Servomex’s journey to becoming a global gas analysis expert
A global leader in the field of industrial-level gas analysis, Servomex has played a major role in the frontline fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.
Based in the UK at Crowborough, East Sussex, the company has come a long way from its humble origins in the 1950s, expanding to operate sites around the world.
Today, it manufactures one of the widest ranges of gas sensing technologies offered by a single supplier, delivering reliable, accurate and stable measurements to a diverse range of end-user markets: from power generation and hydrocarbon processing to industrial gas production, medical gases, and semiconductor manufacturing.
In the beginning
Servomex was founded in the United Kingdom in 1952 by three partners: Richard Steel, John Crockett and Ronald Mudie.
Originally, the company manufactured several different electronic products, such as capacitor boxes, waveform generators and a successful range of mains (AC) voltage stabilizers and controllers.
The transformation to gas analysis experts began when Richard Steel met Charles Munday, who was developing an advanced version of the paramagnetic oxygen sensor using a platinum feedback loop.
Working together, the team designed and manufactured a revolutionary paramagnetic cell for the accurate and stable measurement of percentage levels of oxygen.
Paramagnetic sensing takes advantage of the natural property of oxygen to be attracted towards a magnetic field. Unlike electrochemical sensing technologies, a paramagnetic cell never needs changing, and its performance does not decline over time.
The great benefit of this technology to customers was that the cell had a long operational life, so did not need replacing with anything like the frequency of an electrochemical cell, and required much less maintenance.
It was applicable to a wide array of applications, including many petrochemical processes – including those involving flammable or corrosive gas mixtures – and medical monitoring.
The Servomex paramagnetic cell was a landmark innovation, and became the basis for the business’s growth. The sensor was incorporated into the first paramagnetic oxygen analyser in 1961, and the company’s reputation within the industry has steadily increased ever since.
With its pioneering approach to customer-focused sensing solutions, Servomex has gone on to develop a series of further technological milestones over the years.
These include world-first developments such as the only true portable paramagnetic oxygen analyser, a solid electrolyte low-catalytic Zirconia sensor cell, a process oxygen analyser unique for use in oxygen-enriched high-pressure environments, a truly accurate thermal conductivity sensor and the world’s smallest tunable diode laser gas monitor.
21st century expansion
In 1999 the company was acquired by Spectris plc, a leading supplier of instrumentation and controls to global markets. This became the catalyst for its transformation in the 21st century from respected innovator to world leader in gas analysis.
Over the past 20 years it has established a truly global presence, with the opening of business, service and systems engineering centres in China, the USA, Europe, India, the UAE, South Korea, and Singapore.
The opening of the company’s new state-of-the-art UK Technical Centre in Crowborough in 2008 maintained its technical and manufacturing edge, allowing the research, design, and production of gas analysis instruments using industry-leading methods.
Servomex also acquired the Contrôle Analytique and Delta F gas analyser brands, in 2007 and 2010 respectively. These have been successfully integrated into the company’s global operations, with the former Delta F site in Woburn, Massachusetts, becoming Servomex’s US Technical Centre.
In 2006, Servomex began selling sensors to third-party medical and industrial users under the Servomex OEM Sensors banner, and quickly became established as a leader in the critical care ventilation market, supplying the vast majority of the global market.
Since 2011, Servomex’s world-leading sensor range has been available to medical and industrial OEM customers under the fast-growing Hummingbird brand which, operating as a wholly separate entity, won the Queen’s Award for Innovation in 2016.
Overcoming the challenge of the pandemic
During the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020, Servomex developed new ways to increase productivity at its UK site in order to meet heavy demand from partners in the healthcare market, as the global need for critical care ventilators soared.
Servomex equipment – particularly its Hummingbird oxygen sensors – provide an essential component for critical care ventilators, which saw increased demand as the global pandemic intensified.
As a supplier of oxygen sensor solutions to the medical OEM equipment market, the company quickly realised that it faced significantly increased demand as the global need for ventilators and other critical care devices grew.
It was clearly necessary to step up production, which would be challenging under ideal conditions, but during the pandemic also required the highest levels of safety to be maintained for those staff members who were involved in sensor manufacture.
As medical devices, ventilators are closely regulated, and so are the production practices at the facilities where they are made. The construction of these sensors is difficult and requires specialised training, and so finding new methods to meet demand required innovative thinking.
In response to the extra demand, Servomex effectively implemented a three-year development program over the course of 14 weeks. Stringent hygiene measures were introduced on-site, and a seven-days-a-week shift system was created to allow better social distancing.
Servomex’s Hummingbird team also developed a new, faster-to-produce model of the paramagnetic oxygen sensor for medical OEM customers, which enabled the company to meet demand from medical OEM customers, while maintaining its commitments to industrial customers.
The Servomex ethos: looking forward
Good business practice has been the cornerstone of Servomex since its foundation, with a commitment to continuous improvement across all aspects of its manufacturing and management systems. This ranges from compliance with internationally recognised business standards to global investment in staff development.
The company aims to instil a positive business culture that empowers staff to engage with customers and other stakeholders in a manner that is honest, transparent, and trusted the world over.
Servomex products and technologies help customers to improve their product quality, make their manufacturing processes more efficient, reduce downtime and wastage, and control harmful emissions.
This in turn helps make industry cleaner and less wasteful, contributing to a better world for all.
Find out more about the company at servomex.com