The year ahead will be a game-changer for PlantQuest, according to Gerard Carton, the co-founder and chief executive of the Waterford-based tech start-up.
With €650,000 in fresh funding and a new global deal with a Singaporean company, PlantQuest will be in expansion mode in 2021.
Carton said the company – which makes what he described as “Google Maps for big factories” – would double its workforce with the creation of four jobs in software development, sales and marketing.
The 36-year-old instrument technician set up the company three years ago with Thomas Daly, its technical director, who is an electronic engineer by trade.
Carton and Daly met while working in oil and gas in the Shetland Islands, and went on to engineering roles in South Korea and Kuwait respectively – Carton for Samsung Heavy Industries and Daly for Kuwaiti National Oil Company.
Together, they have developed location-based technology that can be used in large-scale manufacturing and industrial facilities to track critical equipment. Although the pair had originally planned to target the oil and gas industry, they have since shifted focus to the pharmaceutical sector in Ireland and overseas.
“With the downturn in oil and gas, the attitude to innovation within the industry isn’t great. We’ve found the pharmaceutical sector to be much more open to new technologies,” Carton said.
He described PlantQuest as “Google Maps for big factories”.
“Once you go inside a big steel building like a pharmaceutical plant, you lose GPS coverage, so we’ve developed an alternative that requires no signals to make it work,” Carton said.
The system incorporates a data cloud, which determines the whereabouts of critical machinery and equipment within a facility.
“Different clients will use the system for different reasons. Some will use it for emergency response, for example, and others for asset management,” Carton said.
“A typical pharmaceutical plant would have maybe 30,000 to 40,000 assets that need to be locatable, things like motors, pump and transmitters. They keep the plant going and they need to be maintained and repaired.
“Right now, the way that’s done is by using old engineering drawings and documents, but digital natives these days aren’t used to working with these kinds of drawings and documents. If you’re looking at an emergency response situation, that’s not conducive to reacting quickly to an incident when it arises.”
PlantQuest has two pharmaceutical clients in Ireland and has just signed a new partnership agreement with Singapore company No Deviation.
No Deviation provides commissioning, qualification and validation (CQV) services to pharmaceutical clients, many of whom are based in Asia-Pacific (Apac). It opened an Irish office last year.
“Singapore and the wider Apac region is a prime target for us, so No Deviation is a really good fit. They have ongoing relations with all of the global pharma companies there,” Carton said.
No Deviation also has a similar partnership already in place with Kneat Solutions, the Irish-owned validation software company.
“Kneat Solutions have basically digitised the CQV process for No Deviation and that’s gone really well for them, so they’ve already had a good experience with software reselling. PlantQuest is another string to their bow,” Carton said.
He and Daly developed their technology over two years and closed their recent €650,000 funding round with help from Enterprise Ireland, the state agency, which provided match-funding.
“The process of closing that round was a lot more involved than we expected. Enterprise Ireland was instrumental in working with us to get it over the line. The match-funding they offer is really a big help when you’re bringing investors on board,” Carton said.