In 1972, Dave Russell and his wife Julie set in motion a company that would grow to service the globe with leading non-destructive testing technologies (Russell NDE Systems Inc.: RNDE) and electromagnetic in-line inspection tools (PICA: Pipeline Inspection & Condition Analysis Corporation: incorporated in Canada and the USA). Headquartered in Edmonton and with offices spanning Vancouver; Montreal; Toronto; New Orleans; Los Angeles; and San Antonio, TX, RNDE and PICA are making a tangible difference for their clients in the oil, gas, power, pulp, pipeline, municipal water and waste-water sectors.
“The company was initially founded to provide non-destructive testing (NDT) services to the Alberta oil patch,” explains Dave. “Today, RNDE and its subsidiary PICA provide specialized NDT services and equipment to the vibrant NDT community in western Canada and to municipalities around North America and abroad. Our services and equipment are used to find flaws in pipelines and pressure vessels so that they can be operated safely, to prevent failures and to extend their useful life.”
The company grew quickly. In 1988 RNDE debuted the Ferroscope™ 101, the world’s first commercial instrument for testing carbon steel tubes and pipes in heat exchangers and boilers. In the early 1990s, RNDE launched a five-year program with Edmonton Water (aka Aqualta) to co-develop the HydroScope™, which was used for the city’s water main inspections. That same year RNDE designed and developed I-PIT™ and E-PIT™ (internal and external tools for pipeline inspections).
Four short years later RNDE released the upgraded Ferroscope 308 and Ferroscope 308 ECT, which use internal probes in their inspections of heat exchanger and boiler tubes. It was a giant step forward for the Ferroscope and the company, but the innovations were far from over. VertiScan™, a robot to inspect boiler water wall and slope tubes was designed in 2001. The Bracelet Probe™ for corrosion detection in bare and insulated pipes came out in 2008. Between 2008 and 2019, a series of in-line inspection tools were developed for a variety of pipe sizes in the water, wastewater, raw water and brine disposal sectors.
It was in 2008 when PICA was formed. Since then, RNDE’s role is to design and manufacture in-line inspection tools and PICA goes to work using those tools to inspect ferritic (ductile iron, cast iron, steel and PCCP pipelines) pipelines for corrosion, erosion and cracks. Just how effective is this two-pronged preventative maintenance strategy? Clients typically save hundreds of thousands of dollars by using surgical repairs before they become emergency leaks and blow-outs; one client saved more than $10,000,000 on a single project. As Dave likes to say about PICA, “Good decisions start with good information.” PICA delivers critical information to its customers so that they can make informed decisions, and RNDE builds the tools that empower PICA to gather the information.
The variety of tools is what keeps RNDE coming up with solutions. “What most people get wrong about non-destructive testing is when they believe that one technique can inspect their item for any type of flaw – when it usually requires several techniques,” says Dave. “For example, ultrasonic thickness gauge instruments are not designed to find or size cracks.”
“We focus on gaps in the marketplace where we can offer non-destructive testing solutions that others do not offer,” he continues. “For example, we inspect water and wastewater pipes where there is very little competition, a very high cost of entry and we have unique capabilities.”
While there is little competition in the market, that in itself can present a challenge. It’s hard to raise capital when the investors don’t have a benchmark to understand the emerging tech. Dave explains, “A challenge was a lack of capitalization for growth. All growth was financed out of personal funds plus two American friends who put up seed capital.”
That being said, the challenges continue to push RNDE and PICA to keep innovating and pushing the envelope. Since September 2020 the group has filed six new patents.
“The amazing people who make my ideas turn into products and services that are used by and valued by the industry is one of the most rewarding aspects for both Julie and I,” says Dave.
Despite growing from a startup company in Edmonton to service a world-wide market, Dave, Julie and the teams of RNDE and PICA remain grounded and grateful. “Our goals are your goals,” Dave says of what he wants the clients to know. “We are on the same team.”
He continues, speaking about what he likes about the local business community, “Alberta as a whole has been very good for us. First the oil and gas business was vibrant and growing exponentially in the 70s, 80s and 90s; however, now that we have pivoted to mainly municipal clients, we are in a more stable business with less of a cyclic nature.”
The Russell family, along with RNDE and PICA, are passionate about community involvement. “We regularly support the homeless through Hope Mission,” says Dave. “We also support men’s health through Movember (the leading charity changing the face of men’s wellbeing by focusing on men’s mental health and prostate cancer prevention/awareness) and we support potable water and sanitation for remote towns and reserves.”
In recognition of the brands’ outstanding work, innovations, team environment and community involvement, RNDE and PICA have been pleased to accept numerous recognitions including two ASTech Awards (one for business excellence) and a Frost & Sullivan Best in Class award. The Alberta Science and Technology Leadership (ASTech) Foundation’s mission is to identify and celebrate outstanding achievements in science and technology in Alberta. Frost & Sullivan has, for 60 years, helped companies grow around the world. While Dave accepts the deserving honours, he, in turn, thanks his wife, team, vendors, suppliers, clients and supporters for their role in the growth of the RNDE and PICA group of companies. In particular, he thanks Mr. Brian Shannon of HSIG Group for his instrumental role in helping the company to grow and thrive.
As the RNDE and PICA group enter 50 years of innovation and service, there are no plans to stop moving forward. In addition to constantly changing and challenging the boundaries of what non-destructive testing can achieve and how pipes of all sizes can be assessed for preventative maintenance inspections, the brands will continue to grow their presence in the municipal marketplace.
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