What do the OJ Simpson Bronco chase, Donovan Bailey’s 100-metre Olympic gold medal sprint and action footage from the motion picture Titanic all have in common? They were all filmed using Burlington, Ontario’s L3-WESCAM technology.
Great products and striving to be number one in the industry are elements of the company’s global success story, but so is having a top-notch workforce and being in tune with customer demands.
“Our hard-working employees, a flexible manufacturing capability that responds with agility to customer demands and all backed up with prompt customer service, are key,” says Paul Jennison, vice president of government sales and business development.
L-3 WESCAM designs and manufactures industry-leading multi-spectral and multi-sensor electro-optical and infrared (EO/IR) surveillance and targeting sensor systems. They range from 25.4 cm to 63.5 cm and are branded as MX-10 through to MX-25. Designed for intelligence surveillance reconnaissance (ISR) and fire control missions in the air and on the ground, the specialized technology is used extensively by military, Homeland Security as well as law enforcement agencies around the world.
In fact, WESCAM’s products are supplied to many foreign markets around the globe with the U.S. accounting for 70 per cent of total sales. A game changer for the company came in 2001 when it was purchased by US-based L-3, a leading supplier of aviation, communication and ISR products, instantly making L-3 WESCAM part of a $2.3-billion supply chain.
“We have delivered over 3200 MX products to more than 65 countries,” says Jennison. “The U.S. is undoubtedly our largest market and we have systems being used by the United States Navy for maritime patrol, the Coast Guard for search-and-rescue and also local state and city police agencies for public safety missions. We also have a large distribution in Europe and the Middle East.”
The company also has manufacturing facilities in Hanover, Maryland and in the UK.
The birth of WESCAM’s highly-stabilized cameras dates back to 1957, when founder Nox Leavitt was working with other engineers at Westinghouse Canada in Hamilton on defense surveillance applications. After finishing Department of National Defence (DND) contracts, Leavitt went out on his own, spreading into the general news, film, video and security markets. With the National Film Board of Canada, he developed the first 3D IMAX camera system, used for a film broadcast at the 1986 Expo in Vancouver.
In 1998, WESCAM introduced its patented gyro-stabilization technology (still used in MX product lines), which became the industry benchmark. In the years that followed, sensor and computing processor advances, along with the latest high-resolution cameras and long focal-length lenses, enabled even better performance.
L-3 WESCAM has many competitors based in the U.S., Israel and Europe, and its competitive advantage in the global market is derived from a commitment to continuous improvement and listening to the changing demands of its customers.
“We work hard re-investing in new optics, lasers, cameras and video processing, but on the base of our rock-solid stabilization from any platform,” explains Jennison. “That’s always been what we’ve offered to our customers and always will.”
Jennison’s advice to any SME going global is simple: “Immerse yourself locally, find the right contacts to guide you, follow through on your promises and remember it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Be prepared for setbacks and work promptly to correct setbacks. The Canadian Trade Commissioner Service is a great resource for Canadian exporters.”
L-3 WESCAM plans to continue raising the image-capturing bar, with a high-resolution eye on becoming number one in the world in the aerial camera market.
“The key to going global for us has been getting the right people close to the customer and being available 24/7 so that no matter the time zone, customers can access the same excellent service. We’ll continue providing that service along with the best camera systems available,” says Jennison.