NORTH Vancouver businessman Stephen Robinson didn't set out to conquer the corrugated box world.
But he may just be on his way.
Robinson is CEO and president of ClearVision Technologies Inc., a North Vancouver company he started in 2004 with two other engineers, including Mehdi Bahrami, whom he met at university. The friends were two of a handful of select students to attend UBC's exclusive electromechanical engineering program.
It was there that Robinson and Mehdi pursued the subject of vision technologies and intelligent camera design, and soon put their knowledge to work.
After working for two North Shore companies that used vision technologies and intelligent camera design for other industries, Robinson decided to start his own company.
"I grabbed a couple of the smartest guys I knew and decided to start a company, and we didn't know exactly what we were going to do, but we knew it would involve intelligent cameras," explains Robinson. The use of intelligent cameras applied to quality control systems took root, and after extensive market research, the partners decided to focus on the packaging and cardboard industry. The reason was twofold: They could define the market clearly, "So we weren't saying something vague like we were going to sell quality control systems to anybody in manufacturing," says Robinson; and at the same time it was not a small market. There are 1,600 box plants in North America
"So we picked a niche market, which was corrugated box manufacturing, and it was good because it was a niche market and it was very clearly defined and if we got one of the big box plants, we'd likely get the second and the third and the fourth, so the references carried over nicely"
ClearVision engineers designed visionbased inspection products for corrugated box manufacturing, and it wasn't long before big box makers in Canada were using their technology.
"All these plants have got three or four machines that have old, outdated quality control systems that have been 'nice-to-haves' and aren't really cutting the mustard," explains Robinson. "So we said we can make a way better technology that would work, and if we make that happen and prove it out, there could be a huge potential for it and that's what we showed."
They soon got their foot in the door of the U.S. market, and then found themselves toe-totoe against their biggest American competitor, who was well-entrenched in the United States, had been in the industry for at least 30 years, and held about 95 per cent of the market share.
But it was ClearVision's focus on quality control that put them over the top, and led them to a recent successful acquisition by that same competitor, Valco Melton, an international marketer of adhesive application equipment and quality assurance systems.
Robinson explains that 20 years ago when boxes were hand-packed, a box jammed in an assembly line would simply be thrown aside and a new box used. Now with automated systems, 10 minutes of downtime to fix a jam could mean a loss of $10,000 an hour.
"So a single bad box that's only worth 50 cents or a dollar could cost you a thousand bucks in down time," explains Robinson.
ClearVision's gluing, folding and bundling check systems are integrated with its quality control systems to prevent down time caused by defective boxes.
"If it's not perfect, it fails, they get jam-ups and they get down time," says Robinson.
It was this model of quality control and its affect on the bottom line that made the industry take notice.
Of the aquisition, Robinson says, "it's good news for ClearVision in general," noting they now have a bigger company funding them. "They're also in other packaging markets that we're not currently in, and so we can take our technology, adapt it, and get in to other markets, so (there's) a lot of future potential for growth for the company and all of its employees."
When asked if he was surprised at the success of the company in such a short time, Robinsons says with a laugh, "I always expect to succeed in something I do."
For more information about ClearVision visit www.clearvisionboxes.com.