SA electronics companies profile: The Poynting Group

15 June 2005 News

The Poynting Group has its origins in a company called Givati Fourie and Associates (GFA) which was founded in 1990 to offer electromagnetic (EM) consulting services in the field of antenna design and placement.

GFA was closed during 1997 and Andre Fourie went on to start Poynting Innovations in which he was initially the sole owner. Over time Juergen Dresel and Derek Nitch became significant shareholders. Initially, the company was located in the School of Electrical and Information Technology at the University of Witwatersrand but moved to its own 1400 m² premises in Wynberg in 2001. The company maintains close links with the University and by late 2003 had grown to a staff of 70 employees. The Group is comprised of three companies, these being Poynting Innovations, Poynting Antennas and Poynting Software. The company is currently involved in the development of antenna design software, the manufacture of antennas, wireless products and consulting in the field of antenna design and placement.

Poynting itself was established using seed funding in the form of the SPII and still receives government funding through the THRIP programme managed by the National Research Foundation. The latter funding is used for joint antenna development with the University of Witwatersrand which enthusiastically encourages cooperation between industry and academia. Poynting Innovations received the SPII Award in 2003 for its patented solder in plastic (SIP) process which is currently used for mass production of a range of antenna products. The cost of producing a SIP item is about a tenth of the cost of an equivalent PCB and could effectively replace PCB components in most antennas. The success of Poynting and its growth again emphasises the power of the various support schemes that government offers to innovative and start-up companies. As Poynting itself points out, the support for high risk ideas has contributed towards job creation, skills development and export sales, the export component being typically 50%.

Poynting develops its own antenna software, the package being called SuperNEC, both for its own use and for sale, and it is currently in use by many engineers throughout the world. Super NEC V 2.5 was released during early 2003 and this included an upgrade to the engine which allows the software to solve problems up to 10 times faster. Other new features include new assemblies such as a horn antenna and a quadrifilar helix antenna, while the new version is easier to use. Poynting offers three different products which include a complete package for a single computer, a system whereby you can pool the memory of networked machines and reduce execution speed, and SuperNEC Lite. The latter is ideal for students and radio amateurs and allows calculations for basic antenna types (Yagi etc) at a discount price. As an example of the use of SuperNEC it was recently used to work out the best location for antennas for the new fleet of patrol boats for the Australian Navy. The first vessel was launched during 2005 and the results agreed well with the simulations.

Poynting also has on offer its SIG (structure interpolation and gridding) program which processes cross-sectional data representing a complex 3D object (such as an aircraft) and generates a wire grid NEC geometry file. SIG has been successfully used for aircraft simulation/model measurement studies in the HF, VHF and UHF range. While Poynting markets the software it was originally developed by the University of the Witwatersrand. Another software product is ASEP (antenna simulation and evaluation package) which simulates an aircraft radio link, allowing accurate prediction of antenna performance during real flight profiles. The simulation includes cockpit noise, aircraft radio, the antenna radiation pattern, propagation and ground reflection and predicted results compare very well with measurements made.

Manufacturing facilities includes a mass production facility and a specialised antenna manufacturing facility. The patented SIP process accounts for many of the antennas in the mass production section. The specialised workshop makes the custom antennas, which includes the electronic warfare range, military communications antennas, underground and special purpose devices. Although hand-made, the small specialist team can produce more than eight antennas per week. Standard products include GSM/cellular antennas, ISM/WLAN antennas and a range of military and EMC antennas for use in electronic warfare and other applications. Miscellaneous products include satellite, omni-directional, folded dipole and mast antennas.

Market opportunities for Poynting exist in many other countries. One of the larger orders it received was from Athens-based firm Elson during 2003. In a R10 million contract, some 300 electronic warfare antennas were delivered over a 20 month period. The portable antennas that are used for transmitting high-power radio waves and monitoring the spectrum over a wide band were developed to the customer's requirement and were designed to cover a wider frequency range than conventional devices. Today, the company offers a wide range of standard antennas for the defence sector, with applications including direction finding, electronic warfare (EW) and jamming. Full details of these products are available on the company's extensive website.

Poynting also specialises in aircraft antenna placement studies, antenna system evaluation and aircraft communication assessments. Over the last 10 years it has conducted studies for virtually every aircraft in the fleet of the SAAF, including the Cheetah, Oryx, Rooivalk, Pilatus, and more recently, the new Hawk aircraft where it was contracted by overseas company Chelton Avionics. SuperNEC was used to simulate the numerical models and actual measurements are made at the Compact Range of the University of Pretoria, with an excellent match being obtained.

An exciting area of development for Poynting has been driven by the desire to take cellular radio technology underground into mines. Both Vodacom and MTN are evaluating the technology and the latter has proved that electric and electronic detonators are immune to radiation in the 900 MHz and 1800 MHz bands. Poynting has developed customised antennas to ensure long distance propagation underground, a critical aspect for use of the technology. Before the local mine work, Poynting already obtained expertise in GSM antennas in tunnels and underground, both in South Africa and other countries.

Poynting is also part of a research group that includes the international company Mine Radio Systems and the CSIR that has been funded to investigate an integrated mine safety system. The three main functions that are to be integrated include locating, tagging and alerting. Locating is focused on determining the location of trapped miners, while tagging allows determination of the location of a miner in the case of emergency such as a fire. Alerting is to provide a means of alerting miners to an impending disaster. Completion of this project is scheduled for 2006.

In a recent success, Poynting developed and is manufacturing the antennas for Sentech's MyWireless public LAN. The first product is an in-building antenna with a cable for attachment to the MyWireless modem. Local company FastComm has been appointed as the sole distributor, but Poynting itself supplies a range of outdoor solutions for MyWireless.

Poynting has exported its products to the USA, Europe, Africa and the Far East and high on its agenda, is the goal that exports will make up more than 70% of sales.

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