Headwall Photonics

According to David Bannon, COO and cofounder of Headwall Photonics, the headwall is usually the most difficult part of a mountain climb. It is from this willingness to take on difficult technological challenges, as well as the need for cooperation that climbing entails, that Headwall Photonics takes its name. The company’s prospects have been rising quickly. Headwall Photonics sells hyperspectral imaging sensors and instrument modules such as Raman spectrometers to OEMs and end-users in a variety of industries, including pharmaceuticals, petroleum refining and defense. Headwall’s product line includes the Hyperspec series of NIR and VNIR spectrometer modules and the Nanospec microspectrometers. Headwall also makes Raman-based modules for OEMs in the pharmaceutical and forensic markets. Finally, the company sells high-efficiency holographic diffraction gratings, which are also used in all of its products. In March 2006, Hamilton Sundstrand’s Applied Instrument Technologies began using Headwall’s Raman Explorer in its RPM Raman-based process analyzers. And in February this year, ChemImage announced that it would use Headwall’s hyperspectral imaging sensors and instrument modules in its spectroscopic imaging products.

Located in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, Headwall Photonics’ history extends back to 1976 and a company called American Holographic, which made high-quality holographic diffraction gratings and spectral sensor modules for optical instruments. In the late 1990s, American Holographic’s telecommunications products attracted the attention of Agilent, which acquired American Holographic in May 2000. “The diffraction grating products actually leveraged over a billion dollars in revenue [for Agilent],” said Mr. Bannon. Headwall was formed in May 2003 by Mr. Bannon and Larry Barstow, then an Agilent general manager and now Headwall’s CEO.

Headwall takes advantage of its long history in holographic diffraction, as well as Agilent’s extensive modernization of American Holographic’s manufacturing facilities. As stated by Mr. Bannon, “with over thirty years of deployment experience, Headwall is able to work with its customers across the product life cycle from product design to volume manufacturing.” What makes many of Headwall’s sensors unique is their capability to scan multiple points of a sample, rather than a single point; this technique gives end-users in pharmaceuticals, for example, greater assurance that a drug is in the correct crystalline orientation throughout a pill.

Regarding the company’s potential for a “killer application,” Mr. Bannon spoke to Headwall Photonics’ hyperspectral sensors: “The strategic point is that most critical applications want a greater sampling accuracy than can be obtained with the single-point measurement techniques that the industry is limited to today.” Headwall also has an opportunity for success in the defense sector: ground-based and aerial unmanned observation vehicles are becoming smaller, and the Department of Defense is calling for chemical imaging capability in addition to video information.

While Headwall is a private company and does not reveal specific financial performance, the company “has more than doubled its revenue and significantly expanded its number of employees [from 23 to 40] since [its] divestiture,” stated Mr. Bannon. A steep ascent can be treacherous, but Headwall is negotiating a steady path to success.

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