When you sit down to watch your favourite TV show tonight, chances are that the signal beaming to your television is being routed through a satellite carrying parts made by COM DEV, right here in Ontario.

The Epicentre Of Innovation

COM DEV is headquartered in Cambridge — in the middle of Canada's Technology Triangle—with additional offices in Ottawa, as well as in California, England and Scotland. Core products produced by the company include satellite hardware such as integrated multiplexers, ancillary microwave components, and electromechanical switches that have been placed on more than 900 satellites to date.

"More than 80% of commercial communications satellites ever launched worldwide have some type of COM DEV equipment on board," said Jeff Codispodi, the company's Director, Investor Relations and Communications. "We believe we have equipment on more satellites than any other company in the world."

COM DEV's electroplating and machine shop facility.
COM DEV recently invested in an electroplating and machine shop facility at its global headquarters in Cambridge.

Relocation To Ontario – Moving Toward Success

COM DEV's headquarters in Cambridge, Ontario.
COM DEV's headquarters in Cambridge, Ontario.

A public company listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange, COM DEV was originally founded by businessman Val O'Donovan in Montreal in 1969. But by 1979, O'Donovan recognized that COM DEV would need to significantly ramp up its operations in order to take full advantage of opportunities in the rapidly growing satellite communications industry. He determined that relocating the company to Ontario would be the best way to ensure access to the talent he required.

After extensive research he chose Cambridge, ideally situated near several post-secondary institutions that would guarantee a steady stream of qualified talent for COM DEV's high tech work.

Tapping Into Talent

"We need a whole range of skill sets to do what we do here," explained Codispodi. "We need brilliant engineers and R&D people, but we also need technologists, machinists and assemblers who can make and test our products very thoroughly. He [O'Donovan] made the conscious decision to move here fairly early on, and we've been here ever since."

Today, the company employs 900 people in two Cambridge locations, with an additional 30 at its Ottawa facility.

"We are in a unique position to be an independent company and a supplier to all the satellite manufacturers," noted Codispodi. "There are only about a dozen companies in the world who are the major prime contractors. We deal with every one of them and we have for decades."

Assemblers use microscopes to assemble electromechanical switches.
Assemblers use microscopes to guide them in the precision task of assembling electromechanical switches.

The James Webb Space Telescope

Artist rendition of the James Webb Space Telescope
Artist rendition of the James Webb Space Telescope.

While commercial satellite equipment accounts for about three quarters of COM DEV's business, the company also has a systems division with locations in Ottawa and Cambridge. This division concentrates on developing optics, search and rescue technology, and satellite missions for civil space applications. One of its major long-term programs is the James Webb Space Telescope. The “Webb” is a next generation observatory that will serve thousands of astronomers, allowing them to see and examine events that occurred in our universe many billions of years ago. The infrared telescope will feature a 6.5-metre primary mirror.

"James Webb is perhaps our highest-profile project," said Codispodi. "It's one of the most complex machines ever built. It will allow us to see things that humankind has never seen before. COM DEV made the device that points the mirror, and it has to be accurate to one millionth of one degree."

A Tight Supply Chain: No Margin For Error

When a satellite is launched, there's no opportunity to bring it back in for a service call. That's why all the parts must work exactly as designed. For COM DEV, guaranteeing that reliability means keeping its supply chain as tight as possible.

COM DEV regularly procures from more than 30 local suppliers within an easy driving distance. Having its key suppliers within the province of Ontario is a strategic advantage for COM DEV, as it allows the company to expedite the production process and avoid regulatory requirements associated with importing certain materials. Finished parts are subjected to rigorous heat and vibration testing before they are certified. COM DEV performs all product evaluations at its manufacturing facilities, using state-of-the-art thermal vacuum and vibration chambers to evaluate a component's reliability.

Parts built for a satellite payload undergo copper plating at COM DEV's state-of-the-art electroplating facility.
Parts built for a satellite payload undergo copper plating at COM DEV's state-of-the-art electroplating facility.

Geared For Growth

Over time, COM DEV has made significant investments in its headquarters. The building footprint has been expanded several times. In 2013, for example, the company spent $8 million to create a state-of-the-art electroplating and machine shop.

While its physical presence has expanded, Codispodi said the company is also working to diversify its product suite.

"If we want to grow, we have to expand our portfolio into different parts of the satellite payload," he explained. He pointed to recent acquisitions the company has made, indicating that acquired technologies are expected to open up future avenues of business.

COM DEV technologists integrate switch assemblies into a multiplexer unit.
COM DEV technologists integrate switch assemblies into a multiplexer unit.

To further develop its access to top talent, COM DEV is also working to establish more partnerships with the Technology Triangle's university community, through staff fellowships and part-time teaching opportunities. The collaborative innovation ecosystem found in Ontario is conducive to such relationships.

"We're helping to develop the people coming out of those schools," noted Codispodi, adding that this allows the company to have a hand in growing its future workforce.

While its products are ubiquitous in space, COM DEV itself is a unique success story. Transplanted from Montreal in its early days, the company has flourished in the nurturing environment of Ontario's technology hub. With plenty of talented graduates to choose from, and a dedicated supply chain, COM DEV is a shining success story among the 1,000 tech companies—which collectively generate $30 billion of revenue—in the Waterloo area alone.


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