Virtek Vision Sees It Through
Virtek Vision International uses its innovative technology to enhance the accuracy and productivity of its global customer base.
Possessing more than 40 U.S. patents and six core laser-based solutions, Virtek Vision International has sold more than 14,500 laser projectors worldwide. The company says its innovative ways of meeting accuracy and precision requirements of its customers’ complex manufacturing operations have made it a market leader, and Virtek continues to enhance its technology to address solutions for companies of all sizes.
“It’s about the evolution of a system,” Vice President and General Manager Tom Kane explains. “Laser templating has been around for about 20 years. Adding features has been ongoing, but the disruptive type of work we do is new — we’re adding a whole new element. Virtek shifted the ground with our Flash Align™ capabilities and changed the game to allow our customers to achieve really big ROI in the savings of set-up time. It can take five to 30 minutes per piece in set-up time, and eliminating that is upping throughput and production while eliminating down time.”
Based in Waterloo, Ontario, Virtek offers laser projection and quality inspection solutions globally. Founded in 1986, the company is part of Gerber Technology and has sales and service offices in the Americas, Europe and Asia Pacific. Its core applications involve laser templating, ply layup, welded assembly, , paint masking and decal placement, sheet metal and gasket inspection, final assembly, bracket and component placement. Virtek primarily serves the aerospace, industrial fabrication, pre-fab construction, sheet metal and wind industries, but it continues to expand globally.
A Game Changer
About two years ago, Virtek launched its Vision Positioning System (VPS), an integrated vision and laser system which “made quite a change in the industry,” Kane says. This significantly advanced laser-guided assembly with FlashAlign functionality and superior laser-line visibility. It accurately projects a 3-D virtual laser template onto molds and parts to guide operators through the manufacturing process. Virtek notes VPS allows initial alignment to be 20-times faster than before, and realignments are reduced from minutes to seconds. This not only saves time and increases workflow productivity, but it retains quality and accuracy with an ROI in less than six months.
“We recently completed a high-visibility laser for laser templating,” Kane explains. “When we’re projecting on carbon fiber or onto objects that are dark in color, you need a much brighter laser. As you bring the power of the laser up, however, you enter into health and safety concerns with the operator’s eyes. We developed a high-visibility option that is still in the eye safe range of laser class.”
Setting the Trends
Virtek’s core business is in aerospace, but it is doing more in welded fabrication and the wind industry because both can benefit greatly from its technology. Kane notes that as wind blades get larger and more complex, Virtek’s technology and systems are important to maintain quality and process control. Virtek’s leadership position and ongoing innovation, Kane says, is key to assist current and potential customers.
“There is a lot going on, and we are setting the trends,” he says. “Addition of vision systems to an operation is important for our clients to remain competitive. The trends are to be more efficient, have more throughput and less downtime, and we can help many industries with all of that.”
Virtek’s base in Waterloo supports its innovation, Kane adds, because it is a two university city and full of intellectuals focused on computer science and engineering. Virtek’s key technology was developed at the University of Waterloo by the company’s Chief Scientist, who has remained at the company for 25 years. Additionally, all of Virtek’s R&D is done in-house, which supports an innovative culture.
“Waterloo has a long lineage of disruptive technology, and there are about 800 startups in this area right now,” Kane says. “We have to compete for people with a lot of high-tech companies, but we have a lot to offer. The innovation is important, but we’re also very family oriented. There is a lot of communication and we have a consistent amount of social and team events, so we retain employees by doing interesting work and helping them feel like they are part of the family. Bean bags and ping pong tables are fun but ultimately talented people want to do interesting work. Our retention is high and turnover is very low, and I believe it’s because people enjoy the environment.”
Virtek’s is excited about their upcoming developments that they will be bringing to market in the next few years. The company plans to use its innovative spirit and advancing technology to expand into new applications and new markets. Virtek primarily works in a low-volume, high-complexity space, but it is interested into pursuing applications for its technology that work in markets like automotive, which is high volume and repeatable.
“We have a great connection to our customers, and that is important,” Kane says. “The bulk of work we’ve done is in aviation, so we are directly connected to the manufacturing of airplanes. We also have customers who are Formula 1 race teams. Having that connection is an easy binding point inside the company and it’s a point of pride. We were founded on a culture of innovation and we will continue to innovate. To be competitive, you need a technology partner that can create a competitive edge, and we can provide that.”