Aboriginal-owned Business Provides Inventive Solution to Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships

It is hard to believe that the economic impact of six ice-capable patrol ships being built at the Halifax Shipyard is felt nearly 6,100 kilometers away on the Capilano First Nations Reserve in Vancouver.

However, when the Royal Canadian Navy’s new fleet of Arctic and Offshore Patrol Ships (AOPS) sail along Canada’s coastline including the High Arctic, they will incorporate technologies built right across the country. True to its name, Canada’s National Shipbuilding Strategy  is an exciting endeavour impacting over 250 organizations that employ thousands of Canadians from across the country.

Thanks to an opportunity developed by Lockheed Martin Canada, selected by Irving Shipbuilding Inc. to deliver an adapted version of its trusted Combat Management System 330 for surveillance purposes on AOPS, Toolcomm will be one of those companies. Toolcomm will provide specialized VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) and High Frequency Radios. Based in North Vancouver, with facilities on the Capilano First Nations Reserve, Toolcomm is a 100% Aboriginal-owned business. Founded by entrepreneur Kevin Sebastian in 2006, a university student at the University of Victoria at the time, Toolcomm’s expertise is modifying digital technologies through advanced electrical engineering to enhance communications capabilities in remote settings. “Toolcomm Technology is formed of licensed engineers who specialize in designing, servicing, and maintaining naval platforms,” said Sebastian.

Toolcomm’s first few years were spent in the research and development phase, which was often expensive and time-consuming for the one-man startup. In an effort to increase the feasibility of the company’s long-term viability, Kevin turned to off-the-shelf communications systems that could be modified and customized to meet a client’s needs.

With this new innovative approach, Toolcomm’s ability to build specialized cellular modems and networking systems in a cost effective manner allowed it to take advantage of modern government procurement processes. 

After registering as a supplier on Irving Shipbuilding’s online supplier registry, Toolcomm’s first involvement in Canada’s shipbuilding industry came in 2011 with the Canadian Coast Guard Mid-Shore Patrol Vessels (MSPV), built at the Halifax Shipyard. Its work on this project increased exposure with the federal government and engagement in this burgeoning sector. This success also led to the company winning the 2012 Business of the Year at the BC Aboriginal Business Awards.

Toolcomm’s experience with MSPV and its unique know-how in developing custom hardware, firmware, software, and electro-mechanical devices, has made it a valuable asset to Irving Shipbuilding, Lockheed Martin Canada and the entire AOPS project.

The work on this endeavor has also allowed Toolcomm to grow its operations. To meet the demands of the contract, it recently added a full time administrative position to help manage the logistics of the design phase and it is searching for a technology support role to come aboard as work progresses. 

For Toolcomm, the value of Canada’s National Shipbuilding Strategy goes far beyond the initial contract value. This strategy allows small businesses and startups, like Toolcomm, the opportunity to scale up and go global. “AOPS has afforded us a critical opportunity to grow our business. By connecting small specialized companies in Canada,  to larger organizations, the National Shipbuilding Strategy is not only positioning Canadian industry for domestic programs but also opening the doors to exciting export opportunities. With the success of AOPS, we now have our eye on future programs that will continue to grow our workforce and expand our boundaries beyond BC,” said Sebastian.

Toolcomm Technology is a shining example of how Canada’s shipbuilding strategy is benefitting Canadian companies, large and small, from coast-to- coast-to-coast. To date, over $1.2 billion in spending commitments have been made with over 250 organizations across Canada including over $8 million in British Columbia. 

Kevin Sebastian, Toolcomm Technology founder

“AOPS has afforded us a critical opportunity to grow our business. By connecting small specialized companies in Canada, like Toolcomm, to larger organizations, the National Shipbuilding Strategy is not only positioning Canadian industry for domestic programs but also opening the doors to exciting export opportunities. With the success of AOPS, we now have our eye on future programs that will continue to grow our workforce and expand our boundaries beyond BC.”

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