In control

NSI has a history of innovation within the ship navigation control sector. Since 1986 it has delivered reliable solutions for difficult problems to the maritime industry, working with clients to supply both standardised and bespokeproducts that meet their demands. Its range includes keyboards and trackballs of its own design alongside a limited range of branded items to complement its own services. The company recently launched a new range of laser trackballs designed for rugged environments.

Norbert Schepers founded the company in 1986 as a sales business headquartered in Belgium, buying in and supplying control equipment to a number of different industries. By 1990 NSI begun what would become a long-term relationship with UK company Cursor Controls and entered into the design market with its first industrial keyboard and integrated trackball in 1994. Together, NSI and Cursor Controls went on to develop the first of the IP68 range of sealed trackballs that has become core to the Belgian company’s product portfolio.

General manager Freddy Caubergh, who joined the company in 1992 and became coshareholder in 2008, discusses how the IP68 was an important evolution for industrial trackball technology: “It was sealed watertight and because it was the first trackball to be made like that it offered clients new opportunities, particularly in the marine world. It meant, for example, a trackball could be installed on the outside of a bridge for increased convenience and safety. As the IP68 trackball design has been between Cursor Controls and ourselves, we remain the only source for such solutions. This is one major advantage we have over competitors, and it continues to be one of our biggest selling products.”

In September 2009 NSI added a new type of IP68 trackball to its offering: the X-range, an optical system that uses solid-state laser tracking. This range has a contactless ball for maximum performance on a wide range of surfaces, and is available in five different module types: X13 (13 millimetres), X19, X25, X38 and X50. Other advantages of the X-range over other trackballs include increased resolution options, reduced power consumption and a removable top ring to facilitate easy maintenance.

Trackballs are not NSI’s only product however. “We also make customised keyboards with IEC 60945 approvals,” Freddy explains. “Each orderhas a customised IP68 solution and makes use of innovative backlighting technology that we developed a few years ago. Using several small LEDs, we lit an entire keyboard with power coming through the USB connection, and this has become a popular item. The first of these achieved IEC 60495 approval last year. We are a small company with the flexibility to tailor orders to customer requirements.”

Yet despite being a small company of just 11 employees, NSI’s reputation for quality has seen it working with some of the most visible names in marine navigation technology. It has supplied components for Kongsberg systems, for example, as well as L-3 and Raytheon amongst others. World leading clients such as these have helped NSI maintain financial stability even through the recession, the impact of which reduced overall turnover by ten per cent to 3.3 million euros, whilst quick regeneration of the market sees the company predicting 2011 to be as good as if not better than the pre-crisis peak of 2008. The company has benchmarked 3.5 million euros as its objective for turnover this year.

Part of this will be helped by a number of upcoming events in the company’s diary, as Freddy illustrates: “We mainly discover new prospects by attending industry exhibitions, where we can both be amongst our current customers, which are also displaying, whilst discovering new potential by talking to others that are visiting the convention. In May we will be at Nor-Shipping 2011 in Oslo and at the Defence & Security Equipment International (DSEi) at ExCel London in September. Last year we were at SMM and, though it’s not held this year, we will definitely be attending in 2012.”

Furthermore, the company has already started considering the future of marine navigation technology. One such concept is implementing a mouse-like scroll wheel into an IP68 trackball, enabling the user to have even greater flexibility and control over a ship’s systems. Furthermore, the company is looking into having a wider number of products in its portfolio gaining IEC 60495 approval to make them more easily available to the maritime sector.

Through doing this, Freddy hopes NSI secures its manageable growth. He concludes with a practical view of the coming years: “We will continue trying to increase our turnover and business annually. In five years time we hope to have acquired extra sales people calling customers for us, helping NSI to anticipate client requests better and more quickly than ever before; Hopefully we will also have hired more production staff and engineers. It is impossible to predict how much growth will occur of course but I think 20 per cent is a realistic figure. There is no need to double in size – establishing a small but steady growth would be ideal.”

Patented watertight trackballs

Technological innovators

World-leading clients