Letcher, owner of Pukekohe-based Quadbeam Technologies, was a lonesome but successful salesman.
Quadbeam’s Suspended Solids Sensor is now sold in 14 countries – and Letcher’s hours of door-knocking in faraway places has paid off.
"The market has changed rapidly. Where people didn’t want to talk to us, we now have them calling us," says Letcher, whose family bought Quadbeam in late 2009.
"It’s been 'bloody' hard work. A lot of travelling and a lot of cold calling and finally we are a good news story.
"The business has grown three times since 2009 and I expect it to more than double by mid-2019,’" says Letcher.
Sensor makes inroads in US
Quadbeam markets a four-beam sensor that repeatedly and accurately measures the concentration of suspended solids and turbidity (a key test of water quality).
The Quadbeam sensor is used primarily for dairy and food and beverage processing, but is also applicable to the mining, pulp and paper, industrial and chemical industries, and for waste water monitoring and treatment.
"Our point of difference is that we have a solid piece of polymer that makes it impossible for the sensor to leak, and the four-beam system virtually eliminates drift due to contamination," says Letcher. "The sensor provides meaningful data and can be calibrated at the factory to suit and control the operator’s processing system."
The sensor, for instance, measures and controls the fat and protein concentrations in yoghurt-making factories in New York and Idaho, in cheese factories in Wisconsin, in milk powder plants in California, and for bottled milk in China.
"If a dairy processor targets 3.7 per cent milkfat concentration … our sensor gives accurate and repeatable readings and helps reduce production losses," says Letcher. "Back in 2009 operators in United States didn’t mind losing a silo of milk or cream down the drain. But when prices came down, many milk processors had to improve their (processing) efficiency and become internationally competitive."
That initial introduction and funding from ATEED was very important to us. We are now a small company doing very nicely, thank you.”
KROHNE multi-national gets involved
Suddenly, people were taking more notice of Quadbeam’s sensor that would enhance their continuous improvement programme. Quadbeam struck a deal with German multi-national KROHNE Group which added the suspended solids and turbidity sensor to its range of products. The New Zealand-made sensor is sold globally under KROHNE’s own label.
"The KROHNE relationship has enabled us to reinvest in the business. We now have money to put into research and development, and keep the growth going," says Letcher.
The sensor was first developed in the late 1990s for the New Zealand Dairy Group and Kiwi Cooperative Dairies (the forerunners to Fonterra) to monitor the loss of the cow’s milk at the processing plants.
The product worked successfully but it never gained a universal reputation. Enter Letcher who was previously general manager and sales and marketing director for Gulf Rubber.