Eric Hoffman obtained his PHD as an economic geochemist in 1978 from the University of Toronto and during his time in school he used the neutron activation technique to develop a method for analyzing platinum metals in nickel sulfide ores from nickel mines in Canada. It was when he decided to commercialize this technique that his career took off and he began working with a commercial laboratory in Toronto. He worked at that lab for 9 years and in 1987, Hoffman decided to branch off and start his own company, Activation Laboratories Ltd., otherwise known as Actlabs, where he still works as president today.
Using neutron activation as its main method for analyzing minerals, the company began as a single lab in Ontario. Actlabs now includes all of the analytical technologies, both inorganic and organic, and has evolved into a global company with 30 labs in 14 countries, with its concentration still in Canada. Hoffman explains, “We’ve evolved into a company that serves our primary industry, mineral exploration, but we’ve also branched out into environmental materials testing, agriculture, life sciences with comprises pharmaceutical and biotech as well as organic forensic areas.”
The company’s Vision is to be recognized throughout the world as a leader in analytical testing and development services in the life sciences, minerals, environmental, forensics, and material testing markets. Also, to utilize new technologies and develop new methodologies before the competition to allow them to serve niche markets.
The company has recently built a new 18,500 square meter facility that has been designed specifically involving continuous improvement strategies. “Our new facility was designed with LEAN and Six Sigma in mind and many of our employees have had LEAN and Six Sigma training. A lot of thought was given into the design of the facility to minimize movement and minimize waste,” states Hoffman.
The new facility is replacing five Actlabs buildings in the same industrial park, thus allowing the work flow to be much more efficient. As for green initiatives, the building is also highly energy efficient as it costs less to heat and cool the new building than it did to heat or cool just one of the five older buildings.
Recently Actlabs has launched its new Agricultural division, which has its own area in the new facility, dedicated to high-tech analysis for the agriculture industry. Actlabs Agriculture has developed a toxin screen for animals feeds that the company can do at very low cost and very quickly so the feed companies will know if there’s a problem with the feeds well before the animals start to die from toxins that may be present in the feed. Also, with the support of beekeepers, pesticide companies and the government, the launch of this agricultural division allows Actlabs to currently conduct research to determine what it is that is causing the honey bees to die off in the area.
Beneficial relationships with suppliers
Actlabs has products worldwide so it is important that they keep an eye out for the best quality, most technologically advanced and most modern instrumentation. To achieve this, Actlabs maintains great relationships with its suppliers and partners and this has resulted in mutually beneficial relationships for both Actlabs and the suppliers.
For example, the agricultural division, mentioned earlier, would not exist if Actlabs had not been approached by someone in the high-tech agricultural business who saw a gap in the industry and knew Actlabs could handle the opportunity. Actlabs also has stayed loyal to the suppliers that have worked well with them over the years and it is proven to be beneficial to both parties because one side keeps getting called for the job and the other can rely that the timeline and quality of the product will be met.
Another way Actlabs thrives from its relationship with its suppliers involves technological advances. Actlabs is always looking for the newest technology and having close relations with certain suppliers has proven to be a great help in developing new technology before any of the competition. Actlabs is proud to have become a test bed for many of the equipment manufacturers in the world. When manufacturers develop new equipment and technology, Hoffman explains that they, “let us evaluate it for a year or so and decide what’s good about it, what’s bad about, what we like and don’t like; It helps them develop their products, and it helps us to become first in the world to get the new technology.”
Recently, Actlabs has developed its own software to manage the work flow within the labs. The company’s IT departments consist of 10 people who have developed this laboratory information system which is customized to Actlabs’ specific needs. “We’ve tried off the shelf systems and tried to customize them but typically they never work quite the way we want them to work so we’ve gone the route of developing our own system,” Hoffman continues, “It has been more efficient than anything we could buy out there.”
Customer service makes a difference
So how has Actlabs been able to continually maintain the relationships that allow the company to grow and participate in the development of new technology? It is the exceptional customer service the company provides that has proven to keep clients and business partners loyal. Actlabs takes pride in being able to provide solutions to virtually any problem a customer may have by offering knowledgeable employees and advanced technology to meet clients’ analysis needs.
Hoffman explains, “We’re a privately owned company and as such we’re able to respond very quickly to our customers and we’re able to provide knowledgeable support very quickly. Recently, some of our clients have commented that they know they can talk to me, that they can call and they will get through to me, rather than marketing people, which is different than our competitors. That’s one of our main strengths.”
Actlabs is ISO 17025 accredited and/or certified to ISO9001: 2008. The company is also OMAFRA and NELAC accredited, Health Canada Licensed, and audited by the FDA. With these certifications, Actlabs has been developing new innovative technologies to implement with the help of its customers since its inception in 1987.