Electrifying the industry
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Graham Montgomerie looks at a particularly bright spark. modern electronics technology— Fidus Controls
THERE ARE not many companies who can claim doubled sales turnover every year since their inception, but that is the proud boast of Fidus Controls Ltd.
Based at Middlefields Industrial Estate, Heddon Way, South Shields, the company has had a meteoric rise to fame in the road transport industry, as I found out when I visited the factory and spoke to managing director Derek Tither.
Fidus Controls Ltd was formed in 1976 by Derek Tither and Derek Brown, now technical director, to apply modern electronic technology to the field of road transport.
But what about that name? Derek Tither wanted to suggest reliability. His daughter was studying Latin at that time so her aid was enlisted to think of a suitable title. ''Fidus'' is Latin for•faithful — not an exact translation, but near enough.
The first Fidus product was an overspeed protection device designed to prevent driver abuse of pnemocycle gearboxes. The driver can change up in the usual way, but if he tries to change down at an excessive road speed then nothing will happen.
Pneumocyclic gearboxes are the preserve of the bus fleets and it was in the passenger field that the first overspeed protection devices were sold. Now, for example, over 100 Southdown buses are so fitted.
The big seller in the Fidus product range is the road speed governor which is currently being produced at the rate of around 300 per month. The Fidus device senses the vehicle speed from the propshaft rather than from the tachograph and can be set to whatever maximum road speed the customer requires. Also in the field of speed control is the power take-off controller which, as the name suggests, controls maximum engine speed when using pto equipment.
Obviously the rapid rise in the price of dery has quickened operator interest in the road speed governor_ Last year an agreement was concluded whereby Veeder-Root will market the Fidus governor in the UK and worldwide through its international distributor network.
Fidus is now a member of the E206m Bunzl group and the company now employs some 45 people in South Shields, although, according to Derek Tither, the current expansion plan will mean that around 60 will be on the payroll within the next couple of months.
Derek started his career as a computer engineer with Elliott Automation and spent some years in the computer / electronics industry before moving into the DC controller area of forklift trucks. This took him into the transport industry for the first time. In Mr Tither's words: "It became apparent that there was room for a business devoted to electronics for transport use so I set it up myself."'
Fidus Controls of course is currently very much in the news because of its diesel emulsifier, and the publicity this unit received on BBC TV's Tomorrow's World.
This particular unit ("about the size of a can of beans", according to Derek Tither) is based on seven years' research, including over two,years' practical testing. Fidus bought the sole manufacturing rights for the emulsifier some time ago but this was at a time when only a prototype existed. It was then essential to turn what was essentially an idea put into metal into a production unit.
Last October Tomorrow's World got wind of the emulsifier which was undergoing trials in the Newcastle bus fleet. Because Fidus did not want news of the device to leak out, Derek Tither agreed to a programme going out on the TV network,
been designated the Fidus Diesel Emulsifier. It functions by making a diesel/water emulsion by producing droplets of water (in a size of about four microns) coated in a film of derv.
When the emulsion is injected into the engine, the diesel burns in the normal way and this causes very rapid expansion of the water. The increased combustion efficiency has the added effect of reducing the oxides of nitrogen in the exhaust, according to Fidus.
Not surprisingly after Tomorrow's World, Fidus' mail increased considerably in spite of the fact that the name of the company was not actually mentioned by the BBC. The word still
got around somehow.
Fidus is not making any wild claims about the fuel savings possible with the emulsifier as so much depends on vehicle usage. However, Derek Tither does expect savings in the region of ten per cent to be not far off the mark.
The Fidus expertise in the field of electronics has also been used to produce an electronic speedometer with a greatly improved accuracy over conventional types. So accurate in fact that local police forces are among the customers.
In the course of investigating a new project, Fidus generally absorbs all the development charges. As Derek Tither put it: "Costs are self-determining. If we look at a project, we can see how long it's going to take to develop and then we cost it."
If it's a project being investigated for a client and it's going to take some time, then Fidus will quote for the development costs beforehand.
On the export side, Fidus markets the top speed governor in France, Germany, Norway, Sweden, South Africa and India but only on a relatively small scale. "But we will be going more into export with the emulsifier," said Derek Tither.
The company has effectively doubled its sales turnover each year since its formation, and a turnover in excess of El m on the basic product range is planned for 1980.