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Cutting-edge research facilities = ingenious ideas

National Optics Institute (INO)
A global beacon

Quebec City’s National Optics Institute is a beehive of activity, with a staff of 225 physicists, optical designers, electronic and production quality engineers, mechanics, electricians, programmers, technologists, machinists, specialized technical assistants and other employees working to harness the power of light and maximize its benefits for science and industry.

National Optics Institute (INO)
  • Year founded: 1985
  • Year in which operations commenced: 1988
  • Number of employees: 225, including 180 researchers
  • Internal research budget: CA$17 million
  • Annual revenues: CA$35 million
  • Number of contracts: 3,700 since 1985
  • The INO-Canada’s leading industry-oriented optics/photonics centre of excellence-has created 2,200 jobs in the Quebec City region

“We are the only industry-oriented optics/photonics centre of excellence in Canada with so many scientists working together under the same roof!“ says INO’s chief executive officer Jean-Yves Roy.The Institute also benefits from the proximity of Laval University, which conducts cutting-edge optics research and hires many of its graduates.

“Our goal is to master all aspects of optics and photonics by developing research programs in the areas of biophotonics, vision systems and special fibre optics.That way,we enrich our areas of expertise.And if someone in industry ever runs into a problem,we can call on our team of experts and quickly provide an innovative solution,“ says Mr. Roy.

In keeping with its pioneering role, the INO embraces state-of-the-art technology and adapts to its clients’ requirements.The Institute’s research programs are aimed at developing technologies that can be transferred quickly and easily to businesses operating in a wide range of industrial sectors.

Spin-off companies

The INO’s research programs have played a key role in the emergence of Québec City’s world-renowned optics/photonics industry. Since it was founded in 1985, the Institute has completed technology transfers leading to the creation of 24 new companies. Some 40 other transfers have enabled existing companies to increase their productivity and efficiency and broaden their product offers.

In 2003, for example, two entrepreneurs acquired a licence to use active imaging technology. The company they founded, Obzerv Technologies, developed a strategic surveillance camera system. “One of their first clients was in south-east Asia, where ships are often attacked by pirates.The local coast guard purchased their camera system, which can read a ship’s nameplate on a moonless night at a distance of up to six kilometres!“ he says, duly impressed by the system’s high-performance features.

Client solutions

According to Mr. Roy, the beauty of the INO’s business model lies in its flexibility. “Our clients are our number-one priority.We adapt our services to their particular circumstances, whether in terms of financial resources or market positioning strategy.“ Businesses contact the INO not only for technology transfers, but also for advisory purposes.

For example, the INO used its expertise to benefit a cranberry producer in the Victoriaville region, who wanted to scientifically determine the fruit’s level of cancer-fighting antioxidants. The promotional strategy was straightforward: the higher the level of antioxidants, the greater the health benefits for consumers. And the sales argument was solid: “The company asked us to find a way in which optics could be used to confirm the optimal harvest time, i.e. when the antioxidant content would be the highest. Our research was very successful.We now know that the colour of the fruit can be used to determine the optimal antioxidant level.“

But the INO doesn’t stop there: it also undertakes projects in collaboration with its clients. “We can develop a product or production process for an industrial client.We can also deliver prototypes or pre-production units if the client so desires.When clients can find all the services they need under the same roof, it’s a major advantage for them,“ says Mr. Roy.

To take another example, a Montreal-based company wanted to use optical technology to detect breast cancer. It took the INO less than 18 months to complete the feasibility study and to manufacture and deliver the initial prototype for a laser mammography device.The company recently obtained authorization to market the device in Europe and Canada. Mr. Roy has the final word: “We measure our success on how successful our clients are!“

Lisa-Marie Noël

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