Our Beginnings: A General Automation Company
On November 4, 1994, an engineering group specializing in robotics and machine vision was created at Walsh Automation in Montreal, Quebec. Jean-François Dupont and Charles Magnan soon become the leaders and fully invest in the development and success of this division. The ambition of Jean-François and Charles has always been to buy this group and to run their own business, a goal made possible by the vision of Walsh Automation president, Barry Boyle, who offered the opportunity for a buyout of the group as soon as its profitability was proven.
In the early days, the group’s activities involved a variety of complex custom automation projects including robotics and artificial vision. Our generalist integration division designed robotic systems for aluminum, pharmaceutical, aerospace companies as well as for other various industries in North America.
In 1999, while Jean-François and Charles were preparing to make a bid, the company Walsh Automation was itself bought by the British multinational Invensys. Our Robotics and Artificial Vision division with 45 employees was now part of the English giant of more than 80,000 employees around the world.
For Jean-François and Charles, the ambition to be one day owners of their own business remained strong. They proposed a business plan to materialize the purchase on three occasions. In 2005, with the participation of the company Averna Technologies, the buyout of the group became official. In 2006, the shares of Averna Technologies are bought back with to the investment of the Fund of Action and we officially became AV&R: Automation, Vision and Robotics.
Towards Specialization in the Aeronautical Industry
The official creation of AV&R was accompanied by significant changes related to the end of the safety net provided by the international company Invensys. Our leaders decide on implementing a strategic plan to specialize the company’s activities by adopting a product approach. Concretely, the goal was to develop ultra-efficient and innovative systems that could be sold, not only once, but hundreds of times. The benefits of such a strategy are a focus on our research and development while also standing out in the industrial automation market. The implementation of this strategic plan was also motivated by our ambition to become a world leader in our field and to be recognized as experts.
We then asked ourselves two questions: What robotic systems could become our products and in which market could we sell them? Our main criterion has been to design systems combining the varied expertise of our employees in robotics, software programming and vision, electrical and mechanical. The second criterion was to select a high value-added value allowing the incorporation of high automation technologies such as ours, in a niche market to limit competition, to allow us to become world specialists in the world as quickly as possible.
Our choice naturally fell on the aircraft engine manufacturing market. In fact, our experience permitted us to design several robotic machining systems on critical gas turbine parts for GE Aviation in Bromont, Quebec. This niche market allowed for large volumes of production and would have significant automation needs in the near future. At that time, the manufacturing operations of the aerospace industry were mostly done manually.
After several visits and discussions with leading aircraft engine manufacturers, we were able to identify their production needs. We also established research and development partnerships with them, enabling us to position our solutions in the market for the manufacture of complex parts for future engines. We finally confined our offer to four processes that are today our major expertise: profiling, polishing, deburring and robotic inspection for gas turbine blades.
Our International Expansion
During our transition period from a generalist automation company to an aeronautical specialist, the choice of the geographical area on which we wanted to develop naturally shifted to the United States. The majority of our customers, from various industries were American, thus consolidating our strong presence in this area. Knowledge of this market and similar business cultures allowed us to remove many barriers. Consequently, our early success as an aeronautical specialist was at GE Aviation with the sale of several turbine blade dovetail deburring systems.
In 2008, the global financial crisis had a direct impact on us with the immediate cessation of orders from our US customers, which accounted for 85% of our revenues. The challenge was huge: we had to quickly find other markets that could still invest in high-tech automation. We proceeded to travel the globe to meet gas turbine manufacturers from Europe and Asia. Thanks to our relationship with Pratt & Whitney, our reputation as an automation expert in the aerospace industry preceded us. Our first customer outside of America was a company located in Israel that trusted us with an order of 11 systems and pushed us to evolve our profiling solution to a higher technological level. This enhanced technology, combined with the advantages of our automated surface inspection solution, was our business card to open the doors of other manufacturers around the world. We have since been able to sell our systems in many countries such as the United Kingdom, France, Singapore, or even more recently in South Korea. We currently have systems in operation in 15 different countries.
Our Vision for the Future: More Innovation
On November 4, 2019, we celebrate our 25 years of existence and look forward to our future with ambition. Since our creation, our strength lies in our ideas, our innovations and our powerful and ingenious team. We are investing more and more every year in research and development to develop future solutions that will address industry needs and global trends in artificial intelligence and industry 4.0. The flexibility and high precision of our technologies will enable engine manufacturers to design even more complex parts, thus increasing their performance while significantly reducing air and noise pollution.
The use of our programming software, developed specifically for easy use by all of our robotic systems, is and will continue to be a pillar of our technologies. Our future will also see the creation of new generation robotic systems that will combine visual inspection and robotic finishing. Our systems will be able to inspect a part, detect anomalies, establish the necessary repairs and carry them out immediately without human intervention. This is just one example of a smarter robotic system that will make up our portfolio of solutions.