Bristol-based Third Dimension has a lot to shout about. As well as designing GapGun, a laser measurement system, it’s just won its second Queen’s Award for Enterprise. Not bad for a company with 21 employees which lists blue chips, such as Airbus, Lockheed and Embraer among its customers.
Coveted by businesses across the UK, the Queen’s Award sets extremely high standards and is notoriously difficult to win. So how did Third Dimension manage to bag two awards in three years?
“Of course, I can only go on our own experience, but it strikes me the judges are looking for stable, ethical and environmentally-sound companies, with solid business practices,” explains Monks. “On top of that, you also need to be manufacturing an innovative product that is selling well internationally. If all these ingredients come into play, then you’re in with a shot at the Queen's Award."
Queen's Award categories include: innovation; international trade; sustainable development and promoting opportunity through social mobility. The awards are made annually by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, and are only given for the highest levels of excellence demonstrated in each category.
It was sales - and more specially exports - that won Third Dimension its first Queen’s Award for Enterprise in the International Trade category back in 2015.
The figures speak for themselves. GapGuns are sold in over 25 countries worldwide thanks to Third Dimension's global distribution network. The company has increased turnover by 50% in the past five years, and this year alone turnover is up by 20%.
This year 176 companies won the Queen’s Award, with only 57 awards for Innovation – one of which was Third Dimension. “It was the second time we’d won the award,” says Monks. “It was great to win in the Innovation category for the way in which GapGun has revolutionised precision measurement in the advanced engineering world.”
Built on the principle of laser triangulation, GapGun - a market leader in non-contact precision measurement - is used worldwide by blue chip aerospace companies to control production quality. GapGun enables the accurate measurement of three dimensional surfaces and the recording of dimensions, such as angles, radius and gaps, simply by pulling a trigger. Data collected is analysed to proactively identify defects or monitor geometric conditions. This enables manufacturers to rectify and improve quality in real-time, on the production line.
An innovation sensation
But why did the judges find this so innovative? “To answer this, one need only look back to the 1980s,” states Monks.
Back then, manufacturers inspected products using traditional contact measurement devices, such as micrometers and Vernier calipers, which had to touch the surface of a product in order to determine its dimensions.
However, there are a number of drawbacks to using a device which has to touch the part it’s measuring. Firstly, the part could be damaged or marked. Secondly, if a part is unfixed, hinged, or designed to move, contact is likely to introduce an inherently unstable measurement result which is unlikely to be repeatable or produce consistent results when further measurements are collected. Thirdly, contact measurement devices often have little capability to output measurement data meaning that operators have to write down results or input them into a computer. This is laborious and prone to errors in terms of interpretation and input.
“Put simply, GapGun removed these risks from customers’ operations by providing a fully-auditable trail of every single product measured, thereby helping to prove quality and reduce rework costs, whilst saving a significant amount of time and resources,” says Monks. “That's what made it so innovative.”
Yet, as any successful CEO will tell you, in order to have a great product that sells well, it’s imperative to have a great, motivated team behind you as well as loyal customers. This has been key to securing a Queen’s Award. It's clear from the way Monks enthuses about his staff that GapGun is a team effort in the fullest sense of the word.
“Its success is down to the hard work of our staff in sales and marketing, finance, research and development, support and production - everyone gets to input into the process,” says Monks, “then there is the loyalty of our customers and partners around the world. We also think internationally, employing people with second language skills and never shy away from globe-trotting!”
Monks firmly believes the company’s ethos also played a role in its award success citing its ‘Three Pillars’: Trusted Partnerships; Definitive Solutions and Financial Stability.
“Our business strategy is not rocket science, but it’s held us in good stead because it focuses on the things that matter: developing strong and close on-going working relationships with both our customers and distributors; refining our products so they are the best on the market and lastly, ensuring that our finances are rock solid so we can weather any bumps in the economy or marketplace. We’ve stayed independent and avoided debt,” explains Monks. “We also work hard to gain a deep understanding of key challenges and solve them in-house rather than delegate to consultants – this way we keep our finger on the pulse. I like to think our spirit of openness and the simplicity of our approach struck a chord with the judges.”
It pays to plan ahead
So, any advice on the awards process itself?
“We’ve applied and won a number of awards including an EEF for the South West. Every award application takes time, but I’d say the Queen's Award is the biggie - so make sure you give yourself a fighting chance and set aside a dedicated amount of time to do it properly.
“Be organised and start early. Make a note of all deadlines so you know what and when you need to submit information. Also try and tell the ‘story’ of your product in an engaging way so you grab the interest of the judges and stand out from the crowd.”
In a recent survey, 77% of Queen’s Award winners reported the win had brought added commercial value to their business and 73% of winners saw employee engagement rise.
So, if you think you’ve got the ingredients needed to become a Queen’s Award winner like Third Dimension, why not apply? You never know, you too could be flying the coveted Queen’s Award flag!