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Innovation Award: Hydro Tech Inc.

“We seem to be growing at a very rapid pace due to people recognizing that we can do large projects.”

When Michael Dupuis left the comfort of his full-time job as a mechanical technologist in 2001 to start Hydro Tech Inc., he could never have imagined he’d be heading up an innovation enterprise that installs products from Niagara Falls to East Africa.

The Sault Ste. Marie-based company claimed top honours as this year’s winner of the Innovation Award.

Hydro Tech designs, manufactures and installs a new kind of thrust bearing systems for hydroelectric dams’ core power generators, all over the world.

These unique bearings are “solving problems that have been (with hydroelectric dams) for a long time,” said Dupuis.

“That is giving us worldwide recognition,” he said, adding that unlike other bearings on the market, this item doesn’t require more space than the 1940s style bearing that needs replacing.

“It’s very easy for us to convert a bearing.”

The staff also has the ability to provide solutions to a number of dam challenges during the company’s eight-year history.

Each dam is different, requiring various degrees of service and attention, so being innovative is the only way to get the job done, said Dupuis. They must find the source of the problem, then design and build the best solution.

“We’re always looking to try to develop better ways of completing each project,” said Dupuis.

Sometimes, completing a project comes with safety risks and for that reason the company has also developed its own fall-arrest system. Dupuis said Hydro Tech is one of the few companies able to provide expertise and deliver it safely. The fall-arrest equipment is a portable device that allows workers to stay safe without welding permanent fixtures onto the dam, which costs time and money. Hydro Tech designed the system for a client at a loss, knowing they could sell it afterwards.

Since its inception, Dupuis has led Hydro Tech through a rapid growth period and increased revenues from less than $200,000 in 2002, the company’s first operating year, to more than $2 million in 2008.

During that time, staff grew from just Dupuis to 10 people and now an extra 20 per cent increase in payroll is expected.

“We seem to be growing at a very rapid pace due to people recognizing that we can do large projects.”

Dupuis’ biggest project started in 2005 when a official from southeastern Ghana contacted him to resolve the issue of a self-destructing thrust bearing at the Akosombo generating site.

The rare malfunction to this day threatens the power to 70 per cent of the country’s 18-million-plus people, along with neighbouring nations. Hydro Tech was charged with the task of building a new bearing system that would resolve the issues.

Now, four years later, the design work is complete and Dupuis and his team have manufactured and installed six new bearings on the 1,050-megawatt dam. It is the company’s biggest undertaking so far.

“This is going to be the first of its kind,” said Dupuis.

The importance of the Akosombo dam puts immense pressure on the Hydro Tech team to complete the project without power interruption.

“When they lose a generator, they don’t get a call from their boss, they get a call from the president of the country,” said Dupuis, who is now fielding calls from China and India for their work.

“It’s quite an important unit for their nation, so it was quite an accomplishment for them to instill such faith in us to be able to accomplish this project.”

The new bearings Dupuis installs dramatically improve a dam’s efficiency. They can increase the load capacity of the generator by as much as 600 per cent and reduce operating temperatures, significantly extending the generator’s life.

Closer to home, Dupuis has an expanding client base in North America as a result of attending and speaking at trade shows.

Innovation has been in Dupuis’ blood long before Hydro Tech was born. As a mechanical technologist, he was always striving to improve traditional ways to get the job done.

Improving the community where his business first took root is just as important. Hydro Tech is a key contributor to the Sault Area Hospital Foundation Building Fund, the local Habitat for Humanity chapter and for the care and maintenance of church property at St. Jerome Parish.

The company also sponsors the Soo Lacrosse Association, the Northern Storm Aquatic Club and the MacLeod Highland Dance Studio.