Imagine environments that are super-heated, corrosive, glowing with radiation or choked with toxic fumes.

These are the environments where conventional sensors falter or fail, and AOMS sensors thrive.

With help from the Canadian Digital Media Network’s Soft Landing program, AOMS Technologies of Mississauga has brought a powerful fibre optic sensor suite to the global marketplace.

CEO Hamid Alemohammad says AOMS makes sensors that function in what are referred to as “harsh” environments: high temperature, high pressure, toxic, corrosive, radioactive — “all the unpleasant things.”

The AOMS devices combine high-quality optical glass and alloys to create fibre optics that can sense and transmit information over long distances, without the challenge of introducing electrical charges into potentially explosive environments, or having their data streams degraded by electromagnetic interference.

As well, AOMS sensors permit consolidation of different types of measurements — such as pressure, temperature or moisture — without requiring additional hardware.

According to AOMS CTO Richard Liang, the company focuses on “industries needing smart measurement and smart data acquisition, for performance control, for monitoring applications, for failure diagnostics, for security purposes. We help these industries collect reliable, dependable and high quality data through a very advanced sensor technology that never existed before.”

Although AOMS is in the sensor business, its business isn’t just about delivering sensors: “We present ourselves as a solution provider, not just a sensor provider,” Liang says. “We provide sensors, data acquisition, software, interfaces — everything all together. Our systems are plug and play. So they require minimal integration efforts.”

AOMS is a Canadian company, says Alemohammad — “We use Canadian resources, Canadian labour and Canadian skills” — with sales in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Sweden, but in 2013, AOMS was in its infancy.

Alemohammad credits Canada’s supportive environment for entrepreneurs for AOMS’s success, right from NSERC support for the University of Waterloo students who founded it, through Mitacs Canada, Futurpreneurs and the Ontario Centres of Excellence investment to CDMN and the National Research Council’s Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP).

According to Amir Azhari, the President and COO at AOMS, “IRAP is one of the unique programs we have in Canada that has a full set of services to help companies move past the R&D stage into commercialization and bring products to market. The discovery of one of our biggest customers was through an IRAP ITA (Industrial Technology Adviser).”

Especially helpful was the Soft Landing program run by the Communitech-founded CDMN, which is one of the commercialization hubs supported by the federal government’s Centres of Excellence for Commercialization and Research (CECR) program.

The program helps mature startups and small- to medium-size enterprises (SMEs) from across Canada to grow their businesses through new revenues or investments in foreign markets. Program participants receive access to office space for up to three months in their desired destination, plus up to $4,000 CAD to cover travel and accommodation expenses.

Since 2012, CDMN has facilitated 513 landings to help Canadian tech companies expand internationally through this program, resulting in more than $53 million in new revenue and more than $55 million in investment opportunities.
Soft Landings was key to AOMS cracking the global market: “It is very difficult for startups to go out and pitch to foreign customers,” says Alemohammad.

Companies can receive up to two rounds of support for international projects; AOMS received two Soft Landings, “and because of that we were able to tap into two markets. One of them was a potential customer who is now a paying customer, a year-long brownfields environmental remediation project.”

Liang says that the brownfields site contains three decades of dumped chemistry: “They contain highly toxic and carcinogenic chemicals.” The AOMS sensors are key to the successful heating and removal of the toxic material in a way that meets the regulatory standards of such agencies as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Environment Canada.

The second round of support helped AOMS connect with one of the world’s largest pipe coating manufacturers, in the European Union, where a new sensor to detect corrosion in pipes hidden deep within factories, power plants and reactors is being tested.

Michelle Burtch, manager of network programs for CDMN, said, “AOMS was at the perfect stage to take advantage of this program: they already validated their market, identified potential customers and were ready to close deals. I am proud that the program has been able to support Hamid and his team as they expand their business internationally.”

Alemohammad says that Soft Landing “helped us navigate in the international business development market for securing sales and customers, and turn a lot of cool opportunities into business opportunities. We are a very big exporter. That could not have been achieved without the help we received.”