There is much lament about the decline of manufacturing in Canada, as jobs and production capabilities increasingly move offshore. Masitek Instruments Inc., a Moncton, N.B., company that makes high-tech equipment to monitor and improve the processing and handling of goods, is finding a lucrative market by going to wherever client companies are located around the world.
The private company, which has developed unique technology that uses replicas of products equipped with sensors to measure, report and correct damage on production lines, has found a niche in the giant food, beverage and pharmaceutical industries. With a global business development strategy and worldwide partners, Masitek in just three years of selling its systems has expanded to 30 countries.
Tracy Clinch (below), president and chief executive officer of Masitek, which stands for "most accurate sensor impact technology," says the company serves multinationals such as Nestlé SA, McCain Foods Ltd., Carlsberg Group, and the Unilever group. It has a division that covers industrial processes, especially bottling and canning, that accounts for 80 per cent of its business, and another for agricultural products such as eggs and potatoes.
Tracy Clinch, president and chief executive officer of Moncton, N.B.-based Masitek Instruments Inc. (Photo courtesy of Masitek)
Masitek was started in 2010 with funding from the Technology Venture Corp., a venture capital group in Moncton, using patented technology that detects and pinpoints the cause of rough handling that fragile goods receive from machinery in automated processing. Ms. Clinch says it is especially useful in smart manufacturing, or software-assisted and innovation-oriented manufacturing, which is designed to improve speed and quality, drive efficiencies and reduce packaging.
"There's an information technology revolution in industry; it's a global movement that's catching on everywhere," she says. Europe, where Masitek had early traction with its equipment, is especially a pioneer in adapting such processes, with an emphasis on sustainability.
For instance, when "glass light-weighting" is used to reduce the amount of glass in bottles and jars by about 30 per cent, this can also make them more susceptible to failure. Masitek's devices and mobile sensors measure the pressure, vertical load and scuffing that the bottles are subject to. Ms. Clinch says studies prove that the life of returnable bottles can be extended by eight years with reduced scuffing, while glass contamination in food and beverages due to breakage can lead to serious litigation for bottlers.
Masitek has made more than 300 different sensor systems for clients around the world and companies using the Masitek technology typically see reduced down-time and lower breakage levels, Ms. Clinch says.
A significant element of the system is software that allows data to be uploaded to a remote client portal, where customers can see the points where problems are happening in real time and take measures to keep lines running at maximum speed and efficiency.
Martin Lavoie, director of manufacturing policy with Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters (CME), says that there is growing Canadian expertise in automation and robotics, as well as integrating it into manufacturing, although "none of these companies can survive by just having a market in Canada."
A CME initiative called the group of experts in automation and robotics, or GEAR, is designed to encourage automation solutions to improve manufacturing processes. The vast majority of companies in Canada involved in food processing have fewer than 50 employees and are too small to use such equipment, he says. "It's difficult to automate if you have small-batch production."
Companies such as Masitek are finding a "positive reception" in Europe with its embrace of "the factory of the future," using software and advanced internet infrastructures to connect equipment and improve performance by 15 to 30 per cent, Mr. Lavoie says.
About 15 per cent of Masitek's customers are in Canada, Ms. Clinch says, particularly in agricultural processing, beer and bottling equipment manufacturing.
In 2017 the company is targeting two new markets and looking for greater concentration in Japan and South Africa.
The beer industry is one of Masitek's largest markets, accounting for 60 per cent of its industrial division. Ms. Clinch notes that in China, the world's largest beer market, it has one major brewer, InBev, and is looking to interest others.
Ms. Clinch says the company has received support from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, Opportunities NB, the National Research Council and the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service to develop its overseas strategies and plan markets.
Its biggest growth today comes "organically," through expansions within its existing base of customers, many of them multinationals that have tried the product and decide to use it elsewhere in their operations. Masitek also has a "cluster strategy," targeting companies within regions where it already has business and arranging for them to observe the unique systems in action. "It's something they have to see in order to understand how it can work for them."
The small company is nimble enough to adapt sales strategies to local markets, she says. "We are not so rigid in our methodologies." There are local agents and distributors in Japan, China, South Africa, India, Brazil and Europe, while partners and clients with an aptitude for Masitek's products often teach others about them. The company attends a number of trade shows, especially those where a customer close by can demonstrate its technology.
Masitek remains a development house, and is looking to adapt the technology to new products and applications, Ms. Clinch says. For example, it has just released a new canning sensor device that detects problems in the seaming process, a major cause of faults in cans.
The company is cautious to stay focused on products and markets where it is unique, cost-competitive and remains within on its core competencies, she adds.