IT IS being used to communicate, to improve health, to see the unseen and illuminate our lives.

Light is being used in amazingly innovative ways by businesses, entrepreneurs and inventors across County Durham.

Light connects us on so many levels, from science to art and technology.

Here, The Northern Echo takes a look at how some of the North-East’s companies have become world leaders in the lighting field.


Originally known as Durham Scientific Crystals (DSC), Kromek started as a Durham University spin-out business with two employees in 2003.

Today, it’s an AIM-listed plc based at Business Durham’s North East Technology Park (NETPark), in Sedgefield, with operations in the UK and US, and with more than 110 staff.

Kromek uses digital colour x-ray and gamma ray detection and imaging to help us see what the naked eye cannot see.

It’s a supplier of patented radiation detection technologies to the medical imaging, nuclear detection and security screening markets.

Its products include bottle scanners for airports that can identify threat liquids in ten seconds; a portable networked detector that can identify hazardous radiation sources in the environment and a suite of medical imaging products under development with partners in CT, SPECT, and Bone Mineral Densitometry.

It’s also building the largest radiation sensor network in the US to guard against the threat of dirty bombs.


Nobody likes visiting the dentist, but a project led by Durham University, with dentists from King’s College London, is developing novel methods of imaging early dental disease using light.

Components usually found in CD players and webcams can record x-ray like images through the tooth using only near infrared light, reducing the stress of trips to the dentist.

A prototype instrument has been used in an initial clinical assessment and advanced prototype is currently being built for a second stage trial.

The patented technology is being developed to provide a higher resolution and more clinical information to the dentist.

The instrument has a role in both disease detection and diagnosis, monitoring treatment and also for improving orthodontic and endo-dontic treatments.


STANLEY-BASED diving light maker Orcalight made a step change in the underwater lamp market the moment BAFTA and Emmy-award winning underwater cinematographer, Doug Anderson said: “Do you know what you’ve achieved?” after trying their revolutionary new product.

Such an endorsement from Doug and others, who used the company’s products on the BBC’s Oceans series, Secrets of Micronesia, The Memorial of Pearl Harbor’s USS Arizona and many others, has led the company to introduce one of the world’s most powerful LED dive lamps.

With an impressive client list, which includes The Discovery Channel, National Geographic and The BBC Natural History Unit, its equipment has helped create some of the most breathtaking underwater films and photographs around the world.

Orcalight has also supplied Parks Canada with equipment for filming the to-be-released documentary on HMS Erebus, one of the two ill-fated ships captained by Sir John Franklin in search of the Northwest Passage that went missing in 1853 in the Arctic and was only discovered in 2014.


Seaham-based MetroMail handles up to one million pieces of mail every day.

It uses light in its personalised print – LED technology to print very, very fast at 320 A4 images per minute.

It works by creating a charge on a toner transfer belt, which is then applied to paper.

An image of the charged electrons is generated by the LED on a belt, which attracts toner particles.

As a sheet of paper passes the belt, it is transferred to the paper and then into a set of heated rollers to fuse the toner to the paper.

The company has grown from doing 15 million pages 12 years ago, to having a capacity to print 450 million; that’s more than 2000 A4 pages per minute across the site.


County Durham manufacturer Thorn Lighting has an international client base for its industry leading products and its technological excellence which is bathing the world’s most famous football stadium in glorious colour.

Thorn replaced Wembley Stadium’s iconic arch lighting with a custom LED lighting system designed for full colour as well as special moving light effects.

The arch can be lit in a huge range of colourful possibilities, adding a new dimension to fans’ stadium experience.

The Wembley Stadium Arch project captivated judges at the prestigious Lux Awards 2015, scooping the honour for Outdoor Lighting Project of the Year.

Thorn also installed pitch floodlights to highlight Wembley’s hallowed turf – lights with different switch settings to illuminate concerts, top national and international sports fixtures and maintenance work.


Optics company Axenic provides a key part of the technological solution to help the world’s fibre optics infrastructure deliver information quickly and reliably.

The firm, based at NETPark, makes unique parts which put a high capacity signal onto the fibre for long-distance, highest-speed links.

Established in 2009, the company started out as a spin-out of RFMD, then at Newton Aycliffe in the building now owned by Compound Photonics, another innovative lighting company, Axenic, which is now an independent UK company, continues to innovate high speed optical modulator technology having acquired Finisar UK this summer.

The company plans to expand its technology into new markets, including the aerospace and satellite communications industries.


Andrew Turner, of Newton Aycliffe, is saving the car industry a great deal of money with his invention - using laser light technology in automotive welding.

Based at NETPark, Mr Turner's technology enables the welding robot to be positioned with tremendous accuracy.

The optimum torch position is reached when all four laser LEDs are combined to only a single focal point on the work-piece.

The technology shortens production times considerably and offers savings during rework and quality control.

It has now been licensed to global welding equipment manufacturer Abicor Binzel in their Abidot product.

His product design company, Andrew Turner Inventions, is continuing to develop a series of exciting products, including an emergency evacuation system for the oil and gas industry.


Ibex Innovations’s groundbreaking technology is applied in the food, medical, defence and electronics sectors.

Their detectors, which reduce the amount of x-ray radiation, enable users to obtain more information from x-ray images and analyse and interpret data in more depth and reduce the risk to the patient’s exposure to x-rays.

Doctors, for example, can see the exact composition of a tumour and food technologists can distinguish glass, bone or plastic inside packaged food much more easily.

The technology can simultaneously determine both the thickness and composition of materials over large areas and at high speed.

It also has the potential to vastly improve contrast at significantly lower patient doses in medical radiography, leading to earlier cancer detection and better follow-up.


NETPark-based PolyPhotonix is a biophotonic research company developing light therapy treatments for macular eye disease as well as other medical conditions.

In just six years, the company has grown from one employee with an idea, to manufacturing a phototherapy eye mask.

The home-based, non-invasive, Noctura 400 Sleep Mask, is expected to revolutionise treatment for diabetic retinopathy by administering light into the eyes each night as part of continued therapy without disturbing sleep.

Independent health economists working with the NHS estimate it could save the NHS in excess of £1bn a year.


Romag, the oldest manufacturer of unique glass and solar products in the North-East, transform traditional architectural spaces with beautiful modern coloured solar panels, which use light to create power.

The company’s new AirGlaz product combines special anti-reflective properties and has a tough, scratch resistant surface with unique optical properties that allow light transmission of 97 per cent and reflection of less than one per cent.

The composition of the glass not only reduces reflections, but changes the way they appear, making them appear dull and less vibrant so focus is drawn to the product on display.


The first light from the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) designed by the European Southern Observatory is due to take place in 2024, but much of the work on its optical technology has already started in Durham.

Durham University’s Centre for Advanced Instrumentation is a leading partner in building what will be the world’s largest telescope located in the Atacama Desert, in Chile.

The primary mirror will be nearly four times larger than the ones in current telescopes, and will gather around 15 times more light.

The mirror and other parts are designed so the telescope can be actively reconfigured to capture light from distant stars and galaxies.

This means the E-ELT will have unprecedented ability to discover the origins and nature of the universe and to image directly planets in other solar systems.