Oxford Instruments marks 60th anniversary

Written by Sterling Content
October 3, 2019


Written by Sterling Content
October 3, 2019

BCCJ member Oxford Instruments KK has marked the 60th anniversary of its parent company, Oxford Instruments plc, with events in Japan to highlight the firm’s heritage and innovation as well as foster further collaboration.

Founded by Sir Martin Wood CBE and his wife Audrey in 1959, Oxford Instruments began as a manufacturer of superconductors for use in scientific research, becoming the first substantial commercial spin-out company from the University of Oxford. It went on to have a pioneering role in the development of magnetic resonance imaging and manufactured the first commercial MRI whole body scanner.

Today listed on the London Stock Exchange and a constituent of the FTSE 250 Index, Oxford Instruments designs and manufactures tools and systems for industry and research, in sites across Europe, Asia and the United States, led from its headquarters in Oxfordshire.

In Japan, the company has had a presence via various distributors and joint ventures since the 1980s, before Oxford Instruments KK was set up in 1991.

“The Japanese market has always been important for Oxford Instruments,” said Tony Ford of Oxford Instruments KK. “Oxford Instruments’ main markets are government-funded and private-funded R&D and, in Japan, this R&D is a high proportion of GDP compared to other countries.”

Building on 60 years of operations

In Japan, company heritage is important—the country has the largest proportion of the world’s oldest businesses (53%) according to the Guinness Book of World Records. Marking 60 years of operations, therefore, has reaped rewards for Oxford Instruments KK.

While many firms in Japan face recruitment challenges due to the lack of human resources, Oxford Instruments KK is proving better able to compete for talent with established Japanese firms such as Hitachi or Toshiba, according to Ford.

“One of the concerns about joining a foreign company is that it might be here today, gone tomorrow; it doesn’t necessarily have a strong commitment to the Japanese market. But Oxford Instruments’ heritage of 60 years, with almost half of that being present in Japan, means that people realise they can have a good career with us; it has helped our brand in Japan,” he added.

To give the brand a further boost, a special 60th anniversary logo has been rolled out externally to raise awareness of the heritage of the firm. Meanwhile, a new internal group called Cross J has been set up to improve cross-divisional collaboration, in celebration of 60 years of operations and anticipation of the next 60 years.

Cross J has so far enabled customers to find out about other areas of Oxford Instruments’ business that might prove useful, including products and services as well as new acquisitions such as high-performance scientific imaging firm Andor, in Belfast.

“Typically, divisions work quite independently, meaning opportunities can be lost,” said Ford. “Through this initiative, we’ve got people working with each other to make sure that cross-division is being fully utilised, so we hope to bring results for the future.”

Looking ahead

Equipment manufactured by Oxford Instruments has both stood the test of time and been adapted constantly to meet the needs of its users.

Some customers are using Oxford Instruments equipment for the same applications today as they did in 1959, but developments have changed how they use it. For example, in 1959, only an expert would have operated such equipment, with most time and effort focused on its use. Now, software can control equipment, leaving the operator to focus on what the equipment shows. Computing, meanwhile, has allowed the firm to update or design equipment in a more optimised way, enabling users to analyse of huge volumes of data while reducing costs and waste.

Given the agility with which Oxford Instruments has evolved in pace with technological change over the past 60 years, the firm is confident it can continue to do so.

“Oxford Instruments has adapted to new technologies quite effectively to open up new applications to new markets and to new customers. If you go to many of the world’s key research laboratories, you don’t have to go very far before you see Oxford Instruments’ equipment,” said Ford, adding that the company has thereby highlighted the importance of manufacturing in the UK.

Furthermore, Oxford Instruments KK has made a significant contribution to UK–Japan scientific collaboration by setting up the Millennium Science Forum, which celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2018. Fundamental to the forum’s promotion of research in condensed matter science is the Sir Martin Wood Prize, which each year awards a leading researcher in Japan a lecture trip to the UK.

Earlier this year, the 20th Sir Martin Wood Prize winner gave lectures across the UK and enjoyed some of Oxford Instruments’ 60th anniversary celebrations with Sir Martin, 92, and Audrey, 91.

It is testament to their love of science that the couple is still involved in the company they founded 60 years ago, which has neither changed its name nor its passion to deliver world-class tools and systems for industry and research.