Quester Tangent thinks inside the box

Saanichton company building transit control devices for worldwide clientele

Quester Tangent vice-president and chief operating officer Bill Collins explains what the company does to a tour group with the Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce.

Quester Tangent vice-president and chief operating officer Bill Collins explains what the company does to a tour group with the Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce.

The next couple of editions of the Peninsula News Review will highlight businesses on the recent Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce Tour of Industry. Read about what they do, their challenges and success stories.

Thinking outside of the box has been a mantra for coming up with brilliant ideas and business strategies, but for a Central Saanich-based company, it’s the box itself that sells.

More specifically, it’s what’s inside the boxes they build that attracts a world-wide customer base to Quester Tangent.

Quester Tangent builds electronics for passenger rail services, or mass transit systems. They have found success in this industry after starting out in 1983 in marine services creating remote, acoustic seabed sensor systems. They branched out into transit services in 1994 and currently sell product to companies like Bombardier, Hyundai Rotem and Toshiba.

Company vice-president and chief operating officer Bill Collins says their transit products — used in the control of various systems — are being utilized in Beijing, San Francisco, Boston and New York, to name a few. In a nutshell, electronics used in these transit systems are kept in a box and mounted on a train car. Transit drivers can access these boxes of electronics for real-time operational and environmental information, specifically braking controls.

Quester Tangent’s braking control systems are acceleration limiting devices. They were in use with the Skytrain system in Vancouver. Engineer Richard Lyne said since the force of slowing down a train can be powerful (and left uncontrolled could send passengers flying), the company’s equipment provides auxiliary braking control at safe distances — helping to gradually slow down the train.

“Our box,” Lyne said, “uses the same software used to propel, to slow trains down and stop at a safe distance.”

He explained that in the San Francisco transit system, light rail trains there need to be able to stop safely and prevent people from falling in the event of an emergency halt.

Project engineer Jim Kightley said Quester Tangent’s train management systems have been evolving. Where they once sported buttons, the company has recently introduced a touch screen for their boxes.

“The challenge now is that everyone wants touch screens,” he explained. “It has been difficult to create one that can operate in semi-industrial environments.”

Quester Tangent has put together a control box that has a touch screen that can stand up to punishment and is able to respond to gloved fingers. A system is destined for the transit service in Atlanta, Georgia and one already is at work in Philadelphia. Soon, the company plans to have it in Kuala Lumpur.

Quester Tangent has worked hard to acquire an international clientele. Doing so, said Collins has been the result of building their reputation for reliability and customer service. Collins added it takes approximately two years to win a contract, from bid process to final designs. After that, building what a client needs and meeting the demand can take as long as three years.

“Reliability is key in making and keeping a reputation,” he said, noting that in 10 years of service in the New York transit system, their control devices have not had a breakdown.

Their reputation also led to a job in Washington, D.C.

“That’s what it takes to make it possible for Quester Tangent to be well-known in the industry,” Collins said.

Their Saanichton location includes research and development operations as well as product manufacturing and testing — not to mention their main headquarters. Collins said the company started with just four people in a lab. Now, they employ 80 people and Collins estimates they could have upwards of 120 soon.

The company earns an estimated $120 million in revenue each year and has a payroll of $3.5 million. Collins said they are happy to be achieving this level of success in Central Saanich.

“Our employees like living here,” he said.

Tour Mini Series

In Wednesday’s News Review: Our mini series wraps up with the final stop in the Tour of Industry — Central Saanich’s Level Ground Trading Ltd.