Boreal Laser Inc.
Boreal Laser Inc. has been developing and building laser systems since 1986. The company came to being as a research contractor for the Canadian Military. In 1996, the company was contracted by an energy company to develop a laser based technology for pipeline monitoring. As a laser monitoring technology, the laser beam is shot through the ambient air, around process units in industrial facilities, seeking out gas leaks or measuring concentrations of regulated gases.
As it happens in technology driven sectors, advances in communications and increasing demands for higher production, safety and efficiency made technologies more reliable, affordable and more widespread across a broader spectrum of industries. Today, Boreal Laser offers a product line based on five laser based analyzer configurations, and continues to work on the development of its platforms and customization options required by an ever more demanding client base.
The Canadian Business Journal spoke with Hamish Adam, CEO, and Jim Bauer, COO, discussing the importance of this technology in the industrial world, the upside of Boreal Laser products, and the future of Boreal Laser as a technology solutions provider.
“Aluminum smelting has been our most successful monitoring application. We are also seeing increase in clientele in the production side of aluminium in the Middle East, in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Oman, and Qatar. Worldwide, we have installations in over 40 countries,” says Adam.
In the aluminium smelting sector Boreal Laser works with clients such as Rio Tinto Alcan, Alcoa, and BHP Billiton. The company also sells products to refineries and petrochemical plants predominantly in North America and Europe, and wakes inroads in Asia and South America. Petrochemical clients include BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil, and Shell; as well as chemical companies such as DuPont, Honeywell, and Canadian and U.S. government environmental agencies.
Over the years the original GasFinder technology has evolved into a family of high precision industrial monitoring solutions for operations of all sizes and industrial focuses.
Boreal Laser’s GasFinder brand products detect Hydrogen Fluoride (HF), Hydrogen Chloride (HCl), Hydrogen Sulfide (H2S), Ammonia (NH3), Methane (CH4), Carbon Dioxide (CO2), Hydrogen Cyanide (HCN), Carbon Monoxide (CO) and Acetylene (C2H2) with no interference from other gases. This wide analytical spectrum makes GasFinder products ideal for aluminum smelters, oil refineries, petrochemical and chemical plants, gas production and processing, brick and ceramics manufacturing.
The company also created a portable solution for the research community for the detection of greenhouse gases. “The sales of our portable products are coming mainly from universities and government research organizations with the purpose of identifying the levels of gases emitted from industries into the atmosphere, and to help create regulations for those industries. “The research community also like the fact that we are the only ones providing battery operated, and therefore a truly portable product,” says Adam.
The portable analyzers are primarily used for emissions research; detecting CH4 hotspots in landfills, measuring NH3 and CH4 emissions from agricultural sources, as well as CH4 emissions from natural gas pipelines in densely populated and congested areas, HF leak detection in refineries’ HF Alkylation units, monitoring, NH3 emissions in coal-fired power generating stations, HF scrubber inlets, outlets, stack monitoring in primary aluminum smelters, … and the list goes on.
The laser based gas analysis technology saw increasing numbers in technology providers, however, according to Adam, the competition specializes on different industrial and process monitoring strata, not necessarily increasing the competition in the sectors where Boreal Laser operates. “Yes, the technologies are becoming more available, however, the competition in our environmental and industrial monitoring is fairly limited with maybe three or four major competitors,” says Adam.
Being a technology company, it may come as a surprise that the company maintains its leading edge by promoting and investing in marketing and building formidable personal relationships with the industries. While the Boreal Laser products are second to none, the company adapted means to provide product and service faster than the competition, as well as fanatical investment and focus on customer technical support.
To this, Bauer said, “We have been doing this for quite some time and we have a good track record of keeping our customer relationships healthy, and this gives us a formidable competitive advantage. We are a smaller company. That’s why we are able to react quickly to customer concerns or requirements, and we are flexible with fulfilling the customers’ needs. We are able to address the issues and set things right for them. We are prepared to travel anywhere to close a deal, install a system, or to fix a problem. There is nothing magic about the power of standing in front of the customer.” To better respond to its customers whenever needed and provide early response and support, Boreal Laser has established local service providers in the U.S.(Houston),” TX, Netherlands, and Australia.
Just like many other technology-focused business areas, the company also noted that customers increasingly seek turnkey solutions and customizations to their needs, relying on Boreal Laser to deliver expertise to adjust, modify and monitor the equipment. “10 years ago, the big companies had their own instrument development facilities to develop and adapt technologies to their specific needs. Today, the new breed of technical personnel does not have the same interest in understanding the details of how the technology works, and we recognize that, and we work towards more black box, plug & play solutions,” says Adam.
To hone its competitive edge in the market, the company is developing and commercializing its next generation analyzing platform. The platform will allow Boreal Laser even more flexibility in product customization for the client, consolidation of the company’s position in the market, and provide additional expansion opportunities in its niche market. The new platform, as well as the company’s significant investment in laser analyzing technology using new types of lasers at different wavelengths of the spectrum will allow for the Boreal Laser technologies to tackle a wide new variety of potential applications, and allow for potential expansion into new selected monitoring niches, where the company sees weakness on the part of the competition. “We are not going to go after anything and everything. We will seek niches with deficiencies and address those with new products,” says Bauer.