Waste water and sewerage is a subject that people don’t like to think about. In fact, almost all sewer and waste water lines are buried underground, where they remain out of sight and out of mind most of the time.
However, employees at Waukesha-based Aries Industries Inc. are constantly thinking about, examining and developing products that are critical to the long-term health of sewers and waste water lines, municipal wells and deep vertical tunnels used for energy and natural resource exploration.
“We manufacture pipeline cameras and robotics for the underground pipeline industry,” said James Lenahan, president and CEO of Aries. “That includes the sewer, waste water, water well, and natural gas markets.”
Aries’ cameras and robots come in a wide range of sizes, which are capable of inspecting pipes between 1 1/2 to 200 inches in diameter, Linehan said. Some of its robots are also outfitted with either sonar sensors or lasers. The sonar is able to detect levels of built-up sediment on pipes that are still full of liquid, while lasers can detect pipes that have been partially crushed during ongoing construction.
Almost all of Aries’ systems use a robot – either one with wheels or treads. All of the company’s cameras and robots, along with the systems that control them, are made at its Waukesha headquarters and manufacturing facility.
Because there are so many suppliers in Milwaukee and Waukesha counties, Aries hires outside vendors to machine many of its metal components, mold tires for its robots and produce plastic components used for wiring. However, the company’s employees build video cameras, assemble robots, design custom software and mount custom systems in trucks and vans.
“We do it all,” Lenahan said. “The cameras are designed by us, we make all the parts and we’re putting them all together. The controls are all designed by us – they’re completely engineered, designed and built in Waukesha.”
Most of Aries’ customers – municipalities, sewerage districts and other public entities – usually order a complete inspection system from the company, which includes the robot, cabling, controls, monitoring and a vehicle to transport the equipment in. The company’s Waukesha facility includes a large bay where its employees install control rooms, monitors, large spools of cable, generators and other related components into trucks and vans.
Aries, which is celebrating its 25th year in 2010, has about 150 employees in its four facilities. Its headquarters and main manufacturing operations are in Waukesha, where the company has about 100 employees.
The company’s 2009 sales were down about 15 percent from its 2008 levels of roughly $30 million, Lenahan said. However, company executives are optimistic about 2010.
“We’re hoping for a seven to 10 percent in business this year,” Lenahan said. “We laid off between 10 and 15 employees between June and December (2009) and are in the process of bringing them back now. The momentum seems to be swinging back in the right direction.”
The company’s rising expectations are partially due to its increasing international sales – it has recently sold systems to Middle Eastern customers in places such as Kuwait, Jordan, Egypt and Abu Dhabi. It has also opened a service center in Kuwait.
This year, Aries is also bringing a new inspection robot and camera to market. The system is able to travel up to two miles deep underground, where it can aid in the search for oil, natural gas or mineral deposits, Lenehan said.
“In the new energy exploration markets, we could see a need out there,” he said. “When there is the desire to find the correct minerals or to be able to drill (for oil), they can send the camera down. It can be critical when you can identify things when they’re trying to find energy resources.”