Winds of Change: Gastops Harnesses Emerging Green Power Market for Engine Test Sensors


Ottawa-based company whose cutting-edge technology keeps engines running smoothly in everything from search-and-rescue helicopters to fighter jets, receives a new lease of life from the green energy sector after sales to the The aviation industry took a nosedive during the pandemic.

Gastops specializes in sensors that detect and measure metal contaminants in engine oil – a kind of “blood test” that allows technicians to detect potentially damaging scenarios before they happen.

Vital engine parts such as ball bearings, for example, eventually grind and wear out, even with the presence of oil as a lubricant. Gastops products work as an early warning system that alerts mechanics to the parts of the engine that are most at risk of failure.

The Gloucester-based company announced earlier this month that it was one of seven Canadian organizations chosen by the Department of National Defense to participate in a new initiative to design better systems to monitor health and security of military equipment through the Defense Excellence and Security Program.

Gastops will receive just under $ 230,000 from the federal government to help him conduct his research, which will incorporate the latest machine learning technologies. It’s by no means a mind-blowing sum, but CEO Shaun Horning says the real value of the program lies in opening the doors to new markets and potential customers, as Gastops is collaborating with other top manufacturers in the field of predictive maintenance.

“We see a lot of opportunities ahead,” says Horning, who started working at Gastops 27 years ago as a student in the Aerospace Engineering program at Carleton University and has never left. “These (government) programs are so essential.

Growing workforce

Founded in 1979, Gastops is headquartered on Polytek Road, with additional offices in Halifax and St. John’s as well as a partner company, Gastops USA, based in Huntsville, Alabama, serving US customers.

While most of his income still comes from aviation industry customers such as Pratt & Whitney, General Electric and Rolls-Royce, Horning says he’s seeing a slight change in the landscape in the wake of the pandemic.

“We have been hit hard, like everyone else in this market,” he explains, noting that Gastops’ revenue from commercial aviation customers has fallen by 60-70% over the past year.

Yet the company of 185 employees actually increased its workforce by around 15 during the COVID-19 crisis, thanks to a little wind-assisted momentum. Horning credits the steady growth in sales to European wind turbine makers such as Germany’s Senvion and Danish giant Vestas for helping offset losses in the aviation industry over the past 16 months.

“It really helped us,” Horning said, noting that the company has yet captured a “small fraction” of the growing wind turbine market.

The CEO believes there is untapped sales potential in other areas of the aviation industry as well, including rotorcraft, more commonly known as helicopters.

Horning says the industry is “ready for a technological breakthrough,” and Gastops is working with a number of major helicopter equipment manufacturers to explore ways to more efficiently use its systems in helicopter gearboxes.

Additionally, Horning says the company is stepping up R&D efforts to design new cloud-based software platforms that will allow sensor data to be instantly delivered and displayed to technicians in the field on their mobile devices.

“Gone are the days of having equipment sitting on a desk,” he notes, and any tech company worth its salt must have high-end mobile solutions in its arsenal.

“Today everything is connected and people also want to be connected,” says Horning.


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