Published in Journal des entreprises, April 2018.
New playground for robot manufacturer ECA Group (turnover: € 112m, 700 employees). For this beginning of the year, the Var-based company is tackling a new job with the commissioning of its own underwater drones. This new facet comes thanks to the contract signed at the beginning of the year with Petrus' international oil services group (400 employees) for the A18D AUV.
These are very sophisticated robots, capable of going up to 3,000 meters deep, it was simpler and more efficient than we operate the drone ourselves," says Guénaël Guillerme, General Manager of ECA Group. The market is in any case buoyant, the cable robots usually used to map pipelines are too expensive compared to underwater autonomous robots.
What nurturing beautiful promises for ECA Group. "This is an activity that we will develop over Petrus orders," said the 55-year-old general manager. Until now, ECA Group was content to deliver robots or systems capable of directing them. Activities in line with the historical business of the company, born in 1936.
At the time, ECA Group focused on robotics as a designer and manufacturer, a sector that now generates almost two-thirds of sales. But to continue to perform well, the Gorgé Group subsidiary (turnover: € 276.7m, 1,400 employees) opened in the 1960s to aeronautics and simulation, offering mainly radio frequencyelectronic equipment or software.
"We are in very different sectors, it allows us not to depend on a single order or a single customer," says Guénaël Guillerme, in post since 2013, stating that "the activity is shared at 50% between the civil and the defense ". A paying diversification strategy. Although ECA Group's sales remained stable in 2017 (-0.5%), it was largely thanks to its aerospace division, the only one to be up (29.1%) year-on-year. A performance linked to the end of 2016 buyout of Elta Toulouse, which allowed the company to offer a more complete product offering. "Distress beacons and on-board equipment have sold very well," says Guénaël Guillerme.
"We are on very different sectors, it allows us not to depend on a single order or a single customer"
Another important axis is research and development. The company based in La Garde and Toulouse was the first to unsheathe a system capable of remotely coordinating the actions of robots for an intervention. An innovation called Umis (for Unmanned MCM Information System) which required a development of more than five years and investments of 10 million euros.
A real satisfaction for ECA Group who sees in Umis the perfect answer to the third great stage of robotics that is cooperation, after the creation of drones in the 50's and their autonomy at the end of the 80s. Now it is to be able to send several drones to make them perform different tasks collaboratively on a dangerous operation. A useful application especially in military engineering to identify an area, identify potential dangers and neutralize them.
"ECA Group has developed a lot of drones over the last six or seven years," says Guénaël Guillerme. In February, for example, a new generation of autonomous underwater robots (AUV) dedicated to the fight against submarine mines was launched. "Our technologies and innovations are very advanced, which is really one of our strengths," says the CEO.
This technological added value also applies to the simulation business. The latter has been offering since November the "EF Emergency" software dedicated to driving trucks in case of emergency. Specifically, it is to learn, for example, firefighters to accelerate when the fire turns red. "It's hard to do that in the street," Guénaël Guillerme smiles, hoping to sign the first contracts by June.
In the field of contracting, the year 2018 has started rather well. In addition to the contract with Petrus, a call for tenders from the French Armies has been won by Eca Group for the delivery of land robots capable of operating in a hostile environment. "We are in the process of finalizing large orders," warns the general manager.