Rolatube Expeditionary Systems Ltd – First Cohort Export Champion

 

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Delivers roll up fibreglass composite structures that are used by the military / law enforcement / humanitarian disaster response sectors to elevate their communications and sensor systems

Location: Farnborough
Company website: http://www.rolatube.com
Sector: Manufacturing, Technology

 

 

Led by British Army veteran Will Pike, Rolatube Expeditionary Systems represents the defence and security arm of this innovative business. The companies ingenious technology has enormous application possibilities; from communications to space, energy, mining and civil engineering.

Rolatubes offer a light-weight, compact and transportable method for a user to achieve more height or distance for sensors, cables and communication devices.

The technology utilises thermoplastic reinforced composites, which have valuable engineering properties in two distinctly different states. It was created to allow the same material to hold a stable and rigid shape both in compression and expansion, and to allow it to transition from one state to another without any need for additional working parts. In layman’s a terms a rolled up piece of fibreglass material that appears as though it must be completely loose and flexible (in order to have been rolled up) springs into a hard and rigid tube.

Rolatube’s products are used regularly by the British and US armies (as well as other Armed Forces around the world), disaster relief agencies operating in the world’s remotest locations as well as industrial, nuclear and space customers and recently by NASA.

CommonwealthFirst will support Rolatube to export their truly innovative range of products to Commonwealth markets such as Canada and Australia. The technology is so versatile we hope to identify new applications.

 

Apply now to become an Export Champion.

Will Pike, CEO

Will Pike, CEO

How did idea for your company come about?
The technology largely came about due to some issues within the nuclear power industry in the UK that needed a solution and the ability of the company’s founder, Andrew Daton-Lovett, to harness his considerable mathematical and scientific intellect to come up with a novel composite technology that was a solution to the problem.  In this particular case the client needed something long and structural in order to extend to read a sensor in a highly radioactive environment.  But it also needed to be compact and short in order to be taken into and moved around very confined spaces.  It also needed to be non-conductive, easy to store and easy to decontaminate.  So Andrew was able to invent the Bi Stable Reeled Composite (aka RolaTube) that delivered these critical performance characteristics.

What difficulties have you encountered setting up your business?
Whilst I was not the founder and so cannot speak on that subject what I can suggest is that every small company needs a good product (or service) that the market needs.  But that idea or invention is but one member of a team of things that deliver a successful company.  Investment is required to fund the period from invention to regular and profitable sales, products need to be taken through a process of invention and development and testing before they are fit for the market.  People are needed to develop, make, finance, administer, sell and lead.  Planning and strategy are key to ensure that the invention is focused on the right market, at the right time and to ensure that the sales staff are hunting, tenaciously and intelligently, in the right places.  All of these present significant difficulties but it is vitally important to have shareholders that understand the nature of small, emerging businesses and ensure that they have the funding lines, the right strategy and right leadership team to maximize the probably of success whilst also understanding that the time to success will probably be longer than they may expect.

What are the biggest trade and export challenges you face?
We are, today, mainly focused on the military, security and disaster response market and so generally the customer will be a Government or a significant NGO such as the UN.  These entities maintain equipment procurement programmes which can provide substantial returns once the product is on them but they can also take years to get on to.  So there is a very acute time issue where the company needs to generate enough day to day sales whilst it drives to get onto the programmes that will deliver to it the ability to grow and prosper.  Getting to these programmes requires a company to be speaking to the right people in a foreign government department and on having the right in-country partners.  It can be incredibly hard to identify and get access to these two things and it is a core reason why (and where) the Commonwealth First team could have a decisive effect.  The other issue as a small company is the very finite human and financial resource that is required to deploy into a foreign country to deliver success.   Small companies must be very focused with their resources.

What are the most crucial things you have done to grow and develop your company? 
We have concentrated on what the user wants and needs and developed our products with this in mind.  We have focused on who the leading customers are likely to be and focused 90% of our resources on them.

How did you hear about the CommonwealthFirst programme and what made you apply?
I saw the initiative highlighted and advertised on the web.  We are an export focused business and the Commonwealth includes many countries that would be a good market for our equipment.  So the decision to apply was a pretty easy one.

What are you hoping to get out of the CWF programme?
The Commonwealth ought to be a vibrant and excellent market place for all countries that are members.  The CWF has the ability to get me through the door to the right people in the right government or military or police department in a brother commonwealth country.  This is what small companies need and this is what I would like to see CWF deliver.

What is a typical working day for you?
Busy!

Where would you like your business to be in 5 years time?
Bigger, more profitable, employing more people, and having built into a larger UK based manufacturer with a vibrant and growing export market

What are ‘thermoplastic reinforced composites’?
The technology is a roll-able composite made from thermoplastics.  The key attribute is that it rolls flat but when deployed it is a structurally strong tube; so it behaves in a similar way to the tape measure.  It can be long or short, fat or thin and it can have electronics and antennas embedded within it.  When rolled up it is easy to carry, move, place and when in place it can deliver significant performance attributes.  An example would be a 7m high antenna that rolls small enough to easily fit within a soldiers day sack yet it can then be deployed in a minute to deliver significant communications range extension to his radio.  It is really this same, generalized, attribute of small yet long, strong and compact, fast and reliable that make the technology highly relevant to numerous military, industrial and consumer applications.

Having your products used by UK and US armies, as well as NASA is a big deal. Are there other clients/areas you would love Rolatube to be used?
Right now we are focused on building the business with armies and governments.  So I would love the CWF to assist us in achieving this in all the Commonwealth countries

Is there anything exciting you would to share with us right now?
We are building well and growing our manufacturing staff in our base in Lymington. We hope that 2017 will be a another great year of building and with CWF help we will then have many exciting announcements to make in regard to how they have assisted us to get on programme x or y in this or that Commonwealth country.

 

This interview was conducted as part of the CommonwealthFirst Export Champion interview series. Apply now to become an Export Champion.