Storrington’s largest employer will play a significant role in a global revolution in the availability of cancer treatment, should it receive planning permission for a new factory.
Tesla Engineering on the Water Lane industrial site makes $1m components for new, more compact, proton therapy machines which target cancerous tumors with charged particles.
Previously prohibitively expensive and large, proton therapy machines are now being made for $20-25m (see image) using new super-conducting magnets, the production of which Tesla specialises in.
Two of Tesla’s customers in America have just secured federal government approval for their cancer treatment devices, and Tesla is now expecting a strong demand for its enabling technology.
Tesla operations director Steve Bates said ‘the older systems are more like a mini hadron collider’, something he is familiar with, the company having supplied CERN in Switzerland with 1,500 of their magnets.
The new generation of proton therapy machines require just a small number of hospital staff to run them, as opposed to a team of nuclear physicists, making them far more commercially viable.
Using proton therapy ‘will become a worldwide requirement’ said Mr Bates, and ‘we’ll be making super conducting magnets which are the heart of the proton therapy system - its the guts of the machine’.
However, in order to fulfil the anticipated demand for its technology, Tesla says it needs to build a new 23,000 sq ft production facility on a 2.75 acre site opposite its existing 80,000 sq ft premises.
The planning application has been submitted (DC/12/1891) and the company, which employs around 255 people in the village, hopes it will be determined by Horsham District Council in either December or January.
Should permission be granted, Tesla hopes to complete the £2.5m build within 2013 - its 40th anniversary year. And depending on what contracts Tesla wins, up to 50 new jobs could be created, while turnover is projected to increase by as much as 30 per cent.
The company is already having to turn away business and if the bid is rejected by planners more work would be directed towards its bases in the US and Holland - away from its UK headquarters and research-base in Storrington.
“We would reduce the amount of work we could do here overall,” said Mr Bates, “and reduce our ability to do new work.
“Then we would lose key staff over a period, and we’d lose business as a consequence of that – so it is kind of a death spiral really.”
However, exporting more than 90 per cent of its products, Tesla is exactly the type of high value, high-tech manufacturing industry much-lauded by the Government, and local planners.
“We are literally pulling in the wealth of other countries,” said Tesla finance director David Cracknell, who earlier this year said rejection of the application would be ‘devastating’ for the local economy.
Should nearby residents in Brook Close, Southwater Way and Rother Close have concerns, Mr Bates moved to reassure them by saying Tesla is not a traditional industrial manufacturer, but rather ‘a very high-tech’ producer of ‘clean bright super-conducting magnets- - ‘work quite befitting to the general environment’ to the edge of village site.