A leading provider of integrated audiovisual systems, Axion Technologies transports mass transit companies and their riders into the 21st century. Established in the 1970s as an education-tool provider, the Canadian-based company easily transferred its substantial credits from one sector to another. Dan Harvey details the transition and its ramifications for the company and its customers.
On course from one whistle-stop to the next, Axion Technologies experienced a substantial transformation. Established in 1974 as Pocatec, the company first functioned as an educational communications supplier, according to Sales Director Ray Little. But en route to its current corporate identity, it underwent both a name change and a significant shift in business focus.
Today, as Axion, the Canadian company operates as a leading provider of integrated digital audio/visual systems for mass transit, offering products that find versatile application in various public transportation modes. “That includes light and heavy rail and buses in North America and Europe,” reports Little.
The company accomplished this makeover in relatively easy fashion. “The original products were designed for translation services – French to English and back again, for instance – but we subsequently discovered that the electronic portion of that communication process lent itself well to mass transit applications, and that became the direction we traveled,” recalls Little.
Axion, headquartered in La Pocatiere, Quebec, now engages in the in-house manufacture of audio/visual components that not only ensure successful system integration and operation but also foster commuter comfort.
The company’s main components manifest their value in public address/intercoms, emergency intercoms, next-stop announcements, custom control panels, liquid crystal display (LCD) and light-emitting diode (LED) destination/interior message/run-number signs, seat indicators, strip maps, in-seat DVD/CD entertainment systems, and subsystem monitoring, among other applications. Axion also integrates radio and CCTV requirements into the aforementioned components, thus enabling the company to offer a total system package.
The business was established by a group of physics and technology professors at Quebec’s La Pocatiere College (hence the Pocatec name) who combined their expertise to produce products for educational purposes.
As the company grew, it developed components that utilized fiber optic technology, which it deployed in an oft-used didactic module designed for post-secondary teaching institutions in America, Europe and other places. Eventually, Pocatec also designed a line of power supply products and industrial monitoring systems.
But, by 1980, the education-focused company graduated its technology into public transit communications systems. During the ensuing decade, Pocatec developed new applications, including an innovative public address system specifically designed for the mass transit sector. By the end of the decade, the transition was nearly complete; the niche activity represented Pocatec’s core activity. As the company proceeded into the 1990s, it established a position as an industry leader, as Pocatec’s engineered reliability and innovations attracted customers such as AAI Corp., ABC Bus, ALSTOM, Bombardier, Motor Coach Industries, Orion Bus Industries and Prevost Car.
Pocatec celebrated the advent of the new century by adopting a new corporate identity and changing its name to Axion Technologies. The renamed company now focused on addressing mass-transit industry challenges.
“Today, the equipment we provide ranges from electronic destination signs, such as you would see on the front of buses, and inseat video systems that you find on an Amtrak train,” says Little.
SIGHT AND SOUND
Also, Axion focuses on audio communications that ensure message transmissions are conveyed loud and clear. Its systems feature advanced digital and analog technology, and boast a modular design that provides a natural match with existing equipment, allowing for extensions and improvements.
Moreover, the easily maintainable products simplify a rail network’s common interface, reduce the number of transmission lines and even detect problems, according to the company. In addition, they exceed industry specifications while meeting the stringent requirements of the Americans with Disabilities and Buy America acts legislated in the United States.
Axion also supplies display communication technology, matching its audio architecture with electronic sign systems available for shuttle, high speed, inter-city, light rail, and monorail trains. Hallmarks of its electronic signs include high luminosity, LCD panels that offer optimal readability, and ease of maintenance. LED panels enable users to write messages with a dot matrix. In fact, Axion was the world’s first company to develop, manufacture and market LED electronic destination signs for the mass-transit industry.
The sign components have proven quite versatile in value and use. Destination signs inform people outside the vehicle of itineraries, while interior signs form part of the audio communications that indicate station names and provide service messages, as well as other necessary information. In addition, operator control panels let attendants view and then select the most appropriate messages, while messages on seats indicate passenger departure and arrival points.
Axion’s capabilities also include providing entertainment systems for shuttle, regional, long-distance, and charter buses, as well as motor coaches. Transmission technology requires only minimal wiring and provides clear signals and easy upgrades additions. The deployed digital systems allow passengers to select music and video choices, share video screens, and even play interactive video games.
Specific entertainment components include screens and CD players on 19-inch stands, seat-back video screens for individual viewing or fixed video screens for multi-passenger viewing, passenger control units for making selections and adjusting volumes, and passenger headsets.
Little reports that Axion produces communications systems for about 600 rail cars and 1,000 buses each year. A multi-national enterprise, Axion has production facilities in Canada, the United States and Denmark.
“We currently have four factories,” informs Little. “One is located in St. Nicholas, Quebec, where we make printed circuit boards [PCBs] and conduct research and development. In La Pocatiere, we make communications devices, perform PCB manufacturing and design engineering, and assemble all communications equipment. In our Plattsburgh, N.Y. and Hillerod, Denmark plants, we manufacture and assemble communications devices.”
The St. Nicholas plant is staffed by 60 employees, while the La Pocatiere plant has 150. Sixty employees work out of New York, while 25 are located in Denmark.
“At each facility, we specialize in developing customized solutions for clients, such as transit authorities that utilize open protocols as opposed to proprietary protocols,” says Little.
As far as organizational growth, the company has witnessed a 15 to 20 percent decrease in recent years. But, as Little points out, that’s only due to the cyclical nature of the mass transit industry. Axion has reached the nadir of a traditional down cycle and should soon be carried aloft by the naturally ensuing upswing. “We’re anticipating about 25 percent growth in the next three years,” says Little.
He adds that Axion is excited about the future of mass transit in North America. “The predicted infrastructure growth for both Canada and the United States provides us with a lot of promise,” he says.
As the company prepares for anticipated invigoration, it is also planning to continue its operations in three different countries to satisfy Buy Canada and Buy America requirements and to strategically service their respective geographical marketplaces. In the meantime, the company remains on time, on track and on target, ultimately turning mass transit into a positive experience – an important consideration in a world where energy and environmental concerns underscore the increasing importance of public transportation.