How much do you know about innovative Atlantic Canadian entrepreneurs? This article is part of a special feature showcasing exciting initiatives occurring in Atlantic Canada’s innovation ecosystem. Here, we will introduce you to the success of innovative men and women across the region that are making an impact on the economy. This special feature is sponsored by the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.
Over the last 22 years, a New Brunswick company has become the North American leader in petrochemical safety.
Saint John-based Base Engineering designs and manufactures industrial and wireless controls for petrochemical distribution. They make control systems that go on propane delivery trucks or refined fuel trucks so the worker at the end of the hose can do things like control pumps and open and close valves without having to return to the truck.
“We also make systems that gather that information like how much fuel was pumped off and then ultimately send that to the office via cellular WiFi,” says Toby Bourque, Base Engineering’s vice-president.
Base was founded in 1996 by president and CEO Steve Belyea, whose grandfather happened to build one of the first high-tech delivery trucks for K.C. Irving in 1933.
So building advanced delivery vehicles is in his blood. In 1996, new legislation in the United States, followed shortly in Canada, required that every propane delivery truck have an off-truck remote shut-off.
“We were already building them at the time,” says Bourque.
“Over the years we focused on building a really great product and servicing our customers, and now we’re the leaders in the North American Market.”
Base Engineering has around 270 distributors worldwide. About 80 per cent of their business is with the United States, 10 per cent is with Canada while the rest is in other countries around the globe like South and Central America, Western Europe, New Zealand and the Middle East. A big part of Base’s business is around technology that allows the driver to shut down a truck in an emergency.
“For example, the guys at the end of propane delivery hose filling up the tank at your house for your fireplace,” says Bourque. “If something were to go wrong on the truck, rather than him running back to the truck and running into the vapor cloud and trying to close valves, from a remote on his hip, he can basically close the internal valve and shut off the engine of the truck to prevent any further damage or injury.”
The Future In Data
Over the last six years, Base Engineering has been working on a software that will help drivers and company owners leverage the information they collect. This will help them expand beyond just truck-based control systems and into Software as a Service (SaaS).
“We started building our own onboard computer that took data points off the truck and then have the ability to report on it,” says Bourque. “
The new software will allow fleet owners to track things like when the last time the internal valve open, where the truck is and how fast it’s driving.
“We gather all of this information now, and in the future, we’ll be able to do some analytics that will allow the fleet owner to use their truck more wisely and more profitably,” he says.
“We’ve hired five or six engineers to work on that and they’ve been working on it now for five or six years. We’re just getting to the point now where it’s commercially sellable and we’ve got it on 250 trucks in North America and a few in New Zealand and working out the bugs. We’ll become a software company sooner than later.”
Base Engineering has had a lot of help over the last 22 years, but the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) is one organization that stands out.
“The application process and the reporting process for some the agencies can be very onerous to the point where you have to do a business case on whether or not you’re going to write a business case,” says Bourque.
“With ACOA, I found that the people that we’ve interfaced with have been such great guides for us to help us navigate the requirements. It just makes it so much easier…they’ve helped financially on marketing initiatives, helped us with some expansions and helped us with training,” says Bourque.
It’s this kind of support that has helped Base Engineering set itself up well for the future.
“I think we’ve got a very aggressive growth strategy in place. We’ve been aligned with a couple leaders in adjacent industries inside the oil and gas business,” says Bourque. “I think that alignment will lead to really an exponential growth over the next five years. We’re committing our own resources to Atlantic Canada and Saint John and will continue to do that.”
“I see nothing but upside for Base and for Saint John.”