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A Winnipeg grain storage research and product development company that started out at a University of Manitoba electrical engineering lab has been acquired by AGCO, the U.S.-based multibillion-dollar agricultural equipment company.
The acquisition of Winnipeg’s 151 Research Inc. by AGCO came out of a two-year old exclusive distribution-agreement with the ag-equipment giant.
Paul Card, CEO of 151 Research, said "We have been working closer and closer all the time. It just made more sense for an acquisition to go through than it did for us to try to work independently."
No terms of the deal were disclosed.
Its connection with AGCO will mean all 45 employees will continue working in Winnipeg and as well as developing its in-house grain imaging technology, 151 Research will become AGCO’s grain research centre of excellence.
That bolsters what is already a growing value-added next-generation grain and crop industry in Manitoba. In addition to the construction of two large pea protein plants here, Protein Industries Canada (PIC) recently announced a $21-million research project with Winnipeg’s Farmers Edge and Calgary-based OPIsystems Inc. to capture farm-level data related to crop and storage health management. The data will be used to develop predictive models that use artificial intelligence to help farmers make better storage and marketing decisions.
Card said the PIC investment in a parallel technology is on a similar level to investment that AGCO is making in 151 Research and a further illustration of the value of the research the Winnipeg firm has been doing. The product, called GSI GrainViz (GSI is AGCO’s line of grain bins) builds an MRI-like, three-dimensional map of moisture levels in the grain bin.
Stefan Caspari, AGCO’s senior vice president and general manager of grain and protein, said, "We need the sharpest minds working on finding answers to these challenges, and we believe this acquisition will help improve our customers’ operations through smarter technology."
GrainViz, is a major improvement for managing moisture in grain bins, which until now has relied on a single temperature and moisture instrument hanging from a cable that would only give accurate readings for the contents close to the gauge.
The innovation 151 Research has built creates a three dimensional moisture map using technology similar to that of an MRI or CT scan. Operators can see the moisture content of each individual bushel of grain and its location within the grain mass. The technology also allows operators to proactively manage the quality of the stored grain remotely monitoring and managing grain conditions, control fans and get detailed inventory reporting.
The technology was first conceived by Dr. Joe LoVetri at the University of Manitoba who was studying innovative and more accessible early breast cancer detection technology.
"I believe Joe’s lab will continue to explore the biomedical side of things," said Card. "There are other applications beyond that as well."
The AGCO deal, which guarantees on-going investment in 151 Research, also means further development and investment in the technology at U of M and elsewhere.
"This is U of M-based technology, 90 per cent of the people we have on staff are U of M grads, our office is on the U of M campus… it is a huge win for the U of M and Winnipeg engineering and biosystems professionals," said Card.
Darren Fast, director of partnerships and innovation at the U of M, said, "They are working on a whole bunch of projects that involve students. They will pour a ton of money back into the U of M."
In addition to its investment in research and development — 151 Research is about to embark on the largest project that the research granting agency, Mitacs, has ever done in Manitoba — the commercialization of the technology will also eventually mean royalty revenue for the university.
Fast said the university licenced a number of patents to 151 Research which means when the technology starts being sold, which Card believes will begin later this year or next year in a global marketing effort, the university will earn revenue.
"Royalties come back, that gets turned around and we do the whole process again," Fast said. "If we can get enough of these things happening on a regular basis we can grow the economy in a big way."
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.
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