1. Aptec History

    by Ed Zieba

    Prior to the establishment of Aptec, Ed Zieba had graduated from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario in 1960 and had joined Canadian General Electric. He was put into their Engineering Development Program and was moved every 3 months into different plants. This gave the company an idea of what he could provide them and at the same time, it gave him a feel as to what the company could offer him for the future. In his case, he felt that at that stage of his development, a large company was not to his liking. So after 11 months at CGE, he began looking at a different approach.

    He found a manufacturer’s representative company that was established in Montreal and who were looking for an experienced person that would open up an Ontario based expansion. He successfully convinced the company that although he was a recently graduated engineer with no experience, he could learn the product line and at the same time learn how to sell the products. In a little over 3 months of training in Montreal, he moved with his recently married wife to Toronto and opened their office there. The product lines included a range of sophisticated nuclear instrumentation that eventually also included products made by ORTEC of Oak Ridge, TN.

    The move turned into a success and Ed eventually became responsible for sales in the area that ran from eastern Ontario to all of western Canada right up to and including all of British Columbia (i.e. Vancouver, Victoria, etc.).

    Towards the end of 1966 (after a little over 5 years with the Montreal headquartered company) Ed and his wife began planning the establishment of their own manufacturer’s representative company. In early 1967, he gave notice and Aptec was born.

    Ed’s first step was to visit the APS Show in New York.

    The only Canberra he knew at the time was a city in Australia so he was surprised to come up to a booth at the APS Show and see products that he was very familiar with and yet built by a company that he had never heard about. He met with Chuck and Emery and although they were probably wondering what a guy in his late 20s knew about nuclear stuff, they ultimately allowed Aptec to represent them in Canada. Probably not surprisingly, ultimately Aptec became one of Canberra’s leading sales outlets. Over the next decade, Aptec expanded and became very successful and profitable in supplying equipment to the Canadian marketplace.

    Then came NRD.

    In the late 70s, Electronic Associates, a company that manufactured and supplied instrumentation to the paper industry went into receivership. Their main product line provided thickness measuring equipment that allowed large paper mills to automate the production of paper. The division that produced the ion chambers that measured the thickness of the paper using a radiation source was called NRD. That division also manufactured gas based Geiger tubes and proportional counters. Additionally, NRD had set up an R and D group that was developing high purity germanium detectors. The development was partially funded by a grant from the Canadian Defense Research Board (DRB). The R and D group consisted of 3 PhDs and 3 technicians. It was headed by Mario Martini.

    At the time, the Receiver made the decision to sell NRD in a separate transaction. Since their products fit into the Aptec scheme of things and also since Aptec was flush with cash at the time, Ed made the decision to meet with the group and check things out. Upon meeting with Mario, Ed got the distinct impression that he was not happy that Aptec was considering buying NRD. Ed found out shortly thereafter that ORTEC from Oak Ridge, TN was also interested as was a management group within Electronic Associates. 

    Ed then went up to Ottawa and had a pleasant meeting with the DRB. Shortly thereafter they sent a note to ORTEC indicating that since the funding was from a Canadian source, there was an obligation that the winning bidder of NRD would have to keep the ongoing development in Canada. Later Ed received the news that ORTEC was pulling out of the bidding.

    The day before the Receiver was to present the bids for NRD to the Court for a final decision, Ed met with the Receiver in downtown Toronto. Ed had three envelopes with revised bids in his suit jacket and attempted (with no luck) to get information on the management bid. Accordingly, Ed revised his bid at the final moment and presented the Receiver with the envelope with the highest bid.

    The following day Aptec’s bid was accepted. Contemporaneously, Mario and Tom Raudorf left for ORTEC along with one of the technicians. The other PhD was earlier told by management that their bid was the highest and he made the decision to also move to ORTEC. He was shocked when told that Aptec had revised their bid at the last minute and that NRD was becoming part of Aptec.

    Since the germanium detector development was collaborating heavily with the detector development group at Atomic Energy of Canada in Chalk River, Ontario, Ed went up and met with the team there. Shortly thereafter Howard Malm, a high level PhD working on HpGe detectors left the AECL research team and joined the Aptec group. Howard rebuilt the Aptec detector development group in short order.

    One of the problems with the acquisition of NRD was that the HPGe work put Aptec into direct competition with Canberra’s own efforts in HPGe development. Consequently, Canberra had no choice but to eventually terminate the excellent representation arrangement with the representative side of Aptec’s business.

    Unfortunately, Aptec struggled for about 10 years in trying to develop a production flow of HPGe detectors with marginal success. The cash flow burden became too large and the company had no choice but to shut down that part of its operation.

    In the meantime, Aptec’s surface contamination product development flourished with an incredible and talented group headed by Gregory Bogorodzki. The group included Lloyd Cass (software) and Janusz Skierski (firmware) and their efforts began to show considerable promise. Towards the latter half of the 1990s large contracts began to be obtained, first for hand and foot monitors and later for whole body monitors. The company’s fortunes rapidly improved.

    Then came Nuclear Research Corporation (NRC).

    Ed had heard that NRC, headquartered in Warrington, PA (a suburb of Philadelphia) and also with another manufacturing facility in Dover, NJ, was up for sale for a number of reasons. Ed flew down and met with Earl Pollack (the principal owner and president of NRC at the time). Earl explained that he was under some pressure to sell the company. He had also made contact with Canberra among others regarding a potential buyout. In reviewing the situation, it became apparent that NRC was considerably over extended. However, even though Canberra backed away from any buyout of NRC, Ed felt that there was a product fit between Aptec and NRC.

    However, in analyzing the situation, Ed felt that to do anything, he needed Cogema (the forerunner of Areva) to join with him to package a deal together. Cogema at the time wanted to expand its Instrumentation and control group in North America. Ed also knew that Cogema had ample resources to finance the deal. So the deal was done with Aptec buying out NRC and Cogema buying 51% of the combination which became known as Aptec/NRC.

    Then came Canberra Industries (CI).

    Within approximately a year, Cogema acquired the assets of Canberra Industries. And shortly thereafter, Cogema negotiated the purchase of the final 49% of Aptec / NRC and eventually they combined all of the operations under Canberra Industries.

    Ed stayed on as a consultant for just under a year after the final buyout and then retired fully from active business involvement at the end of 2001.