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Smith Carries on Del Norte Name

When CSI Wireless acquired Del Norte Technology, Inc. (DNTI) early this year, they changed the name to Hemisphere Air, ending a 35-year company identity in the U.S. dredging and hydrographic survey industries. Del Norte’s Trisponder microwave positioning systems were a standard for dredge and survey boat positioning, and though the most recent model is now 20 years old, it is still in use in a number of countries.

In recent years, Del Norte had focused on the aviation positioning side of the business, and under its new name and ownership will be one of the world’s biggest players in that field.

Meanwhile, Laurence “Laurie” Smith is carrying on the Del Norte name. He has been selling and servicing the company’s equipment from DNTI’s U.K. base since 1987, and in purchased the company in 2000.

“At that time (the 1980’s) Del Norte Inc, wanted to concentrate more on the aerial navigation systems for crop spraying, but there was a huge demand for the marine product line, which we concentrated on in the U.K.,” said Smith. “It was used for survey and dredging operations.”
He purchased the world holding of spares for all systems, and continues to support all Del Norte products. One customer is the British Navy, which still carries the 1009 systems (combination GPS and microwave positioning system) for survey work in the South Atlantic.

The Spanish Navy still uses the1009 systems for all its mine hunter work in a very versatile way, he explains, getting range and bearing from the Trisponder micro-wave system and positional accuracy from the GPS. It also gives them integrity monitoring, he said.

Other users are the Indian and Indonesian Navies and some survey companies. Universities use Trisponder for teaching hydro navigation and survey techniques.
“We still hold very many spares and can totally support all of the Del Norte Inc products,” said Smith. “The most interesting point is that many systems tried to compete with Trisponder but all came and went. We have units manufactured in 1972 in our workshops that still work as well now as they did when built.”

Del Norte Technology Ltd. looks after 40 U.K. ports for most of their survey equipment needs, as well as the Spanish, Greek and Indian Navies.

“Last year we fitted a dredge in Mozambique with GPS, tide gauge, Hypack survey and DredgePack software, and now have a contract with a Japanese shipbuilding company to fit all the dredging electronics and sensors for another dredge for Mozambique,” he said.

The company acts as agent for a number of other systems for survey and dredging operations, including CSI products such as DGPSMax and Vector receivers, which they have sold many countries, including Nigeria, the Middle East and “a huge number”, according to Smith, in the U.K.
“Customers come to us with a ‘here is what we want to do and here is what we want as an end product’ scenario, and ask us to find the best solution and equipment for them to achieve that.

This includes everything from GPS, side-scan sonar, software from Hypack, sub-bottom profilers and all the computer systems. We also install and train the customer on site as well,” said Smith.

The company has an ISO9001:200 quality system which enables them to quote and supply to MoD departments and port authorities.

Smith’s history with the positioning industry goes back to 1969, when he began working for Decca Navigation Co. Ltd., who marketed Del Norte products – mainly the Trisponder -- doing all the testing and marketing around the world.
Decca was purchased by Racal in 1980, and stopped the marketing and support of Del Norte products. Most navies and many survey companies had purchased the microwave systems that were then only partially supported by Racal and others, said Smith.

He left Racal in 1986 to join Geodata, which was associated with underwater navigation systems and had taken the agency in the U.K. for world wide support of the Del Norte product line. That product line had transformed from being just micro-wave systems to a combination of DGPS and microwave in a ‘one box solution’ system.

These systems gave navies and survey companies the ability to use their old microwave systems combined with GPS. The last of these models was the 1009, which is still in use today.

“There were other fantastic products such as 5012, but it did not have microwave, only GPS and a host of interfacing and logging internally,” said Smith.

He left Geodata in 1987 to set up the U.K. base for Del Norte Technology.

“Del Norte and the Decca systems were great companies to work for and with, and set a lot of the base parameters for current day surveying and dredging operations. It was a privilege to have been associated with both of them. We hope to keep the name running for many years to come,” said Smith. “There is only Neil Carter-Davies and myself now apart from a few consultants world-wide, but it is easy to support such quality products 24/7,” he said.

Abe Ascenzi, who has been with Del Norte for 35 years, will continue as operations manager for Hemisphere Air at the company’s Euless, Texas offices. His career started at Decca in 1973, and he spoke with fondness of his many years in the hydrographic survey industry. Though out of that business now, he thinks he might go over to Houston next May when the hydro survey people hold their annual reunion at the Offshore Technology Conference.

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