Newfoundland and Labrador company boldly takes radar where it’s never gone before
Northern Russia, offshore Brazil, the Gulf of Mexico—these are just some of the places where Rutter Inc.’s radar technology products are in demand. While the St. John’s-based company is small, with 33 employees globally, the firm has carved out a niche in the oil and gas business with radar technology that detects oil spills, icebergs, unidentified vessels and small objects and monitors waves and sea conditions. “We want to have as many products on our roster as we can offer, especially with the oil and gas industry in a slump,” says Blair Wheaton, Rutter’s vice-president.
Incorporated in 1998, Rutter didn’t start out catering to the oil and gas industry. The company’s primary product in those days was selling ‘black box’ recorders for ships. But about nine years ago the company decided it wanted to diversify and put a greater focus on research and development of radar technology.
Radar, short for radio detection and ranging, has been around since the 1880s. It involves transmitting an intermittent radio wave and receiving reflections of that wave from nearby objects. Rutter decided to get into the radar business when it acquired Sigma Engineering and its sigma S6 technology. The technology was developed and deployed for the Hibernia production platform to detect icebergs.
Rutter management thought the sigma S6 technology could be improved and open up new business opportunities for the company. “What it wasn’t seeing was smaller pieces in the water,” says Stephen Hale, Rutter’s director of sales, marketing and R&D business development. “We’ve developed enhanced processes and extracted more information from the old systems and developed four unique products out of that.”
Those products include its sigma S6 oil spill detection system that uses radar to detect oil spills in the ocean. Hale says the system has detected spills as small as five litres, and it’s been used in Brazil, the North Sea, Eastern Canada, the Gulf of Mexico, China and Russia.
Perhaps what’s allowed Rutter to have staying power is its commitment to research and development. Hale says the company has a 16-person research and development team that works on new technology. It’s also willing to partner with energy companies who have a problem and are looking for outside help on how to solve it.
One example is its work with a local oil and gas operator to develop oil and gas and ice analysis technology, but also has elements to do with its oil spill detection system that can provide 24-hour real time information to its users. The project has been completed and it automatically detects ice floes, ice pans, open water leads, ice ridges, and icebergs embedded in pack ice– important information for companies in regions like Newfoundland and Labrador where ice poses risks to the work they are doing offshore.
While Rutter has made a name for itself selling radar technology to the oil and gas industry, it’s made inroads in other sectors. In fact, Rutter technology is used internationally by Coast Guards, cruise ships, shipping companies, search and rescue teams and surveillance teams looking to combat piracy and smuggling. The fact that its radar technology is in demand beyond the petroleum sector has been important to Rutter as it weathers a prolonged funk in the oil and gas sector. “Like any company, there’s been a downtick in revenues on the oil and gas side of the business,” Hale says. “But we’re not entirely oil and gas exposed, which is good.”
Being involved in a cyclical business like the oil and gas industry means there will be ups and downs Rutter must deal with. But the company has a simple strategy to remain successful. “We’ve got a commitment to investment in research and development and we’ll continue to invest in our people and our technology so we’re staying ahead of the curve,” Wheaton says.