P&WE: What are Monitran’s main activities?
AA: We design and manufacture sensors and systems for vibration and displacement measurement. Our products include general and special purpose accelerometers, velocity sensors, eddy current probes and LVDTs. In addition, as an OEM, we develop bespoke sensors and systems.
Over the years we have put together an experienced and talented engineering department, and are able to project manage turnkey solutions, which is something we feel utilises our strengths as an OEM.
P&WE: What market sectors do you serve?
AA: Our accelerometers and velocity sensors are used in a variety of industries, such as water treatment, wind energy, mining and food processing, anywhere in fact where motors, gearboxes, pumps and other components with rotating elements are relied on. In these sectors, our sensors are typically used so that vibration levels can be monitored for equipment maintenance purposes, and to trigger an emergency shutdown if the health of the machinery deteriorates rapidly.
Our sensors are also used in some less traditional applications. For instance, they are being used in France in overhead gantry speed cameras in an attempt to photograph speeding lorries. If the vibration level is higher than expected for a passing car, then the likelihood is that it is a lorry passing, in which case the camera trigger speed will be reduced.
P&WE: How much of your business is overseas?
AA: Not so long ago I would have said the domestic [UK] versus overseas split was about 50:50, but we’re currently enjoying our fifth consecutive year of growth for overseas sales; which presently accounts for about 80% of our business. The majority of that growth has come from the BRIC countries plus South Africa.
We’re also seeing a slight increase in orders from mainland Europe, particularly the Nordic countries and Benelux. As for the domestic market, that is relatively flat at the moment, in that we’ve not seen a noticeable increase or dip in sales.
P&WE: Where is Monitran based and how is the business structured
AA: We’re based in High Wycombe in the UK and our current head count is about 40. We have engineering, manufacturing, QA and sales departments, which are tightly integrated. We’re a very customer-focussed company so our departments will always work together to ensure the most appropriate and cost-effective sensors are supplied for any given application.
We also believe in partnering with companies in order to give customers the best possible service. For example, in 2012 we announced the formation of a Diagnostic System Integrator partnership with Drive Management Services. The partnership offers customers a complete lifecycle service under which they deal with a single supplier for products, installation, system configuration and full diagnostic support.
P&WE: You mentioned that Monitran undertakes turnkey projects. Do you have any examples?
AA: We recently developed an engine vibration monitoring system for a UK-based hovercraft manufacturer. The system uses 14 general purpose accelerometers mounted at strategic points on the drivetrain. A bulkhead-mounted conditioning panel, designed and built by us, reads the vibration levels and provides the pilot with a simple colour-coded indication of vibration levels.
A similar colour-coded system was developed for monitoring vibration levels during construction work at a private school in London. For that application, seven boxes containing three tri-axially mounted sensors were positioned around the site, and the monitoring system we developed had a visual alarm for letting workers know when vibration levels were too high.
Perhaps the biggest project we’ve done so far was in 2010, when we were asked to design, install and commission a system to monitor bearing movements and gate positions on the Thames Barrier. The system we developed is a permanent fixture, and some kit is on the outer faces of the bearings - so is underwater some of the time and exposed to tidal forces.
The barrier is of course an iconic landmark, and plays a critical role in protecting the capital against abnormally high tides and storm surges, so it was great to work on this high profile project; and to demonstrate that Monitran is far more than just a manufacturer of sensors.
P&WE: Are turnkey projects part of your business plan moving forward?
AA: Yes. It’s a capability that differentiates us from our competitors, and having undertaken the three projects mentioned earlier plus a number of smaller ones, we certainly feel we have the necessary skills to tackle a variety of different projects. I also believe it makes a great deal of sense to develop any seemingly complex monitoring system from the transducers up - so there’s definitely a market for us.
P&WE: At Southern 2012 Monitran launched a condition monitoring system, and at this year’s show you launched a handheld vibration meter. Where do they fit in your product portfolio?
AA: The monitoring system launched in 2012 is the MTN/5000-16. It draws heavily on the technology we developed for the hovercraft drivetrain monitoring project. As for the vibration meter, the MTN/VM220 is ideal for detecting the early signs of component wear or failure in pumps, motors, gearboxes and other mechanical assemblies.
Both products complement our range of accelerometers and velocity sensors. For instance, the meter might be used to assess ambient vibration levels before installing a monitoring system as a permanent fixture. However, we do not want to get into data logging or vibration analysis, which is where some of our valued customers operate. We want to be able to arm maintenance engineers with solutions that indicate that vibration levels have changed.
PW&E: What else do you feel differentiates you from your competitors?
AA: In terms of how accelerometers, LVDTs and eddy current probes work and are made there’s little to differentiate one manufacturer from another. We like to think we’re always competitive on price but what really sets us apart is the support that comes with our products.
An analogy here would be to consider what differentiates supermarkets. They all sell the same products for similar prices. So what differentiates them? I believe it’s things like the ease with which the products can be located and purchased, and the helpfulness of the staff. They all contribute to the customers getting what they need, quickly and painlessly.
Similarly, Monitran is all about delivering customer-focussed support around the sale of any quantity of any product.