp up volumes with the likes of our high- speed devices. USB has three different levels of speed - full speed, high speed and now USB 3 is called super speed.
"Our traditional products were full-speed devices - now we have introduced high-speed.
"That just infers the data rate that it moves at when you connect to the port."
FTDI employs 40 staff at its base in Glasgow's Centurion Business Park and 85 across its offices in China, Taiwan and the US.
In Glasgow, more than half of the team works in engineering and software design.
Mr Cook said FTDI had been able to trade through the demise of Silicon Glen as it started to devise its own products, and was not wholly reliant on the big high-tech companies for its revenue.
He said: "We built at the same time Silicon Glen was building up but we weren't reliant on that as a major customer base.
"We were relying on getting engineers from the local universities and the local infrastructure.
"We were never set up to work for the Silicon Glen type - we were set up to be a global economy."
However, he did concede it has become difficult to recruit staff with the skills the firm requires, and speculated this could reflect the lower prominence the electronics industry now has in Scotland.
Mr Cook said: "The biggest challenge we have had over the period, and continue to have, is the availability of skilled electronics engineers. The universities still have a lot of courses, but the volume of graduates is not to the high volume it was a few years ago. There is a very tight labour pool in electronics."
He said that while integrated circuit (IC) design was specialised, even for software design the pool of skilled engineers was limited, adding: "We have constant vacancies for both software engineers and IC design engineers - that is our challenge. We are looking at recruiting people across Europe because we can't get people here."
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