Dutch company Slagboom & Peeters has owned and operated UltraCam systems since it invested in a first generation UltraCam, the UltraCamD, in 2006. Since that time, the company has continued to base its aerial acquisition operations on the UltraCam, adding each new model as it has been released. As a result of its most recent acquisition of an UltraCam Eagle, the company now owns three UltraCam Eagles and two UltraCamXp systems.
In the middle of a busy flying season, Yoeri Slagboom–owner of Slagboom & Peeters–made time for UltraCam marketing manager, Silke Kemmer, to discuss the company’s experience and success with the UltraCam. Transcript of that discussion below.
-Jerry Skaw, Microsoft UltraCam Team
Can you provide some background information on Slagboom & Peeters?
SLAGBOOM: Our company is basically specialized in the aerial acquisition, so we do all the aerial photography with the digital cameras. The company was established in 1961 and when we started with the digital cameras, we were already very active with vertical images and orthophotos based on the analog workflow. And at the moment we are, let’s say, half providing customer with the orthophotos and the other half maybe also for mapping purposes.
Your company has been a long time UltraCam customer, beginning with the UltraCamD. What year did you acquire that system and what drove the purchase?
SLAGBOOM: We bought the first UltraCamD for ourselves in 2006 and one of the reasons was that we knew the camera already from flying it with another customer of yours who owned one of the first UltraCamD cameras beginning in 2005 and they were using our aircraft so we could have a peek at this new technology at the time. I was hoping, to be honest, to skip the first model and go right for the second one, but the pressure from our customer base to move to digital was so great that we were using that first camera and soon we had a requirement to have our own camera system, so we did purchase the UltraCamD. But as soon as the UltraCamX came out, we were in the first group of customers purchasing those as well.
Did you evaluate other digital sensors at that time?
SLAGBOOM: Yes, of course we did look into the other sensors as well from Leica and Zeiss.
Why did you choose the UltraCam?
SLAGBOOM: We felt the technique that Vexcel brought was a better one, especially the line sensor from one of your competitors was not appealing to us and we knew of course from using the UltraCamD that it was giving good results. So we did compare but then we ultimately chose the Vexcel.
Shortly after the first UltraCamD you added a second. Did having a digital sensor open up new opportunities for you?
SLAGBOOM: Well actually the main reason for that was our transition from analog to digital and at that time the footprint of the UltraCamD was actually smaller than what we could shoot with the analog cameras. Therefore you can say you had to replace one analog camera with two digital cameras to have the same capacity. So as we phased out the analog systems, we needed more of the digital ones. This was also the reason we moved quickly to the newer models because of the footprint and the capacity that we needed.
Since the UltraCamD, Slagboom has kept pace with UltraCam product developments, first upgrading to the UltraCamX, then the UltraCamXp, and finally the UltraCam Eagle. Can you tell us about the business decisions that drove this constant upgrading?
SLAGBOOM: What I can say about those upgrades and the fact that we actually never skipped a model—except the smaller models that came out recently—we took all the bigger cameras as soon as they came on the market. The reason for that is two-fold. First, it’s the footprint … we can work more economically. Of course with a bigger footprint you have less flying hours which means savings. Secondly, there is reliability. As the models were getting more mature the newer models were more reliable. Our operation in the Netherlands, I would say, has never been too restricted. If we have a problem with the camera, we can solve it pretty much that day. But we also do quite a lot of work abroad in Africa or Asia, faraway places where we do not have easy access to the internet and technical resources to make a repair and therefore in those projects the reliability of the camera is an important factor. Also we see the same thing for areas which are difficult to access, like near large airports in big cities. It is quite rare that air traffic allows us in those areas and at the time that we are allowed to go in of course we do not want any issues with our camera systems. So reliability is almost the prime factor there.
What differentiates Slagboom from its competition?
SLAGBOOM: It depends, I suppose, to who you will compare us. If I look around at some of the companies I know, I guess we are usually the smaller one but at the same time with more flight capacity. We seem to be large in acquisition. This has to do with the fact that in Holland we have to do our acquisition in a very short time frame, only March and April, because of the leaves that are coming on the trees. So we have a very short season of almost one and a half months with quite a lot of work to be done. Therefore we have this large acquisition capacity and in the summer time we use that capacity to fly for our colleagues around the world. I think that’s where we differentiate a little bit: because our office is quite small, our production capacity for orthophotos is relatively small because we only produce the orthophotos from the data that we acquire in the spring time. And all the summer work is usually processed by our customers in the respective countries. So in that way we are a little bit different than many companies. Another thing might be that we sort of connect to each other … we always target to have the latest technology in use so that we are of interest to other people to hire us. Whenever something new comes out from Vexcel, we are eager to look at it and probably add it to the business.
Is it fair to say that Slagboom finds that staying on the forefront of technology provides the company with a competitive edge?
SLAGBOOM: Yes, certainly.
Slagboom recently purchased a third UltraCam Eagle. What is fueling the success that permits these investments in your capabilities?
SLAGBOOM: The Eagle purchase is an upgrade from the UltraCamXp and as I mentioned earlier the footprint and the reliability are the main factors driving us. The reason we went for the Eagle and not one of the other third generation UltraCam systems is also the fact that it is nice to have a uniformity for our fleet so that we can freely move aircraft from one job to another or deploy several aircraft on one job to get it done. Of course with all the systems being identical we have the best flexibility.
Your first two UltraCam Eagle’s featured the 80mm lens option and with this most recent purchase you opted for the 100mm. Can you tell me about that decision?
SLAGBOOM: When we first purchased the first Eagle the 100mm was not available yet so we had to take the 80mm. Later when the 100mm became available, we looked at which one we really like better. The 80mm has the advantage that it is maybe for a piston aircraft because you fly a little bit lower for the same resolution and this can be an advantage. But in our case, we now have the Eagle 100mm systems in turbine aircraft and one jet aircraft so the flying altitude with regard to aircraft is not really a factor anymore. So then we went for one uniform system with the same focal length.
Do you imagine there might come a time when you would need the 210mm lens?
SLAGBOOM: Yes, I can imagine this might happen. We see more and more difficulty in areas with large airports and there the 210mm might be a solution, so I do think we might move that way one day.
How important is it to you then that the Eagle offers the flexibility of the three different lens configurations?
SLAGBOOM: Well, to change between a 100mm and 210mm lens could be of use. In our case, though, I think we will always try to have enough opportunity to sustain a full camera and not change the lens. If we go for the 210mm lens option, it will be included as part of a complete system and then we deploy it as a dedicated 210mm unit on a suitable project.
How does the Microsoft pace of innovation impact your business?
SLAGBOOM: Well, in a good way, of course. It is very important for us that our supplier is on the forefront as well, if we want to be there. So we look at all the possible techniques that are presented by Microsoft and certainly not all of them fit our business model, but we definitely appreciate the activity from your end in that aspect.
You are not yet using the complete UltraMap workflow. Are there any plans from Slagboom to acquire the whole workflow and is the new Licensing Model of interest for you?
SLAGBOOM: The subscription model could be of interest if we have a lot of work in a certain period and we know this is going to cease later, so we have just a short period of capacity needed. But in general we will most likely always own the licenses as we do now, so we would probably buy them and use them enough to sustain them. But it can be also maybe an advantage to test certain new technologies if you come out with a new software to just run it on a few projects and learn how the results are. We do indeed not operate the orthophotos pipeline at the moment but there are no plans to proceed in that direction at the moment.