Each month, discover the profile of a Sherbrooke company
Production of micropowders and nanopowders; development, design, and construction of plasma systems.
- Creation : 1990
- Employees number : 80 (70 in Sherbrooke)
- Production Factory: Sherbrooke (Québec)
- Business and Sales Center :Sherbrooke (Québec) // Mâcon (France) // China // India
- Target markets : Microelectronics // Aerospace // Medical // Metallurgy //
You are shown two vials of the same size, each containing 50 g of the same metallic powder: the first is filled to the brim, the second is only a quarter full. Is this a magic trick or an amazing feat?
Answer: An amazing feat characteristic of Tekna, a world leader in induction plasma technology! Through this unique process, the Sherbrooke company transforms rough angular powder into entirely spherical powders – which occupy less space in the vial.
(A mini Physics 101 class before continuing the explanation: plasma is the fourth state of matter – you already know about solid, liquid, and gas states. Plasma is a gas that has been subjected to temperatures and energy densities so high that it conducts electricity. The gas is then said to be ionized – that is plasma. Plasma can be seen in nature in the Northern Lights!)
Tekna has developed induction plasma technology, i.e. the plasma is generated through an intense electromagnetic field that enables a gas to achieve high temperatures between 4 000 and 10 000°C. When passed through a plasma torch, the powder particles become semi-liquid and take on a spherical shape before solidifying. Abracadabra!
These high-purity powders are used in many domains, including:
- Microelectronics – Nanopowders are the basis for the tactile properties of smartphones and tablets.
- Aeronautics and aerospace – Spherical powders enable featherweight parts to be produced quickly and accurately.
- Medicine – The winning combination of 3D printing and spherical powders enables custom implants (hip, knee, etc.) to be produced with no loss.
- Mining/petroleum – Drill bits can be covered in spherical powders to make them stronger.
At Tekna’s core, is a patented plasma technology, developed by Dr. Maher Boulos, professor at the Université de Sherbrooke and pioneer in plasma chemistry, and his team. After years of fundamental research, the engineer took the plunge – in 1990, he founded Tekna Plasma Systems with his collaborator and partner, Dr. Jerzy Jurewicz.
As its name implies, the company designs and manufactures plasma systems for various applications: powder treatment, nanoparticle synthesis, spray coating, etc. The equipment is used both in industry and laboratories, including several large research centres worldwide. Another unexpected use in aerospace: Tekna’s plasma torches simulate the conditions of atmospheric entry to test the resistance of the materials used to make satellites and rockets!
In 2009, Tekna launched powder production through Tekna Advanced Materials – the third string in a bow that is right on the mark. “Our value proposition surpasses the competition’s offering. This is what sets us apart in the eyes of the clientele: we master the engineering of the process, and we have specialized expertise in plasma systems, as well as expertise in manufacturing high-quality powders,” said Luc Dionne, Chief Executive Officer of Tekna Group.
Mr. Dionne has held this position since 2014 and aims to accelerate the growth of the company, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2015: “Much ground has been covered since the beginning – a Université de Sherbrooke spin-off, Tekna is now a leader in its domain, exporting worldwide, with a team of more than 80 employees. The experience that we have gained in research paired with the market studies we conduct have enabled us to position ourselves well for what the future will bring: we aim to triple our sales in the coming years.”
From 3D printing to batteries
To get there, the Tekna Group has enhanced its two product ranges – powders and systems – and is actively preparing to break into the sectors of the future.
On the advanced materials side, the company is investing the required effort to increase its market share in metallic powders for 3D printing, a booming sector. Additive manufacturing enables lighter, custom parts to be produced quickly without a mold, while minimizing waste – the advantages are worth their weight in gold in many industries, such as aeronautics and health.
“We have the right technology, a high-quality product, and perfect timing!” Luc Dionne enthusiastically said about the breakthrough Tekna is preparing to make in this industry, foreseeing an annual growth of 35%.
The Sherbrooke company is also working on expanding the nanopowder market – on the scale of a billionth of a metre. Once they are spheroidized, these powders are used for many purposes, including manufacturing touch screens for smartphones and tablets. “With the increase in the price of silver, manufacturers are opting more and more for other metallic nanopowders. We are in discussions with a South Korean giant to this end.”
Nanopowders show promise for major advances in the world of batteries, with applications ranging from electric cars to smartphones. For example, nanosilicon enables rechargeable batteries to have greater autonomy. Tekna’s R&D team is active in this area as well.
Tekna also produces ceramic nanopowders and micron-size spherical powders – the diameter of a strand of hair is a few dozen micrometres. Overall, powder production accounts for 50% of Tekna’s activities – a number that is expected to grow with current endeavours, noted the CEO.
Tekna is also innovating in the sector of plasma systems, which it designs and develops from A to Z, including the computer interface that enables production management, monitoring, and analysis. Its induction plasma torches are available with power ratings ranging from 15 kW to 400 kW. Since 2014, the company has been marketing a new system – Tek-15.
This is a scale model of Tekna’s plasma systems, with the same functions, but a smaller size and capacity. The industry and research laboratories can use it to produce powders in small quantities.
“Thanks to the test unit we have in our facility, we are also able to conduct tests requested by potential clients. In only a few hours, we have the results in hand. The concept has a real power of attraction: every month, a few clients come to Sherbrooke. The next step is to add a technology showcase in our business centre in Europe in the next few months.”
A dedicated team
In its highly specialized business cluster, the Tekna Group exports almost all of its production. The main destinations: Europe, China, India, South Korea, and the United States – where the company intends to intensify its sales efforts in the short term.
All of the company’s R&D and production occurs in Sherbrooke, in two neighbouring facilities located in the Technoparc. More than 70 employees work there – engineers, machinists, programmers, welders, etc.
They are behind the ongoing wave of innovation at Tekna. “We have a brilliant and determined team; together we are successful in maintaining Tekna’s position at the forefront of the global market,” highlighted the CEO.
This confidence in Tekna’s potential also comes from the company’s new Norwegian owners. The company’s founders, Dr. Maher Boulos and Dr. Jerzy Jurewicz have gradually passed the torch, first to the EFD Group in 2008, and then to its parent company, Arendals Fossekompani ASA (AFK), in 2013.
“Since the announcement, the new investors have demonstrated their faith in our local expertise, from both technical and human perspectives. Since then, the business has focused on furthering its development by intensifying its marketing efforts and aligning its research investments with the market’s priorities,” said Luc Dionne, noting that Dr. Boulos and Dr. Jurewicz are still active within the company, serving respectively as head of technology and senior researcher.
In addition to its two facilities, totalling 55 000 sq. ft., Tekna has a branch in France, Tekna Plasma Europe, whose distribution and sales centre is located in Mâcon. The company also has sales offices in India and China.
Factory – Plasma Systems
2935, boulevard Industriel, Sherbrooke (Québec) J1L 2T9 Canada
+1 819 820-2204
Factory – Advanced Materials
2895, boulevard Industriel, Sherbrooke (Québec) J1L 2T9 Canada
+1 819 820-7771
Tekna Plasma Europe (Distribution Center/Sales)
200, boulevard de la Résistance, 71000 Mâcon France
+33(0) 385 231 045
Sales Offices : China and India
Photo Credits : Tekna and Sherbrooke Innopole