Clarenville company helps the offshore oil sector (and others) see more clearly underwater with its novel image systems
The Titanic is the most famous shipwreck in the world. In 2019, technology built and developed by a Newfoundland and Labrador company will play a part in an important expedition to capture images of the luxury liner that sank about 600 kilometres south of the province on April 14, 1912.
SubC Imaging, a Clarenville-based company, will have its cameras, strobe lights and digital video and recording overlay system placed on a manned underwater vessel that will go to the bottom of the North Atlantic. They’ll collect images, video and sonar to assess the decay of the iconic wreck and help document and preserve the history of a ship that may be nothing but rust within two decades. SubC Imaging’s cameras will record high definition pictures and video during the expedition led by OceanGate Inc. that will start in June.
“This is an exciting project for us,” says Ron Collier, SubC Imaging’s vice-president of business development. “The expedition is going to show off the quality of the imagery we are going to get from the Titanic. There haven’t been a lot of visits to the Titanic and this could be one of the last ones because it is degrading at such a fast rate.”
That a small company from Newfoundland and Labrador is working on projects like this shows how far it has come since it was formed in 2010. The idea for SubC Imaging came from co-founder Chad Collett, who was working offshore with marine inspection companies but was about to get married and start a family. He wanted a job where he could spend more time with them, and he felt he could develop a better camera than what was being used in the industry.
His solution was to build a prototype camera. After spending a year developing the prototype, he unveiled the 1Cam―still a staple in the firm’s product line―and the company became SubC Imaging. The company creates advanced underwater imaging systems that include cameras, lights, lasers, and DVR overlay systems.
Along with Collett and Collier, who joined the company in 2011, Adam Rowe is the other shareholder. With Collett’s past work experience in the offshore oil industry, SubC Imaging initially targeted that sector for clients. But within two years the company started to branch out into the ocean sciences market.
The diversification strategy paid off. By 2015 oil prices sunk like the Titanic and the sector went into a deep funk, which Collier says impacted the company’s bottom line. However, because SubC Imaging had built a reputation for developing and manufacturing quality, versatile equipment―all of it made in Newfoundland and Labrador―the downturn in the offshore oil sector didn’t devastate the company.
Instead, it has thrived. SubC Imaging now has approximately 25 employees and boasts a list of projects that include not only the upcoming Titanic expedition but the search for Amelia Earhart’s plane wreckage and a survey of a sunken Australian World War II light cruiser, the HMAS Sydney.
While the oil and gas industry continues to be a significant source of business for the company, Collier says the ocean sciences sector is becoming a big revenue stream as well. An emerging opportunity SubC Imaging is focusing on is the defence industry as navies look for underwater image systems that can help them with port security and mine detection.
Despite being based in Clarenville, it is selling and renting its products all over the world thanks to a network of distributors in Abu Dhabi, Singapore, England, Scotland, Italy, Norway and other locales. He says approximately 70 per cent of the privately-owned company’s revenues come from outside of Canada, and there are significant opportunities to grow within Canada and outside the country.
But how will SubC Imaging make this happen? Collier says it will continue to invest in research and development and take risks. “One thing that frustrates me is seeing companies get to a certain level and then stagnate. We don’t want to be one of those,” Collier says. “We want to continue to grow and keep developing some of the coolest technology and contributing to Newfoundland and Labrador, Atlantic Canadian and Canadian economies with the new dollars we bring in from people buying our stuff from all over the world.”