Atlantic Canada is a burgeoning ecosystem of ocean technology in Canada and around the world. Hubs like the Centre for Ocean Ventures and Entrepreneurship (COVE), ocean focused post-secondary education institutes such as Dalhousie University and the Marine Institute of Memorial University, and the many world class ocean technology OEMs are a big part of the growth of this ecosystem. MacArtney seems right at home in Atlantic Canada as opportunities seem to be only growing with time.
MacArtney was founded in 1978 by Martin MacArtney, after which it entered a handshake deal with marine connector manufacturer SubConn and continued its journey toward being a global force in the ocean technology industry. Over three decades later in 2012, entrepreneur Tom Knox began a subsea fibre optic telemetry company, EMO Marine, in his garage in Eastern Passage. These subsea multiplexer systems accept electric inputs with different signalling formats from ocean faring sensors and convert, combine, and compress the information into a single signal comprising bands of light, which are transmitted through a single glass fibre. The process also involves a “dry” de-multiplexer on the receiving end that splits the fibre signal into its original electrical protocols so they may be accessed.
In 2016, EMO was sold and began a new life as MacArtney Canada Ltd., the Canadian regional sales office of parent company MacArtney Underwater Technology in Denmark. MacArtney Canada operates in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia with a small yet agile team of nine people.
With multiplexer and cable workshops, the company now serves the Canadian market with subsea cables, connectors, and terminations, as well as built-to-order multiplexer systems. As the designers and manufacturers of the EMO multiplexer line, MacArtney Canada also serves the many other MacArtney offices worldwide with their multiplexer needs. MacArtney’s line of products extends beyond connectors, cables, and telemetry systems. They also offer products ranging from winches and handling systems to off-shore cable-handling equipment, ROTV platforms, cameras, lights, and much more.
Multiplexers have diverse uses across the industry, usually involving situations where the use of very long cables can lead to electrical signal degradation. Another benefit of incorporating a multiplexer is that data can be transmitted for kilometres using one cable instead of multiple lines for each sensor.
System Sales Manager Matthew Dempsey purports that it is MacArtney Canada’s agile ability to make bespoke multiplexer systems, along with the team’s in-depth understanding of these systems, that separate the company from others in its field. “Other [companies] supply these types of systems,” Dempsey explains, “but they are not as agile as us.”
MacArtney Canada’s office is located within the Center for Ocean Ventures and Entrepreneurship (COVE), a home base for marine technology partners and ideas. Dempsey details that COVE recently commissioned a multi-sensor seabed platform dubbed the Stella Maris. The platform is an instrumentation test bed for the tenants and partners of COVE, outfitted with over twenty-five different sensors and located nearby the onshore installation in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. For this commission, MacArtney designed a custom multiplexer system to power and facilitate the telemetry of the two dozen sensors.
Pre-pandemic, the company also entered a partnership with scientific consulting firm and OEM JASCO Applied Sciences in a project commissioned by the Government of Canada. The commissioned systems took the form of sensor platforms and custom multiplexers and were deployed in the Boundary Pass strait in British Columbia to track the acoustic signatures of Southern Resident Killer Whales, local ship traffic, and how the two interacted.
Both jobs were very high-profile for MacArtney and have helped to define its role as a key ally to the industry.
The spirit of partnership has endured ever since Martin MacArtney’s handshake deal with SubConn decades ago and is instilled in company culture. The company operates with a collaborative mindset and is always actively seeking new partnerships with companies and institutions. “We like to meet people, get to know their challenges and requirements, and come up with solutions,” Dempsey says of the importance of business relationships as opposed to more clinical or impersonal relations.
Dempsey has been particularly impressed with the amount of top tier talent available in the company’s home of Atlantic Canada. Although he refers to a ‘brain drain’ of local talent moving away some years ago, the pendulum has swung the other way in the last several years with more people sticking around and wanting to be involved in work around the province. He credits this to the growth continually occurring in STEM fields today and, specifically, within the marine sector.
Even during the height of the pandemic in 2020, MacArtney managed to avoid much of a downturn in business and operations. Although some of their clients were affected, many industry organizations were unable to go out to sea and enact research trials or use equipment, leaving little choice but to switch into planning mode. This in turn led to MacArtney and other original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) being commissioned for equipment, keeping things quite busy.
The biggest challenges for the business lie ahead. Dempsey describes the recent leap in the price of raw materials such as copper and lengthening lead times across the sector. This hurdle has been challenging to clear thus far, and has led to many in the company trying to think outside the box to find ways to bring lead times and prices down, potentially using different suppliers or different types of materials.
A problem that has been felt among its workforce is how to maintain relationships in the face of COVID-19 restrictions. The company’s typical approach to business relationships has been hampered by ongoing constraints to deal with the coronavirus, and although digital meetings and work-from-home has become the norm, many employees feel it is not enough to keep the company’s personable approach alive. Dempsey recalls a refreshing trip that he and General Manager Andrew Palmer took recently to the Oceans Conference in San Diego, which both took as a hopeful sign of things to come.
As 2021 draws to a close and a new year looks to begin, MacArtney Canada will continue to explore new opportunities to get out, meet new people, and grow, taking on more staff and capability. Dempsey emphasizes the size and depth of the entire organization’s product line, noting that a small but important part of that offering is in its Canadian office.
There is a palpable sense of optimism for MacArtney Canada as coronavirus restrictions slowly begin to lift in both Eastern Canada and the rest of the world. The future is exciting and hopeful for Dempsey and the entire team, who are eager to hit the ground running and get the MacArtney name back out into the industry in a big way.