Applying the Fiscale “forensic” touch reaps additional rewards for company revolutionising the way we live and work through the use of interactive touch screens.

research and design tax credits

Case Study - Visualplanet Ltd

By taking the time to understand how a business works, getting into its DNA, and applying their expert knowledge of the R&D Tax Credit incentive our team can often uncover untapped areas of research and development that are eligible for relief. This is exactly what happened with Visualplanet Ltd. They knew they were carrying out R &D and could make a claim but were not aware just how much of their work was covered by the R&D Tax Credit scheme.

Research and development is a daily occurrence at Visualplanet. From the outset, when they developed a new product and the production process to manufacture it, innovation has driven the company forward.

Today the innovation comes from the continuous development of the core product and the solutions that Visualplanet design for the clients they work alongside. The research and development is client driven - a client has a need and Visualplanet will innovate to ensure that need is met.

The improvements they are making to their core product - Touchfoil™ meet the criteria set by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) for R&D Tax Credit eligibility - the creation of a new or improved product to create leading edge technology. Often they are designing and developing new applications which involves technological uncertainty and for which the answers are not obvious; again meeting the criteria set by HMRC.

Visualplanet had already prepared the information for their R&D Tax Credit claim when they decided to ask Fiscale to review their submission before sending it to HMRC. Given the projects that the company were involved with Fiscale was convinced from the outset that their claim could be a lot bigger. The challenge was to prove it... and we did!

The background

In 2001 Visualplanet founder Vernon Spencer thought how useful it would be for retailers to be able to provide information from their “bricks and mortar” premises even when closed. He set about developing a solution using large format interactive screens and in 2002 founded Visualplanet and launched Touchfoil™ - the first large projective capacitive sensor film.

14 years later and Visualplanet is going from strength to strength. Based in Cambridge with a purpose built manufacturing facility the privately owned company now employs a team of 20. Touchfoil™, a patented technology, is an optically clear thin film which is laminated to a substrate to create an interactive touchscreen when combined with a PC and monitor.

In 2015 Visualplanet won the Best Exporter category in the GREAT Faces of British Business competition. Around 98% of the Touchfoil™ produced is exported to over 85 countries.

The innovative Touchfoil™ is used in a growing number of applications including retail - with “through window” interactive displays where viewers can browse stock and make mobile payments or leave a donation for charities. Museums and universities use the technology to impart information in an engaging and interesting manner. Interactive vending machines and outdoor media use screens to combine functionality and fun to deliver a unique customer experience.

Information points in medical institutions and urban locations provide visitors with quick and easy access to tailored information. Railways, airports and motorway services are all further examples of where Touchfoil™ is being used to make life easier.

The company has the capability to work with clients on an initial concept through to customisation and design, set up, integration and final installation if required. R&D extends into many areas within Visualplanet, from product development to manufacturing processes to software development.

The management team were aware of the R&D Tax Credit initiative and had decided to invest resource into putting a claim together themselves.

The challenge

The first challenge that faced Vernon when he had his vision to revolutionise traditional business communication was that the type of product he wanted to use had not been manufactured before on a commercial level. It was down to Visualplanet to develop not only the product but also the manufacturing process. Huge investment was required in developing both the methods and equipment to enable large format projective capacitive sensor film to be produced.

The first commercial use of Touchfoil™ was in the “through window” retail market with an interactive property display in a Cambridge estate agency. Since 2002 the number of applications utilising the film has continued to grow as more and more sectors discover the benefits of engaging interactively with their audience.

Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) call upon Visualplanet to develop bespoke solutions for their particular application. The design team at Visualplanet invest in research and development to overcome the challenges of using Touchfoil™ in a diverse range of environments. Internal, external locations; harsh weather conditions; heavy footfall; security and unattended sites are all challenges that have to be addressed to ensure a robust, reliable and durable solution.

The ability to design a solution that can be used in an existing application, retrofitted if necessary, can be another challenge for the design team but has a huge financial benefit to the OEM.

Perhaps the biggest challenge that Visualplanet has to overcome is user experience. The popularity of small touch screen devices means that many consumers are familiar with how they work. When they use a large format touch screen they are looking for the same natural touch experience. They do not expect to compromise on performance or accuracy. Despite all the other physical challenges that the equipment has to deal with the expectation is that it will perform as a well as the smallest smart phone.

The solution

Visualplanet became aware of Fiscale through a third party who felt that they could benefit from Fiscale's expertise.

The initial meeting with Fiscale's Technical Director, Stephen Bunting and Richard Heyes, Financial Director at Visualplanet, took place at the end of June 2015.

During the meeting Stephen reviewed the R&D Tax Credit Relief claim that the internal finance team had put together. The claim was comprehensive and included the largest project. However given the extensive nature of the research and development taking place at Visualplanet - in terms of continuous product innovative; software development and pioneering manufacturing techniques - Stephen believed there was scope to increase the claim.

On further investigation Stephen's instinct proved to be correct. Stephen took the time to gain a deeper insight into the manufacturing process. He then looked carefully at the way Visualplanet work with Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs), to design bespoke solutions, and the solutions provided to System Integrators to meet their clients' objectives.

By adopting a forensic approach to the work that Visualplanet carry out Stephen was able to identify a substantial number of additional projects that were eligible for R&D Tax Credit relief.

Stephen worked with Richard to ensure that no stone was left unturned and that any eligible projects from the last two years were included in the claim. This involved several face to face meetings and telephone calls. Once satisfied that all the opportunities had been maximised Stephen prepared the draft report for approval by the directors. Following their approval Stephen submitted the report to the specialist HMRC R&D Tax Credit team in Leicester.

The results

Visualplanet received their cheque from HMRC within six months of their introduction to Fiscale. The sum approved was in line with Richard’s expectations and he was pleased with the substantial amount of money received from HMRC.

"It was quite by chance that we came across Fiscale and I am glad that we took the opportunity to make contact with them. Our product is very innovative and we knew that what we were doing qualified for R&D Tax Relief, what we didn’t really appreciate was the extent of the R&D that we actually carry out.

I would urge any business to take the opportunities presented through the R&D Tax Credit scheme and to use the services of a specialist R&D Tax advisor like Fiscale. They will be able to help you to claim back more than you think.

In our case we had already gone through the process of putting the claim together so once Fiscale were on board my involvement was pretty limited. Stephen and his team just got on with it and ensured that we were fully utilising the opportunities presented by the R&D Tax Credit scheme.

We enjoyed working with Fiscale. Stephen really does know his subject and is meticulous in his investigations. We are looking forward to continuing our relationship with Fiscale. By taking full advantage of this incentive we are able to fund even more R&D into new applications for our product”

Richard Heyes, Financial Director, Visualplanet

The conclusion

Following a substantial first claim Visualplanet is continuing to work alongside Fiscale. Their internal finance team now has an even greater understanding of the type of projects that qualify for R&D Tax Credit relief.

Future claims will be easier, and quicker, to process due to the record keeping systems put in place. Working alongside Stephen has helped the finance team to extend their own knowledge and expertise in this specialist area.

The R&D Tax Credit relief received from the initial claim has been reinvested in the business to develop new markets for Touchfoil™


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