BY NORDAHL FLAKSTAD
The Cybertech engineers and engineer in training shown
here are part of a team that puts solutions ahead of titles.
Back, from left, are Mike Palamarek, P.Eng., Ken Martel,
P.Eng., and Bob Hillyer, E.I.T. Seated is Ken Partington,
It may be used too often by too many, but the word combination
"engineering team" still packs plenty of punch at
Edmonton's Cybertech Automation Inc. Co-operation among engineers
and technologists is the cornerstone of Cybertech's success,
and it's something staff and management at the automation
and control system consulting firm know and practice.
"There is no school that teaches everything to do with
industrial controls. Our competitive advantage is that we
work as a team," says Ken Martel, P.Eng., engineering
manager. "When we work on a problem, everyone here is
very willing and open to sharing their experience."
Adds Cybertech President Kevin Matwichuk, a technologist:
"We consciously make it part of every project to bounce
ideas off each other and to learn better approaches."
A Multi-Disciplinary Start
In 1994 Mr. Matwichuk, technologist Rob Van Soest and electrician
Ray Leblanc founded Cybertech Automation and Cybertech Electric,
the first two Cybertech companies. Within months they were
joined by another technologist, Pat Richardson, and by Mr.
Martel, an electrical engineer.
The original Cybertech team, who had worked together for
previous employers, deliberately built an organization that
stresses the skills people bring rather than their titles.
Developing and programming industrial controls means meshing
a number of those skills within a range of disciplines, including
computer and instrumentation technology, electrical engineering
and electrical trades.
Mr. Martel, a NAIT instrumentation graduate who earned his
engineering degree at the University of Alberta, now oversees
personnel at Cybertech Automation. He's also one of the four
company directors of the associated company i-GEN Solutions
Inc. Today the Cybertech group of companies employs a staff
of more than 40.
As the company grows, new employees pick up the cooperative
attitude that started it all. Bob Hillyer, E.I.T., a 2002
graduate from the U of A's electrical engineering control
stream, started full-time after eight months at Cybertech
as a co-op student.
During his co-op stint, Mr. Hillyer was struck by a noticeable
absence of hierarchy. "The politics of larger companies
that stand between problems and solutions is not here,"
he says. "This is a family-type company and you feel
like family here."
Personal Growth, Corporate Growth
Ken Partington, P.Eng., who joined Cybertech after graduating
in 1998 from the U of A in electrical engineering, voices
similar sentiments. "Having gone through co-op and worked
for pretty much every size of company, I found it very appealing
to be here. It's much more conducive than a larger company
is to talking to everybody, learning things and being given
many job task and scope opportunities."
Mr. Partington has benefited by having Cybertech send him
to instrumentation courses at NAIT (where he graduated in
architectural drafting technology before attending U of A).
He's now applying these varied skills on water treatment plants
and other Cybertech projects as far away as China.
Besides a flat structure that fosters interaction, Cybertech
has also benefited from links company founders already had
with clients. A relationship with Enbridge Pipelines, for
example, resulted in the development of ScadX in 1997. The
human machine interface, or HMI, is used on Enbridge's existing
With ScadX, Enbridge can license all of its HMI locations
under one agreement. That's far less expensive than licensing
each of 100-plus workstations along its pipeline routes.
Then Came i-GEN
From being a consulting firm adept at programming the programmable
logic controller and HMI products developed by others, through
to creating ScadX, Cybertech had become a controls-solutions
developer in its own right. Now, however, that research and
development is carried out by Cybertech's sister company,
Formed in 2000 and headed by Kevin Matwichuk, i-GEN released
its first major creation in the form of infoHAWK.net, which
builds upon but extends well beyond ScadX by being more distributive.
Importantly, infoHAWK.net is designed to work with Microsoft.NET,
the open-architecture platform launched last summer by the
computer giant, and which allows sharing of data over local
and wide area networks as well as the Internet.
Mr. Martel stresses the value of separating Cybertech Automation
from i-GEN, a company developing and then promoting its own
"One of the reasons for forming i-GEN is that we work
for our clients to deliver what is the best solution for their
needs. We wanted Cybertech Automation to be somewhat independent
in coming up with the best solution and not trying to pressure
particular products on our clients."
Though Cybertech Automation and Cybertech Electric remain
namesakes, their focuses have differed from the start. For
Automation it was controls programming and design, while for
Electric it was electrical inspections and commissioning of
control systems. Cybertech Electric also assembles control
panels designed by Cybertech Automation.
Having a panel shop within Cybertech's building in Edmonton's
West End means the company can incorporate design changes
quicker and more cost-effectively than an outside party can.
Fort Saskatchewan Beckons
Big players have taken notice, with Cybertech meeting the
call to work on several major projects. For instance, in 1999
Cybertech was responsible for a large project for Shell Canada
Ltd.'s Scotford Refinery near Fort Saskatchewan.
The project involved replacing 1,500 loops on an outdated
data acquisition system with a new Foxboro IA (Intelligent
Automation) control platform. In providing the electrical
engineering design, construction support and the live swing-over,
Cybertech's challenge lay in commissioning the project without
shutting down the refinery.
Success on that project led to additional work at the Scotford
Refinery and with the new and adjacent Shell Upgrader. Cybertech
is the consultant for safety-shutdown systems and automation
of programmable logic controls for the upgrader start-up.
Recently, Cybertech was awarded its largest contract to date.
It entails replacing Scotford Refinery's entire distributed
control system ¾ again while the plant is running.
The refinery's made good use of Cybertech, thanks in part
to Mike Palamarek, P.Eng. He's been the project manager on
several of the Scotford projects, including the design of
a stand-alone control and safety system training centre for
the upgrader's technical personnel.
The One and the Many
One of nine employees who are also shareholders, Mr. Palamarek
joined Cybertech in 1996. He, too, appreciates the absence
of formality and willingness to share that characterize Cybertech.
"In one way, it's almost like you're a one-man show.
You get to run your own jobs, but at the same time you've
got the support, and there are some very good resources."
Another sign of Cybertech's growing capacity was its work
as the controls engineering consultant for an $80-million
conversion to isooctane production at Alberta Envirofuels
Inc. This Sherwood Park project, completed in 2002, included
the control building electrical design modifications, as well
as distributed control systems, their programming and their
graphics. It also encompassed programmable logic control hardware
specifications, asset management software, power monitoring
software, graphics for HMI systems, and software testing and
Cybertech's successes extend beyond the petrochemical sector.
Cybertech has programmed control systems in a variety of settings,
such as food and beverage, power and plastics plants; pulp
mills; and water-treatment facilities as far away as China.
While many controls programming principles are common to different
industries, meeting the particular requirements of food processing,
say, requires the kind of industry-specific understanding
that some Cybertech personnel have picked up over a couple
"You have to be able to understand the process,"
explains Mr. Martel, who still participates as a project manager
on major contracts. "With clients, as with staff, a team
approach has proven beneficial."
But Mr. Martel admits that, with continued growth, the Cybertech
companies face a challenge to sustain the sort of staff dialogue
that has carried them so far.
"We started off small and although we've grown significantly,
we've tried to keep a small team environment very much alive."
make it part of every project to bounce ideas off each other
and to learn better approaches."
- Cybertech President Kevin Matwichuk