Growing Nanaimo company sends robots into hazardous areas

Nanaimo’s Inuktun Services Ltd. (ISL) has grown from a two person start-up into a company of more than 50 people in manufacturing, engineering, sales, administration and assembly. Inuktun was founded in 1989 by inventor and entrepreneur Allen Robinson and his partner Terry Knight. The pair started out manufacturing underwater remotely operated vehicles, but moved into nuclear power and oceanographic research.

Today ISL exports to more than 40 countries, designing and manufacturing modular robotic systems and components for use in confined spaces and hazardous environments. Inuktun gained international attention when one of their robots were used to search for survivors at ground zero following the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks and again in Louisiana, during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Inuktun established a European presence in 2011, opening a distribution centre in Aberdeen, Scotland.  In 2012 ISL completed its largest export ever, supplying remote systems to the U.S. military for use in tunnels and underground structures.


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CEO Colin Dobell joined Inuktun in 1996 with a strong background in electronics and software development.  In 2003 Dobell was a recipient of the Business in Vancouver 40 under 40 award, recognizing his technical and business leadership. He has big plans for Inuktun’s future.

After opening a distribution and service centre in 2015 in Houston, Texas, the company will be further expanding U.S. operations, hiring up to five new employees. Plans are also in the works to grow the company’s presence in Asia and the Middle East.

Despite its international success, Dobell says Inuktun has faced challenges. “The biggest obstacles are associated with ever-changing market conditions. Exchange rates and market prices for oil and precious metals have a big impact on our competitiveness and the willingness of our clients to spend money. By diversifying both our products and our target industries we have been able to minimize the impact, but it can never be totally mitigated.”

Dobell’s advice to would be entrepreneurs? “Almost anything is going to take longer than you think it will. Be persistent and prepare yourself for the long haul.”

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