Over the past few years Geoff Letcher has travelled extensively overseas calling on prospective customers and attending trade shows.

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.

Quadbeam sensor - Geoff
Geoff Letcher with Quadbeam’s accurate four-beam Suspended Solids Sensor

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.”

Geoff Letcher, Owner of Quadbeam Technologies

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.   

How ATEED helped

After Letcher bought Quadbeam, he wanted to develop an international growth strategy. He talked to his local Regional Business Partner, Kathie Agnew who is a Business and Innovation Advisor at Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic (ATEED). She provided a range of connections for him, one of which was business coach Neil Sayer of Globalise.

"Neil came in with a different view," says Letcher. "I gave him full transparency of the business and he continually tested what we were trying to do. He taught me how to set clear financial and marketing plans."

"When I bought the company there was a little bit of exporting in Australia. United States was treated as one single market which it’s not, and UK had no support. The lead times for supply was four to six weeks – that doesn’t work."

"We can now deliver globally faster than our competitors - in three to five days from our workplace in Pukekohe where the sensors are assembled. We also carry inventory in Wisconsin."

United States is Quadbeam’s largest and biggest growth market, and with coaching from Sayer, Letcher has broken the market into different sectors – milk processing, food and beverage (cheese, yoghurt, sugar), pulp and paper, and chemicals and paint.  

Letcher says Sayer still plays a vital part in the business "and that initial introduction and funding (for training) from ATEED was very important to us. We are now a small company doing very nicely, thank you."  

At a glance

Quadbeam Technologies business: Assembles and markets Suspended Solids Sensors that are accurate and repeatable and provide meaningful data to monitor and control processing systems, especially dairy, and food and beverage.

Location: Headquartered in Pukekohe, Auckland Region.

Export markets: Australia, China, South Africa, Argentina, Uruguay, United States, Canada, Vietnam, Italy, France, Germany, Finland, United Kingdom, Ireland.

ATEED assisted by: Introducing Quadbeam to business coach Neil Sayer of Globalise and facilitating funding through NZTE Capability Development voucher. Sayer helped Quadbeam develop capability to execute a financial and marketing strategy to drive exports and sales. 

Website: https://quadbeam.com   

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