Lurgan company eyes up international R&D excellence

Lurgan firm Crossbows Optical Ltd is flourishing as a leading edge research centre, with help from Invest Northern Ireland.

Part of the California-based group Signet Armorlite Inc, the company designs and manufactures complex ophthalmic moulds used to manufacture lenses for spectacles. The firm also develops software for the latest lens manufacturing processes.

In the last few years, Invest NI has helped Crossbows to invest heavily in the development of new, technologically advanced lens design and manufacturing techniques, as well as specialised corrective lenses.

This has seen Crossbows become the primary R&D centre for lens design within its business group, and also enabled the company to sell its products and expertise to rapidly developing markets in the Far East.

Managing Director of Crossbows Optical, Mervyn McCrea, said: “The global demand for sight correction by spectacles continues to grow, due to an ever-ageing population. Spectacle wearers are also favouring new more sophisticated lenses, made from a wider range of materials, which offer enhanced optical performance, greater impact resistance, lighter weight, inherent UV protection and are more cosmetically desirable than conventional glass lenses.

“Furthermore, optical frames are now seen as a fashion accessory, with many bearing luxury brand names such as Giorgio Armani and Gucci.”

Mr McCrea continued: “The moulds, lenses and associated manufacturing software we have developed with Invest NI’s support cater specifically for these niche market opportunities. Not only have we been able to license this expertise across our parent group, but we have also entered new markets as far afield as China, Korea and Thailand, where over 50 per cent of our turnover is now generated.”

Carol Keery, Invest NI’s Director of Innovation, Research and Technology, said: “Local companies are making a global impact in many diverse fields, not least in cutting edge manufacturing techniques and materials development. Crossbows Optical is capitalising on the growing need for sight correction and is adding high value to the economy by focusing on the research opportunities arising from this demand.”

Ms Keery added: “By establishing itself as a research hub for its US parent company, and exploring new markets in the Far East, Crossbows is an excellent example of how high levels of technical expertise here can create lucrative international business opportunities.”

Invest NI provided research and development funding for these projects through its COMPETE programme, which is part funded by the European Competitiveness Programme 2007 – 2013 under the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).