Plasma Quest

A Message from Lord Pickles and Lord Blunkett, followed by Plasma Quest's best practice article

The ability to listen and learn from one another has always been vital in parliament, in business and in most aspects of daily life. But at this particular moment in time, as national and global events continue to reiterate, it is uncommonly crucial that we forge new channels of communication and reinforce existing ones. The following article from Plasma Quest is an attempt to do just that. We would welcome your thoughts on this or any other Parliamentary Review article.

Blunkett signature Rt Hon The Lord David Blunkett
Pickles signature Rt Hon The Lord Eric Pickles

Managing Director
ProfessorMichael Thwaites
RF Plasma
Plasma Quest Limited is a technology developer based in
Hook, Hampshire, that provides thin film materials and
process solutions that cannot be met by current deposition
technologies. Founded in 1998, it can undertake design
services, material trials and engage with clients to conduct thin
film material process development. Managing Director Professor
Michael Thwaites tells
The Parliamentary Review
more about the
organisation’s 20 years of innovation in thin film coating.
I established Plasma Quest in 1998 after leaving my previous company to continue
developing thin film coating technology independently. At the time, we reached an
agreement that allowed me to take some of their equipment with me in order to
establish my own business. I initially set up in my garage at home and was able to win
start-up funding from the DTI, which allowed me to move into an incubation facility
in Farnborough. The funding also enabled me to hire four other people, and some
larger companies quickly began to back our research and development projects.
Today, we are still based in Hook, Hampshire, but now employ 13 members of staff
and work on a larger scale. We can work with a wide range of materials, including
metals, polymers, dielectrics and magnetic materials, all with reactive gasses. It is our
versatility and expertise, therefore, that continues to set us apart from our competitors.
Twenty years of innovation in thin film coating
Our primary focus is on using our own technology for the deposition of thin film
materials. This has a variety of applications in optical and electrical systems and as
a protective coating. Many of the previous techniques used in their development
»Managing Director:
ProfessorMichael Thwaites
»Founded in 1998
»Based in Hook, Hampshire
»Services: Research
and development into
»No. of employees: 13
Plasma Quest
Highlighting best practice
had been inefficient and resulted in
the products exhibiting a number of
limitations. Our technology, however,
was able to reduce these limitations
and this allowed us to conduct R&D
work for larger organisations, which
improved their own R&D, or enabled
us to sell deposition equipment or
For our clients, access to our thin
film deposition expertise can improve
time to market and reduce internal
costs while minimising risk by
effectively extending their research
and development resource capabilities.
As a result, we were profitable from
an early stage and secured customers
that have subsequently become
long-term partners. They continued
to support our R&D work and today
we collaborate with a range of large
and small companies for the bulk of
our work. Our products are carefully
tailored for their specific needs and
we are able to identify and find
solutions for existing issues in their
The usual deposition technique
that underpins the majority of thin
film coating is called magnetron
sputtering. Basically, energetic argon
ions are accelerated towards a metal
disc or plate. The ions gain sufficient
energy to knock target atoms from
the metal. These atoms are then able
to be transferred from the target to
the surface (substrate) to be coated.
This is almost like playing billiards
with atoms. Unfortunately, despite
its importance in thin film coating,
it has some major issues. Plasma
Quest has developed an alternative
technology to the magnetron process
that addresses these problems. This
technology is called “High Target
Utilisation Sputtering”. Our process is
better though, providing our clients
with additional degrees of freedom to
control the properties of the material
that they put down, while also
enjoying a greater level of efficiency.
Often, when we work with a new
client, they will approach us with a
specific issue that they need solving or
a new device they want us to produce.
Following a meeting, we will suggest
a potential way forward, which is
a process that often takes place in
stages. Research can be a long process
and we cannot make guarantees, so
we establish pre-agreed time limits
within which we can assess progress
with them and allow them to decide
whether they want to continue. This is
a close and collaborative process and
one that often yields positive results.
Multi-source remote
plasma generator
Our process is
better though,
providing our
clients with
degrees of
freedom to
control the
properties of
the material
they put
down, while
also enjoying
a greater level
of efficiency
Expanding our reach
As a small company that operates
within an incredibly complex and
niche area of the technology sector,
attracting and identifying potential
customers can prove to be a
challenging process. Our key skill is
our ability to notice issues in existing
technologies, before offering solutions,
but too many companies are unwilling
to discuss their weaknesses and faults.
Therefore, it can be difficult to build an
understanding of which organisations
require our help. Secondly, the
fact that we occupy a rather niche
position within the market means
that we mostly rely on gaining clients
through word of mouth, our website
When working with a client, the
identification of an issue can prove
a challenge while they also require
highly sophisticated solutions. Often,
it is difficult to find a cost-effective
solution for the client that they will
then invest in for the future. To ensure
we can continue to fund our expensive
research, we can apply for grants
from Innovate UK, while we have
also received innovation funding from
Relying on EU funding has also
thrown up potential issues as the
UK’s future relationship with the
EU remains up in the air. In order to
mitigate the potential and unforeseen
impact of Brexit on funding, we have
considered joining consortiums as a
partner so we can continue bidding for
Our business has been built upon the
constant search for new technology,
innovative devices and problem-solving
solutions. Our approach for the future
is therefore dependent on our ability
to continue winning R&D projects that
can then lead to the subsequent sale of
equipment and altered or new devices.
Despite the ongoing challenges facing
us and our sector, we remain confident
in the ability of our team to identify
issues and solutions that can then
be marketable and suit the needs of
Our business
has been built
upon the
search for
devices and
Plasma Quest Limited
S500 sputter system

This article was sponsored by Plasma Quest. The Parliamentary Review is wholly funded by the representatives who write for it. The publication in which this article originally appeared contained the following foreword from Rt Hon Michael Gove.

Rt Hon Michael Gove's Foreword For The Parliamentary Review

By Rt Hon Michael Gove

This year's Parliamentary Review comes at a momentous time for parliament, as we collectively determine the destiny of the United Kingdom. 

On October 31, the UK will leave the European Union. The successful implementation of this process is this government's number-one priority.

Three years after a historic referendum vote, we will deliver on the decisive mandate from the British people. Trust in our democracy depends on it. Until that final hour, we will work determinedly and diligently to negotiate a deal, one that abolishes the backstop and upholds the warm and close relationship we share with our friends, allies and neighbours in the EU. But in the event that the EU refuses to meet us at the table, we must be prepared to leave without a deal.

As the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, it is my job to lead on this government's approach, should that scenario happen. Preparing for Brexit is my department's driving mission. But while I am leading this turbocharged effort, the whole of government is committed to this endeavour.

Ministers across Whitehall are working together to ensure that every possibility is considered, every plan is scrutinised and every provision is made. A daily drumbeat of meetings means that we are holding departments accountable, so that preparations are completed on time.

The chancellor has confirmed that all necessary funding will be made available. And we have mobilised thecivil service, assigning 15,000 of our most talented civil servants to manage our exit from the EU.

We will make sure that on November 1, there is as little disruption to national life as possible. Our trade relationships will continue to thrive, thanks to agreements with countries around the world worth £70 billion. Our country will remain secure, thanks to nearly 1,000 new officers posted at our borders. And the 3.2 million EU nationals now living and working among us can remain confident, with absolute certainty, of their right to remain in the UK.

Above all, our goal is to be transparent. Soon, we will launch a public information campaign so that citizens, communities and businesses are ready and reassured about what will happen in the event of “no deal”.

In my first few weeks in this role, I have travelled to ports and tarmacs, borders and bridges, all across the UK –from the seaside of Dover to the rolling green hills of County Armagh. I have heard from business owners and border officials, farmers and hauliers. They are ready to put an end to uncertainty. And they are ready to embrace the opportunities ahead.

Our departure from the EU will be a once in a lifetime chance to chart a new course for the United Kingdom. Preparing for that new course will be a herculean effort. But this country has made astounding efforts before. We can do it again.
Rt Hon Michael Gove
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster