Framlingham-based Minima has designs on success

PUBLISHED: 13:09 07 April 2015 | UPDATED: 13:09 07 April 2015

From left, Andrew McCulloch, Tom Etheridge and Nigel Blair of Minima Design.

From left, Andrew McCulloch, Tom Etheridge and Nigel Blair of Minima Design.


Deep in rural Suffolk an unlikely creative company has made its base. Its innovative work in engineering and design may seem more suited to the cities of South East Asia, Silicon Valley or the research centres of red brick universities. But for the team at Minima Design, the ancient town of Framlingham is the chosen setting for their work.

Based in the town’s Technology Centre, the company has employed its creative services to aid a vast array of progressive industries.

Whether working alone, or as part of a trans-European consortium, the three-strong team has helped shape the future applications of pioneering new polymers, industry-changing medical products and ultrasonic disability aids, to give just a few examples.

Their backgrounds and expertise may be different, but that diversity is where they claim the company’s talents lie.

Andrew McCulloch, 38, comes from a career in biomedical engineering, and is described as the “imagination” behind Minima; Nigel Blair, 48, is experienced in mechanical design, and views the issue from the manufacturers’ perspective, whereas Tom Etheridge, 27, with a degree in industrial design technology, looks at it more from the consumers’ side.

Formed in 1989, Minima was originally an architectural model manufacturer, involved in many projects throughout East Anglia, including the Technology Centre, where it is based today.

From there it developed into designing prototypes, which in turn has helped the company branch out into more innovative avenues.

Dr McCulloch said the company had now “morphed into something that’s so much more”.

“It’s the front end of innovative design,” he added. “That’s where our passion is, that’s where we’ve really been able to make an impact.”

Clients from wide-ranging industries, including healthcare, telecoms and energy, approach Minima with “just the spark of an idea”, which the team, using their different skill-sets, help develop into a market-ready product, overcoming any challenges in the way.

Mr Blair said: “Andrew is like the imagination; he sees ways to solve the fundamental problems in as clever and elegant a way as possible; Tom is there to deliver the inspiration for the client, so the end-user gets what they want; and then I come in with these elements and turn it into something that works beautifully.”

Faced with such varied briefs, Mr Blair said every day posed new challenges, which, though challenging, had also helped widen their knowledge base to approach other projects with a new outlook.

“We are not satisfied with just creating a boring, mundane product,” added Mr Etheridge. “We want to create something special.

“The best thing for us is delivering that ‘wow factor’ and giving the customer something much more than they were expecting.”

Following Prime Minister David Cameron’s recent visits to the region, when he described East Anglia as a “vital” part of the nation’s economy, Minima is keen to see the network of local companies it works alongside expand and reshape the common conception of what the region has to offer.

“There’s hi-technology and innovative minds in Suffolk,” Dr McCulloch explained.

“And we can see ourselves as being a conduit for all these ideas and getting them out to market.”

For example, Minima is currently working as part of a network of 17 companies, universities and research groups to find applications for a new “piezo-polymer” – a touch-sensitive, flexible, organic light emitting diode (OLED).

Minima’s Tom Etheridge said the Light Touch Matters project was ground-breaking in that the development of the material was taking place in parallel with its potential applications.

“It’s really exciting because we are right at the beginning of the whole process; we are right in the midst of it and there are some really innovative ideas,” he added.

Working as part of the network, the team has travelled around Europe to meetings in Milan, Helsinki and Munich, among other places, where they have shared ideas about the potential of the new polymer.

Possible applications so far discussed include wearable technology and automotive applications.

Closer to home, Suffolk based inventors Kim and Jonathan Stollery devised SafeDon Hygenic Glove Dispensing to tackle to problems with cross contamination in the healthcare and food industries.

With conventional disposable gloves dispensed in “tissue type boxes”, the outer surfaces are frequently contaminated, putting patients at risk of infection.

Gloves dispensed through SafeDon’s specialist technology have been shown to harbour 96% less contamination than those dispensed in the traditional fashion, while also using less packaging and storage space.

Minima has been involved in helping to innovate SafeDon’s product and reduce its costs to make it affordable for the health industry.

Another project in which Minima has been involved is the Ultra Cane which uses ultrasonic waves to help visually impaired people to gain a greater understanding of their surroundings, avoid potential hazards and ultimately provide greater confidence and independence.

The waves are emitted through transducers, which bounce back off objects in their path and cause the handle to vibrate at a quickening frequency to warn the user of their presence.

Inspiration for the product is said to have been taken from an encounter with a blind child who was clicking as he walked along a corridor and using the echoes to help find his way.

Minima took the technology and found a way to package it in a device that felt natural for a visually impaired person to carry.

It said the resulting design was the most complicated shape produced using the particular software package at the time.

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