From a solid bedrock of organic growth and high reliability products, technology group Larasian is now looking for opportunities exploiting big data and artificial intelligence. It is also using a novel way to attract scarce engineering talent, as Tim Wickham discovers.
You’d expect a bunch of engineers to come up with a very practical solution to solving a thorny problem. In Larasian’s case the challenge is the acute shortage of UK engineers.
“Our business has always punched above its weight globally and we’d be able to expand even faster if we had more engineers,” said Rod Piwowarski, group chief executive, who joined Corintech as an engineer in 1993.
Larasian’s answer has been to build a property portfolio of rental accommodation. “House prices are very high in the New Forest area. Its easier to attract young engineers if there’s somewhere close by for them to live,” said Piwowarski. “It’s part of our philosophy that you shouldn’t have to drive more than 10 or 15 miles to get to work.”
As part of its strategy, Larasian bought and restored Fordingbridge’s beautiful art deco cinema to its former glory. Above the deluxe 30-seater cinema are six graduate apartments. Larasian maintains close links with the University of Southampton and Brockenhurst College, tapping into graduate talent and giving work experience students a taste of a career in electronics.
Kitchen table innovation
Brian Currie, formerly in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, and his wife, Glynis, started the business after he left RS Components in 1977. He began with a soldering iron assembling power sensors with built-in displays on the kitchen table of the family home.
Larisian is the parent company of Lascar Electronics and Corintech. Based in Fordingbridge, Corintech manufacturers products for OEMs and develops its own range of WiFi-based sensors and cloud-based equipment monitoring systems. Just down the road in Whiteparish, Lascar Electronics is a world leader in data logging and display technologies.
Prototypes are usually developed in the UK, with manufacturing in the Far East. The pharmaceutical and food sectors are major sources of business. You’ll also find Larasian products in vehicle dashboards and touch-screen graphic interfaces.
“Our sensors measure anything from temperature, humidity, voltage, carbon monoxide and other activity, like footfall,” said Richard Cameron, managing director of Lascar Electronics.
Most of the group’s 200-strong workforce is spread across Whiteparish, Fordingbridge, and a distribution centre in Salisbury. Around 15 employees work in the US and 45 in Hong Kong. The group’s 2017 turnover of £20 million was about 5% higher than 2016. Around three-quarters of the group’s sales are through channel distributors.
Larasian was early to realise the potential of WiFi. “We were a little ahead of the market as customers hadn’t started to implement WiFi solutions. We now have over 20,000 customers worldwide for our sensors that give automatic, real-time information and alerts,” said Cameron.
Larasian also offers customers low-cost cloud storage for their data, which provides it with a crucial repeatable revenue stream. These all-important ‘sticky’ customers balance the fact that its products are so well built they can keep going for decades before needing to be replaced.
One of Larasian’s latest innovations is a work environment monitor that measures a combination of carbon monoxide, humidity, temperature, volatile organic compounds, and airborne particles. The company has set a launch date of the second half of 2018.
Larasian: No 68
With its global track record in data recording and monitoring, Larasian is well placed to take advantage of demand for handling ‘big data’ and exploiting artificial intelligence.
“We’re looking at designing devices that will enable businesses to get the most out of their data,” said Piwowarski. “AI and the internet of things require you to be imaginative and to think outside the box. It’s not just about gathering raw data, it’s how you analyse it and what you do with it.”
The group’s future plans are centred on growing its research and development capability. That requires more engineers, which is why Larasian’s property portfolio makes such good business sense.