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New owner hopes to turn page for Kirtas

Kirtas TechnolgyKirtas Technologies once looked to be on the verge of something big.

In 2006, the Victor book digitization company signed a contract with Microsoft Corp when the software giant sought to create a vast digital library to rival Google Books. Within a couple of years, Kirtas’ headcount went from a couple dozen to nearly 150 as revenues skyrocketed. Then, that same year, Microsoft pulled the plug on its Live Search Books project, sending Kirtas into a tailspin that its new owner hopes to reverse.

Canadian document scanner distributor Ristech Co.closed on Kirtas at the end of October. Financial terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.

Ristech CEO Robb Richardson said the company will continue to distribute Kirtas gear, such as its line of Kabis book scanners, as well as scanning equipment from other manufacturers. “We were their first international reseller and we’ve always liked the products and done well with them,” he said.

But Ristech hopes to integrate higher-end optics into Kirtas machinery, already made to handle high volumes and fast scanning speeds, Richardson said.

“We can leverage both our workforces and the technology itself,” he said. “We can put higher-end archival digitization cameras into the production devices. (Previously), it was always a trade-off. If we can integrate the two technologies and get it into production-type speeds, it’ll open up a whole new market.”

The company hopes to get new Kirtas products on the market by the second quarter of 2015, aimed at such potential buyers as federal and state archives, national libraries, and “anyone with rare and unique collections,” Richardson said.

“A lot of these collections. they don’t want people to touch them because they’ll deteriorate,” he said. “The problem is, they can’t share the knowledge. These scanners are able to unlock and share with researchers and archivists.”

Ristech also plans to keep Kirtas and its small manufacturing operation in Victor, he said: “We have no intention of moving that. It’s close and the expertise level in manufacturing is there. We’re going to go where the personnel and the expertise is, and that’s in your backyard.”

Ristech bought Kirtas from French scanner maker i2S, which bought it in 2011 as it looked to get into the United States market. But i2S decided to divest itself of Kirtas earlier this year, at the same time Ristech was talking to it about distributing some i2S product in North America. Today, Kirtas employs about 10, Richardson said.

“Throughout the years it’s really been dwindling,” he said. “It’s been downsized quite a bit. We’re trying to open up new markets. We’re trying to catch a wave here. When we can get some production ... it’s going to open up a lot of doors.”