After years of working in the video gaming industry for giants such as Sony and Sega, Paul Lindahl decided it was time to launch his own business. So, in 2002, he moved into the basement of his parent’s home in Vancouver to design a cutting-edge video graphics engine. He had hoped it would take six months. He emerged five years later.
NGRAIN 3D software simulates the real thing
Photo: NGRAIN Corp.
“His social skills may have been lacking but he certainly cracked the code,” says Gabe Batstone, CEO of NGRAIN Corporation, which is based in Vancouver, Ottawa and Richmond, VA. NGRAIN has taken the graphics engine built by co-founder Lindahl (now an adviser to NGRAIN) and applied it to an market few would have thought of – the defense industry.
Using 3D technology, NGRAIN’s equipment maintenance training and support software cuts training time for defense department technicians working on everything from F-35 jets to 50 caliber machine guns. London-based analytic firm Visiongain estimates the global military simulation and virtual training market in 2012 will reach $9.03 billion, even as the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan appear to be winding down.
NGRAIN’s products, such as Virtual Task Trainer, Virtual Task Refresher and Virtual Damage Assessment, are used by the U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Canadian Department of National Defence, U.K. Ministry of Defence, CAE, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics Land Systems, Cassidian, AEgis, Adayana, SAIC, and Transport Canada’s National Training Association for Aviation Maintenance.
Batstone says the company initially struggled to find the right application for its new graphics technology. “How do you make money from this?” he asks. NGRAIN looked at 16 markets, ranging from gaming to health care, aerospace and defense. Gaming, he notes, is “a bit of a lottery” – a hit or miss among fickle consumers.
Defense and aerospace proved the most interesting. “It really was the greatest market for us,” he says. “The defense industries have budgets and they are research and development friendly. It was a safe place to go.” More importantly, he adds, once you gain the trust of the defense industry, you gain credibility.
The main goal of NGRAIN is to cut training time for its customers, either in the classroom or on-the-job. By simulating an aircraft or damaged piece of equipment, it eliminates the need for workers to dissemble the actual piece of equipment. A spokesman in the maintenance training division of the U.S. Army said the virtual hands-on training saves as much as $14 million a year by shaving off 12 hours of a standard 40-hour training block.
As recently as June, NGRAIN signed a deal with Canada’s Department of National Defence, which selected a series of training simulations for its Husky systems that counter improvised explosive devices (IEDs) used extensively in Afghanistan. Heavy vehicles built to survive IED explosions are costly to repair because removing and installing components are difficult to do. The simulations, which provide systems overviews, animation and interactive models for virtual maintenance, are responses to that.
While complex and highly secretive stuff, Batstone says the beauty of working with defense industries is that NGRAIN can leverage that experience into other, unrelated markets, such as health care. “The defense industry is really a microcosm of society – it has hospitals, schools, etc.” Batstone plans to expand NGRAIN its 3-D technology into such fields as medical training.