February 5, 2013

Renishaw completes buy of MDL


Founder Steve Ball ‘officially retired’ – but not quite

YORK, UK – Renishaw announced this week it has purchased the remaining 34 percent of Measurement Devices Ltd (aka MDL), maker of various laser scanning devices, for a cash price of $7.1 million. This values MDL, maybe best known in the 3D data capture space for its Dynascan mobile scanning system, as a whole at about $21 million.

This concludes an agreement began in 2010, when Renishaw, which has its roots in the metrology and medical spaces, bought an initial 29 percent stake.

Steve Ball, founder and head of MDL, stepped down as of the end of 2012 and confirmed to SPAR that he is no longer a shareholder or employee of MDL. His daughter, Elaine Ball, will now serve at MDL managing director, reporting to Renishaw director and GM of the Laser & Calibration Products Division Will Lee.

“The rationale behind the sale was simply this,” Ball said in an interview. “MDL had grown from being a small-time company to what you would call a medium-sized company and it takes a certain way of doing things to reach that level. But now we’re on the radar and we’re challenging all the major players in terms of capability and ideas and marketing, and all of that requires a different type of leadership. It’s much more corporate now, and MDL has access to greater facilities and funds and capabilities.”

As evidence, note that this past December, citing “rising demand for its products,” MDL took occupancy of new additional 20,000 square-foot premises adjacent to its headquarters here in York. The new $4.75 million facility will become the base for MDL’s production, service and R&D departments.

Why Renishaw? “I looked for a company that’s compatible in terms of the thinking,” Ball said. “They’re in the metrology business and they use 3D point clouds and CAD, but they do it in the engineering business, so by grafting on MDL, we use the same kinds of technologies, but we measure different things.”

He also noted their Six Sigma manufacturing capability. “One of our problems has been that as you expand and create more equipment, the quality can fall off,” Ball said. “But now we’ve got a strong manufacturing partner that really knows how to service and keep it all going around the world.”

Of course, MDL will no longer be able to “duck and dive like I’ve done in the past,” he chuckled, “but now I’m free to do the radical stuff on my own and help smaller companies and get them in position to find an investor and help them get along. I’m a free spirit and I want to do things my way, and that doesn’t jive with a larger company, and it never would.”

Look for Ball to launch a consultancy firm in the near future and to keep his hands in the laser scanning and surveying business. After a bit of holiday.

“I’m 63 years old,” he said. “I only look 25. I left school at 16 and worked my ass off for 48 years and I’ve got a lot of other things I’d like to do.”

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