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Barry Moore & Cody Slater

Location: Calgary, AB

Award: Innovation Award

Category: Survival & Safety

Year: 2001

Innovation:

Developed the GasAlert family of zero-maintenance detectors for monitoring hazardous gases. Read the News Release and Media Backgrounder for additional information.

News Release

Alberta Firm a World Leader in Innovative Gas-Detection Instruments

BW Technologies Ltd. wins prestigious Manning Innovation Award

Calgary, AB - BW Technologies Ltd. of Calgary has revolutionized the business of making and selling gas-monitoring instruments for the resource and other industries. Now the company's founder and president Cody Slater, and Barry Moore, leader of BW's industrial design team and vice-president of product development, have received a prestigious Manning Innovation Award.

Slater, 38, was studying astrophysics at the University of Alberta when a friend in the oil and gas industry showed him an American-made gas-monitoring instrument. "I looked at this and said, 'Jeez, I could do a better job of that,'" recalls Slater, president and chief executive of BW Technologies.

He left university to develop the world's first solar-powered, wireless gas-detection system, the Rig Rat, for use on drilling rigs in remote locations. BW Technologies now makes and sells more than 25 instruments, for detecting poisonous and explosive gases, to customers around the world.

Slater teamed up with industrial designer Moore to produce BW Technologies' family of GasAlert™ portable gas detectors. The GasAlert™ family, BW's new generation of "zero-maintenance instruments, builds on the company's original line of portable detectors - the first in the industry to require no maintenance or calibration during their lifespan.

BW also pioneered the use of multi-layer circuit boards to shield instruments from interference by radio frequencies. Other BW innovations include more reliable micro-controllers, large displays that automatically illuminate in low-light conditions, and continuously monitored rotary-vane pumps for sampling gases. "Our real focus in the products has been to reduce the cost of ownership," Slater says.

A wide range of industries relies on BW Technologies' safety instrumentation, including oil and gas firms Burlington Resources, Shell Canada, Gulf Canada and Mobil-Exxon. Other clients include the cities of Calgary, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Montreal and Sydney, Australia. The rugged and compact instruments are on the job for pulp and paper, chemical, mining and waterworks companies.

Calgary-based Burlington Resources uses BW's portable Defender gas-detector, at all its facilities, says Dave Sitar, Burlington's senior safety advisor. "The thing that we really like is its battery power. It's a good battery, it lasts a long time, and it's very cost-effective to replace them."

Mohd Faisal Hashim, at Indah Water waterworks company in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, says: "The (multi-gas) GasAlertmax products are easy for my workers to use and understand. The compact size of the instruments allow easy access into and out of difficult-to-enter, confined spaces."

BW Technologies, which has averaged 40-per-cent growth during the last five years, manufactures all its instruments in Calgary. The company has more than 130 employees in offices in Canada, the U.S. and Europe, 600 distribution locations worldwide and annual revenues of over $27 million.

Slater and Moore have won the Westaim $5,000 Manning Innovation Award. The awards have recognized leading Canadian innovators since 1982 with $135,000 in annual prize money. The Ernest C. Manning Innovation Awards Foundation is announcing all of this year's recipients, including the $100,000 Manning Principal Award, in September prior to the awards gala Oct. 1 in Calgary.

* For more information about award-winning BW Technologies Ltd., please call Cody Slater or Barry Moore at (403)-248-9226 or visit www.gasmonitors.com

* For more information about the Manning Innovation Awards Foundation, please contact Donald Park, Executive Director, at (403)-266-8288 or visit the Foundation's website at www.manningawards.ca
 

Media Backgrounder

Westaim Corporation $5,000 Manning Innovation Award: BW Technologies Ltd. GasAlert™ Gas-Detection Instruments.

Cody Slater, then 24 and attending the University of Alberta, thought he might become a professor of astrophysics or an anthropologist. But his career path took an unexpected turn when a friend who worked in the oilpatch showed him a device for detecting poisonous gas in oilfield operations.

The gas-detection instrument had been made in the United States and designed to be used in a plant setting. Companies had to adapt it for use on drilling rigs - a comparatively dirtier and harsher environment. The drab-looking instrument was bulky, expensive and had a hard-to-read display.

Slater had a keen interest in electronics and had repaired television sets while in high school. "I looked at this instrument and said, 'Jeez, I could do a better job of that,'" he recalls.

Customers quickly embraced Slater's initial product, the Rig Rat, the first solar-powered, wireless gas-detection system for drilling rigs in remote locations. So the world lost a budding astrophysicist, but it gained a stellar entrepreneur whose innovations revolutionized the gas-detection industry.

"In our industry, the products that are out there have tended to be very maintenance-intensive," Slater notes. Traditionally, he says, a typical single-gas detector requires its settings to be adjusted when turned on. An expert needs to calibrate or reset the instrument every 30 to 90 days, and replace the detector's battery every month or two.

Slater teamed up with Barry Moore, a graduate from London, Ontario's Fanshawe College in industrial design, to produce the industry's first "zero-maintenance" portable gas detectors. BW's new generation of zero-maintenance detectors, the GasAlert™ family, builds on this achievement. Each GasAlert unit is equipped with a tiny clock that tracks the instrument's lifespan, including remaining battery and gas-sensor life. "When the customer gets the product, they (simply) turn it on," Slater says.

BW currently sells about 4,000 units per month of its most popular zero-maintenance product, the portable GasAlertClip™ for monitoring poisonous hydrogen sulphide or carbon monoxide. "It's something the user wears. It's there to protect them if there's an accident or an incident. Other than that, they don't have to think about it or worry about it," Slater says.

Until BW Technologies launched its portable multi-gas Defender product, gas detectors typically had small, dot-matrix displays that were hard to read in poor light or at bad angles. On detectors that monitored for up to four gases, the display would scroll one-by-one through each gas and its detected level, if any. If the instrument's alarm went off, the user would have to wait to see what gas triggered it and what the concentration was.

BW's Defender put an end to that potentially hazardous situation. Half of the Defender detector is a big, easy-to-see liquid crystal display that shows all four gases at once.

Other BW innovations include more powerful and reliable micro-controller technology inside detectors, back-lit displays that automatically illuminate in low-light conditions, and a rotary-vane pump for sampling gases that is electronically monitored for blockage or malfunction.

Perhaps the most ingenious BW innovation to date is the method for shielding its gas detectors from interference from radio frequencies.

The tiny chemical gas-detection sensors in handheld safety instrumentation work by producing minute electrical currents that can be disrupted by radio frequency interference - from a walkie-talkie or cell phone, say. Traditionally, the industry has protected the detector from this interference by surrounding the instrument with a metal housing. This makes the instrument bigger, heavier and bulkier, Slater says. "And people want smaller, lighter, easier-to-use."

In earlier products, BW responded to the technical challenge by using plastic components embedded with metal shielding, or by essentially spraying frequency-sensitive plastic parts with nickel. But those methods added manufacturing steps and costs.

BW's research group solved the problem by using stacked layers of electronic circuit boards inside each instrument. Most of the four to eight printed circuit boards used in each detector are, in fact, metal shields that protect against any radio frequencies. "We bury all the signals (from the gas-sensor) inside this little metal housing that is the board itself," Slater explains.

The unique solution enabled BW, with its GasAlert™family, to use highly engineered, highly visible, bright yellow plastics-injection molds for the instruments. "It allowed us to make a much nicer, much lower-cost product for customers, yet actually gives them better radio-frequency protection so that they're less worried about these things going off by a radio."

Slater and Moore put tremendous emphasis on designing and engineering BW's products before they reach the manufacturing floor, and then following them after they go out the door.

The first multi-gas monitor produced by the company required 11 hours of labour to manufacture. BW's current GasAlertmax™ multi-gas monitor, which is half the size and does four times as much, takes only 20 minutes to make. Thanks to cost-savings in manufacturing, the entire GasAlertâ„¢ line is priced at nearly one-third less than instruments made by American or German competitors, Slater says.

B. Sinaga, tactical coordinator for the Duri Well Works in Indonesia, says: "BW's GasAlert line is a breath of fresh air in the gas-detection industry."

Dave Sitar, senior safety advisor for Burlington Resources Canada Energy, says: "Practicality and cost-effectiveness are the big things . . . we always get excellent after-market service from BW."

Slater says BW Technologies' current product lines can satisfy 80 per cent of the needs of a worldwide gas-detection instrument market that's worth about US$1 billion annually. Unlike many of its competitors, including some American firms that ship products to Europe fitted with an incompatible North American electrical plug, BW designs its products for the market in which they're sold. "If it goes to France, it goes with French manuals" and a European plug, Slater says.

BW's president and chief executive is proud of the fact that his public company has introduced a new product every year for the last five years. The firm is now bringing to market its zero-maintenance detector technology in a new product line - stationary carbon monoxide-detection systems used in underground parking garages and other commercial applications.

"At this juncture, the company itself is providing all the excitement and all that interest in growth and change that I was looking for before from astrophysics," Slater says. "Every year almost, BW is reinventing itself because of our growth, the new markets and the new territories."

The Ernest C. Manning Innovation Awards Foundation

Each year, Manning Innovation Awards presents $135,000 in prize money, distributed among four leading Canadian innovators, as well as $20,000 among eight Canada-Wide Science Fair winners. During the past two decades, the Foundation has awarded $2.75 million to encourage and recognize Canadian innovators.

Media contacts (photos available):

Cody Slater or Barry Moore


BW Technologies Ltd.

Phone: (403)-248-9226

Website:www.gasmonitors.com

Donald Park, Executive Director

Ernest C. Manning Awards Foundation

Phone: (403)-645-8288

Website: www.manningawards.ca