Moncton’s Area52 is an innovative product development company helping businesses be more productive via robotics, automation, and a variety of Industrial Internet of Things-based (IIoT) solutions.

Founder Tim Fogarty says the company is currently engaged in multiple projects for the food manufacturing sector, specifically seafood. “We are working on multiple seafood solutions mainly focused on lobster and crab, with clients in places like Quebec, Maine, and Atlantic Canada,” says Fogarty. “These new products have a lot of synergies with other areas of food manufacturing – it’s about improving hygienic handling, custom processing, and decision-making metrics.”

ONB spoke to Fogarty to learn more.

ONB: Area52’s work can be applied to a variety of industries, why the early focus on seafood?

Fogarty: The seafood sector has some complex manufacturing problems to solve for them to grow in quality & production. Although we’ve tackled a portion of it, we’re still a couple of years away from completely solving these challenges. Solving something as complex as automatic meat extraction from a lobster or crab takes time. We started this work due to the challenge; we knew we could significantly impact it. What’s great is when we develop these solutions, they can be applied to any food manufacturing plant, or any manufacturing or processing plant in general. For example, agricultural clients will be able to leverage things like our IoT microcontroller-based solutions, material handling, custom processes developed, and continued engineering solutions & support.

We strive to be a great turnkey solution for several industries, and we’re using the seafood sector as a launching pad for some of our product lines. It’s a huge sector by itself, particularly in this part of the world.

What can you tell us about the pilot you’ve launched?

We started with five plants. By year’s end, I’m going to try to roll it out to 30 to 40. Our application differs from what’s on the market, it produces multiple metrics without bombarding users with a ton of data points. What we’re doing is digesting those metrics for them and giving them notifications in a simple manner, essentially giving quality and production recommendations. For example, a notification may say, “if you don’t address this process, you’re going to have a bottleneck in two hours.” Or it may say your labour got reduced from one process to another so now your timeline for completion has changed. Or your temperature rose on your chiller, so you may want to keep an eye on that because you’re overcooking product and losing yield.

Plant supervisors are busy, with 300 to 400 people to manage it’s hard for some to find time to get knee-deep into complex graphs. What we do is offer colour-coded cues and notifications to simplify things as well as complex graphs if required. If it’s green you’re good, if something shades orange, you have something to work on, red means something needs attention. We digest the data, moving into AI and queuing personnel to guide them at their level.

Your team has grown to 19. How do you find talent given the advanced skillsets you need?

It’s a challenge. We aren’t at the stage where we can throw massive salaries at everyone. Yet we need talented people with experience. Computer programmers, mechanical and electrical engineers, I need them all. I’m really looking for work ethic, hunger, and a willingness to learn.

To entice talent, we offer flexibility in terms of how and when you work and have also built a team of great mentors, with a focus on dumping as much technical knowledge as possible on new hires wanting to grow themselves.

International hires help; I have two already, both permanent residents. I recommend companies look at the NRC IRAP Youth Employment Program, I’ve had great experience with it as it helps mitigate risk in hiring talent. I wish they would flood that program with funding. I try to get new people fresh from school and invest in them, training them from scratch. I don’t mind taking the time to invest in good talent & attitude for long-term gain.

What advantages do you see operating in New Brunswick?

Great private sector partnerships. You can collaborate with businesses here that have synergies with you, even if they’re not in your sector. A strong network of partners is possible. I find meeting other entrepreneurs extremely helpful, talking strategies and pain points, challenges to growth, etc.

New Brunswick isn’t missing much. Growing a company here is as easy as the bigger cities, especially now post-COVID and the rise in things like online and remote technologies to work with customers. We will be adapting these technologies in conjunction with our IIoT product line to help customers have instant live support no matter where they may be located. The fundamentals are good here – access to innovation partners and support from ONB, ACOA, NRC, and elsewhere, and a growing network of entrepreneurs to help you. People really are very willing to assist each other in New Brunswick and the Maritimes.

Our success to date would not be possible without the funding aids of provincial and federal programs, especially when you engineer high technologies to help offset the costs of failures until success is achieved. We need to ensure every business is aware of both provincial and federal support available to them in Atlantic Canada. The help is essential and there to innovate.

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New Brunswick recognizes that agritech and the solutions provided by companies like Area52 are critical to our ability to modernize our agricultural sector, one of our largest traditional industries. Learn more on our agritech page.