An Edmonton technology company is aiming to double in size by climbing aboard the international building boom in rail transit.
Willowglen Systems, which moved last winter into new offices at 9808 42 Ave., creates industrial automation equipment primarily used to help run pipelines and other facilities in the oil and gas industry.
But with oil prices and capital budgets down from a couple of years ago, the company has increasingly focussed on selling software and hardware to subway, LRT and monorail developments around the world, sales and marketing director Carl Lorimer said during a tour Thursday.
“Right now is a really great time for public transportation globally, so we’re happy to aggressively pursue that while the oil and gas industry figures out what’s next,” he said, explaining transit is growing as cities become home to an increasing proportion of the world’s population.
“If these places don’t build a proper transit network, they will break. They need to get cars off the road, not just for global warming concerns, but for traffic … We’re seeing just an extraordinary amount of opportunity around the world.”
Willowglen’s main product, SCADACOM Transit ICS, is a control system that brings together data from rail signals, fire detectors, ventilators, elevators and other areas so staff can easily track what’s happening and different sub-systems can respond jointly to problems.
For example, if someone pulls a fire alarm, the software could arrange for trains to stop going to that location, put out evacuation announcements and reverse escalators at the station so they run toward the exit, Lorimer said.
The technology has been installed in 25 metro rail networks since the early 1990s, including Ottawa, Vancouver, Nanjing, China, Seoul, South Korea and Johannesburg, South Africa.
Annual revenues for Willowglen, owned by president Wayne Karpoff and investors in Vancouver and southeast Asia, are about $10 million to $15 million, Lorimer said.
Five years ago, most of that money came from sales in the oil and gas field, while a minority was derived from rail transit, but those proportions have now reversed and the spread is expected to grow, he said.
The company hopes to at least double its current 60 staff in three years. It received $1 million from the federal Western Innovation Initiative in June to help commercialize and market the next generation SCADACOM Transit ICS.
Willowglen is already developing a new product using tags and radio receivers to monitor the location of transit employees working in tunnels and elsewhere along the rails to prevent accidents.
The equipment will be tested this fall by an undisclosed American transit operation and should be rolled out over the next year.
But despite the company’s international success, it still hasn’t sold its technology to the hometown Edmonton Transit System — Bombardier is using controls from a Brazilian firm on the Valley Line LRT, Lorimer said.
He doesn’t want to go into details about their relationship, although he said Willowglen intends to bid on an ETS equipment upgrade expected in the next few years.
“We greatly look forward to the day in which we can work with Edmonton Transit to provide some of our innovative solutions to the benefit of the Edmonton Transit riders,” he said.
“We get that often — ‘You’re an Edmonton transit technology company … Why aren’t you in Edmonton?’ ”
Source: Google News