The recent focus on port security or the apparent lack of it makes some business leaders uncomfortable, but not Deepak Chopra, chief executive of OSI Systems Inc.
Chopra hopes all the talk about security will lead to talk about the security systems his company sells.
The Hawthorne-based firm provides security and inspection equipment for the healthcare industry and airline passenger screening. But it is OSI's growing cargo and baggage screening division that sits quietly in the middle of the current international debate. The company is the largest supplier of port security systems to the United Arab Emirates, said Peter Kant, vice president of government affairs for OSI's Rapiscan Systems.
"We know very well what the relative security activities are in different countries," Kant said. "One of the things that has been positive out of this whole Dubai ports issue is that a lot of political attention has been focused on what's really going on in port security, and what we are doing in the space."
Rapiscan equipment, which uses X-rays and gamma rays to inspect cargo containers, vehicles and baggage, is being used in about 40 major ports, airports and border crossings worldwide.
The company declined to talk about its biggest port contracts for competitive reasons, but one of its larger installations is at the Hong Kong/China border, where Rapiscan systems can inspect more than 20 container trucks per hour.
Domestically, it provides security equipment to the Port of Baltimore (one of the ports that would have been included in the Dubai Ports World deal), bulk cargo inspection equipment to the Houston Airport System, and is developing a system for border cargo inspection for El Paso, Texas.
The company has been investing heavily over the past couple of years in cargo and baggage security technologies, making acquisitions and developing its own R & D.; It's received tens of millions of dollars in grants from the Department of Homeland Security to develop prototypes and do beta tests.
But despite all of the political attention to port security, the contracts have not yet materialized the company's cargo security division is the only group that has not been profitable for OSI.
"The company has done a lot to position itself for large-scale scanning projects," said Jeff Rosenberg, analyst with William Blair & Co. "But the question is, when does the demand materialize? Those are things they can't control."
OSI's scanning systems are called "non-invasive," because they use techniques like X-ray and Gamma-ray imaging systems, and more advanced techniques involving electronic pulse, and "neutron and diffraction analysis" to detect suspicious cargo rather than opening a container.
As a whole, the company earned $85 million in the quarter ended Dec. 31, generating revenues of $117 million. Chopra said he expects the security division will become profitable by the third quarter ending in March or the fourth quarter ending in June.
"There is a lot of activity going on (in cargo security), but there is no mass deployment yet," Chopra said. "Frankly, everybody else in the world is waiting for the U.S. government to decide what to do."
OSI Systems, with a market capitalization of $378 million, is competing with industrial titan General Electric Co. ($366 billion market cap.) and tech giant L-3 Communications Holdings Inc. ($10 billion market cap) in the cargo and baggage inspection business.
"In no way am I going to say that we're bigger or equal to a GE or an L-3," Chopra said. But the cargo inspection market is very new, he explained, and the cargo divisions at each of the three companies are much closer in size. "We can hold our own," he said.
OSI just announced a contract from United Kingdom-based Manchester Airport Group, to deploy its new hold-baggage screening for the company's four U.K. airports. The contract could be worth up to $40 million, though analysts caution that the product is still in the prototype phase and won't be deployed until 2008.
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