Powering innovation with minds, technology and partnership
Originally hailing from Saint Brieux, Saskatchewan, Brent Rheaume was born and raised with the understanding that necessity was the mother of invention. “In Saskatchewan if you came from a purely agricultural area and you didn’t innovate or look to expand beyond agriculture there could be some pretty lean times.”
The entrepreneurial bug got him early on, and he was fortunate to have had mentors and positive influences along the way. “My desire is to do interesting things and solve interesting problems,” says Rheaume. “I’ve always had the seed of ownership and entrepreneurism from the family farm and the people around me that were innovators and entrepreneurs in the area. My early inspiration was Jerry Bourgault of Bourgault industries. They’re now a multinational corporation with their head office still in St. Brieux.”
Rheaume’s Alberta-based company is mapping a similar trajectory. Rheaume Engineering Inc., which formalized in 2005, now boasts a product development company called RADIX, and two significant innovations that harness the power of computational fluid dynamics.
Sandtinel Sand Separator
Sand is arguably enemy number one in the oil and gas industry. When mixed with oil, it wreaks havoc as it grinds its way through systems eroding production equipment and pipelines. The first challenge was clear: design and engineer a sand separator that works better than the client’s current solution.
Radix was able to quickly build its initial Sandtinel Sand Separator prototype, but the physics behind the system needed to be fleshed out. Enter the University of Alberta and Alberta Innovates.
Through our r&D Associates program, RADIX connected with Dr. Carlos Lange in the department of mechanical engineering at the University of Alberta. Dr. Lange leads work being done in computational fluid dynamics and was helpful in guiding RADIX personnel to understand its benefits. The R&D Associates funding program allowed RADIX to hire Mohsen Bayati, one of Dr. Lange’s graduate students, who then used computational fluid dynamics to maximize the separation of sand and develop rapid prototyping to give Sandtinel an edge over the competition.
Rheaume expanded their expertise in computational fluid dynamics and applied it to pipeline leak detection. Pipewise Technology Inc. offers upstream producers a fit-for-purpose, cost-effective, real-time, leak monitoring and detection solution for pipelines carrying all variety of substances.
Pipewise differs from leak detection and monitoring for the bigger transmission lines.
“The niche Pipewise fills are for those the lines that are two to 12-inch in diameter,” says Rheaume. “In Alberta there are literally hundreds of thousands of these upstream pipelines without any sophisticated leak detection whatsoever. It’s a massive opportunity because we provide that fit-for-purpose, cost-effective solution for industry.”
The Company has been very successful in developing an internal and external resource team with connections through the National Research Council’s Industrial Research Assistance Program, the Grande Prairie Regional Innovation Network, and our Technology Development Advisor (TDA) program, specifically, our TDA, Bob Hall.
“I wouldn’t be where I’m at without the help and support of Bob and Alberta Innovates. I’d still be struggling without the financial and networking support that was provided,” says Rheaume. “Bob is a mentor to me. He comes in at the 40,000-foot view and looks at the business and helps build a network that I never even knew existed. He’d push us at times by suggesting things he felt we’d benefit from, including suggestions as to the kinds of positions we should consider bringing on and then recommend supports for attaining that.”
“I’m very much about diversifying and building the economy and prosperity for the future because these cycles are inevitable.”
The company was able to bring Sandtinel to market in 2017, offering a system that can maximize production and safety while greatly reducing operational downtime. The market demand was immediate – since 2015, the company’s annual revenue has increased fivefold with a staggering 1900 percent increase in market share. The company has also expanded geographically, with offices in Calgary and Midland, Texas and expects further growth through increased exports into the States.
In addition to successes achieved through product commercialization and export development, Rheaume has built and achieved a culture of innovation that radiates within its team. The team is ready to tackle the next challenge, leveraging their success to dive deeper into their strength with addictive manufacturing and simulations using computational fluid dynamics.
“I’ve been in the oil and gas business since ‘89-’90 and been through a few cycles in the market,” says Rheaume. “The whole reason I’m an innovator is because I’ve seen on the farm if you don’t innovate you starve. My intention with RADIX is to potentially go into the health field. Can we use computational fluid dynamics to design the next mechanical heart, for example? I’d love to do that. I’m very much about diversifying and building the economy and prosperity for the future because these cycles are inevitable.”