Category Archives: Research & Innovation

New Research Project Manager plants roots in Niagara

Kimberley Cathline is the new Research Project Manager of the Agriculture & Environmental Technologies Innovation Centre (AETIC).

Like two sides of the same coin, agriculture researcher Kimberley Cathline has always been captured by both the science and the artistic beauty of plant life. Take the orchid, for example. A favourite flower of hers, it’s an exquisite display of precision and grown with great patience.

While she was always drawn to the natural world, for her it’s the fusion of aesthetics and the pursuit of how it all works on a molecular level that keeps her enchanted. 

“I find it amazing to see the intricate design woven into how plants operate. Everything is coordinated and operates in beautiful harmony,” she explains. “It’s fantastic to see the order of things and to understand and analyze the amazing systems within the organism.”

It’s this creative curiosity, along with plenty of experience, that she brings to her role at Niagara College as the new Research Project Manager of the Agriculture & Environmental Technologies Innovation Centre (AETIC). There, she oversees projects in the areas of precision agriculture technology, environmental technology, horticultural practices, and greenhouse research.

“I am excited to be working with the team at R&I and AETIC. We have a number of fantastic projects that we’re working on in precision agriculture technologies and environmental technologies,” she says. “I hope to continue to build our research portfolio in greenhouse and horticulture and I’m excited about the team’s investigation into historic climate data and its application in looking at the suitability of crops and different plants to specific growing areas in the province.”

Part of that investigation includes technologies such as artificial intelligence, geo-mapping, data science, and yield monitors. All these technologies help AETIC to assist current and new industry partnerships in agri-food sectors, such as grain, hazelnut, and grape and wine.

She notes the significant research being done with Ferrero, makers of Nutella and Ferrero Rocher. The Italian confectioner has been seeking out areas in Ontario to grow some 20,000 acres of hazelnuts. Her team is gathering far-ranging weather and historical growing data in order to predict future climate changes and growth sustainability of the trees for potential hazelnut farmers.

The Innovation Centre is also utilizing agriculture robotics technology, with its AI drones and a new remotely operated land rover, called RoamIO Jumbo, which is equipped with GPS navigation capability and visual image-capturing cameras in order to help farmers by observing or identifying diseases early.

I’m excited about the team’s investigation into historic climate data and its application in looking at the suitability of crops and different plants to specific growing areas in the province.”

Kimberley is excited to manage these projects, and to put her educational background to work for AETIC. She holds a BSc (Hon. with Distinction) in Plant Biology from the University of Guelph (2002) and an MSc in Biological Sciences, specializing in Plant Sciences, from Brock University (2017). She also has 15 years’ experience in applied agriculture research, much of it in viticulture science.

She was first introduced to the world of wine after being persuaded to leave her Barrie, Ontario roots for a Staff Research Associate position at the University of California, Davis, one of the world’s leading cross-disciplinary research and teaching institutions. They needed someone with a strong background and understanding of plant biology that could be applied to research with grapes.

Not surprisingly, to offset the science in the lab, in her spare time, Kimberley took part in a part-time internship for an event planner, doing floral design. “It was great to flex my creative side as well as my scientific side.”

While in California she met her husband, a Chilean on a tennis scholarship, who was pursuing a business degree. They married there and share a daughter together. When permanent residency was not an option for the couple, they headed back to Canada in 2013, she accepting a Senior Research Technician position at the Vineland Research & Innovation Centre, and he as Tennis Coach (and later Director) at The Club at White Oaks Conference Resort.

While working full time, Kimberley earned her Masters degree from Brock (finishing at the top of her class), where she studied gene transcripts that are produced by grapes during the appassimento drying process, prior to winemaking.

After spending several years in applied horticulture research at Vineland and then serving as Manager, Special Projects for the Department of Strategic Planning and Research Management, Kimberley was promoted to assume the portfolio of Corporate Secretary responsibilities in 2018, ensuring compliance and facilitating regulatory governance. She was recently certified as a Governance Professional of Canada.

But she still had the call of learning more and putting that research into action. “I’m drawn to applied research because I get to see the immediate impact of solving industry problems – real-world problems,” she says of her decision to make NC her new home.

She will be overseeing a team of 13, including computer programming, data analysis, electronics, robotics, horticulture, greenhouse, and geospatial information systems GIS) students, and recent graduates, as well as research experts and faculty in environmental and horticulture programs. Given the breadth of research projects at both campuses, Kimberley will split her time between Welland and Niagara-on-the-Lake.

These days, newly living in Fonthill, Kimberley and her daughter are involved in a special volunteer activity called Lunch Angels – Community Crew, through her church. The duo helps to write and decorate hundreds of custom inspirational notes that are attached to the lunch bags for each child at participating schools.

“It’s so wonderful; I had wanted my daughter to volunteer in some way, but at eight years old, it’s difficult to know what to do,” she says. “This way she and I go one night every other week and she gets to provide personalized messages for other children to brighten their day during lunch.”

And while her husband is a professional tennis coach and she did try her hand at the game early on in their relationship, she never took to actually playing the sport. However, she did discover a passion as a spectator.

“I had never given tennis a second glance before meeting my husband. Now we watch it together and love going to see it live,” she adds. “When we retire we would like to travel around the world watching tennis tournaments and all the Grand Slams.”

For now, she’s looking forward to picking out the perfect orchids to decorate her new office space.

College Voucher for E-Technology Adoption (CVTA) program now available

Niagara College’s Research & Innovation division is set to offer small- and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) a way to advance their product development, improve their performance or take an innovative leap forward, through the province’s College Voucher for Technology Adoption (CVTA) program.

Thanks to a $210,000 grant from the Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE), the College will provide vouchers to 25 companies to help solve their innovation challenges related to technology adoption, in the sectors of advanced manufacturing, food and beverage, and agriculture environmental technologies.

Businesses will work with expert faculty, students, and researchers from NC’s three Innovation Centres to access resources to address technology and innovation challenges. As a result of this opportunity, industry partners will acquire new prototypes, products, processes, and test results that validate their products and services, bringing them closer to market. Companies accessing these resources at Niagara College will be required to match OCE funds, at least 1:1, with a combination of cash and in-kind.

Niagara College has a proven track record managing these project partnerships with SMEs.

Over the past two years, the R&I division has successfully completed 23 technology-adoption projects, where both SMEs and NC students benefitted. This was demonstrated last year when the research team at the Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) Innovation Centre helped sugar-conscious dessert company Bald Baker to extend the shelf life, and optimize and scale-up their two cookie products in order to commercialize them into a larger market.

Since the project, Bald Baker is now on the shelves of Ontario health food markets, with Sobey’s grocery chain on the horizon. The company was also able to “significantly improve” their understanding of product development and production processes.

“Business has been really good this year so far,” says owner Dan Sennet. “Lots of growth and lots of interest from larger, more national retailers.”

Other examples of previous CVTA industry partnerships include enhancing renewable energy research, strategic marketing analysis, advancing horticultural practices, and food safety and quality assurance.

“By working with Niagara College, and thanks to funding by the OCE, we were able to receive excellent marketing information that would have taken our in-house staff six months to compile. We appreciate the ability to move forward with this project in an accelerated fashion.” 
– Jane Lockard, National Records Management

Within the CVTA program, some technology adoption projects can be incorporated into existing college programs such as Culinary Innovation Food Technology; Electronics or Mechanical Engineering; Greenhouse Technician; Industrial Automation; and Renewable Energies Technician, where students will work with their course faculty and industry partner to address the specialized challenge.

Others will require the facilities and researcher expertise of NC’s three Innovation Centres, such as the Agriculture & Environmental Technologies Innovation Centre, where the focus is on developing remote and real-time sensing and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) data-processing technologies to support precision agriculture. The centre is also home to a 20,000 sq. ft. on-campus greenhouse accessible to companies looking to work on horticultural or greenhouse management projects.

The CFWI Innovation Centre houses a suite of food technology labs to support culinary industry innovation from recipe development to shelf-life testing, and nutritional labelling. The centre also works collaboratively with the College’s craft brewery, winery, 40-acre on-campus vineyard, and the new artisan distillery.

Specializing in engineering design, 3D technologies, lean manufacturing processes, and additive manufacturing, the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre is home to Canada’s first 2nd generation Fortus 900 3D printer. The applied manufacturing research space also houses a full suite of 3D scanning, designing, and printing technologies.

For more information about the funding program, including details for companies interested in partnering with the Research & Innovation team, contact Elizabeth Best at ebest@niagaracollege.ca or 905-641-2252, ext. 4287.

Where Are They Now?: Brian Cunningham

 

Brian Cunningham graduated from the Electrical Engineering Technology (Co-op) program in 2018. He spent two years working on Research & Innovation’s Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre team as a Research Assistant. Brian began his new role as Engineering Technician in February 2019 at Cimcorp Automation, a global supplier of intralogistics automation.

Tell us a little about where you work:

Cimcorp Automation is a manufacturer and integrator of pioneering material handling systems for the tire industry that has developed unique robotic solutions for order fulfillment and storage. These solutions are being used in the food & beverage, retail, e-commerce, fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG), and postal service sectors.

Describe your role and what you like about it:

Currently, I am assisting in coordinating new resource management software for internal company use. My main responsibilities regarding this software include maintaining our large catalog of design and commercial parts, as well as providing training to engineering designers to allow them to utilize our new software for a number of engineering processes.

As we transition into this new software, I have also been taking on challenges with troubleshooting some of our smaller automated robots. This has led me to work with and testing servo motors and servo drives, as well as various battery and battery management technologies. 

How has your experience with Research & Innovation helped prepare you for your current role?

Much of my time at Research & Innovation was spent developing automated systems. This included programming PLCs and microcontrollers. I also worked on some electrical panel design, wiring prototypes, as well as designing and assembling printed circuit boards. 

I believe these experiences, that I enjoyed so much, led me directly into a career in the material handling industry. My constant exposure to electrical design as well as different advanced manufacturing processes has also allowed me to easily communicate between both electrical and mechanical designers to address their concerns, as we continue to roll out our new resource management software being used by our employees.

A memorable applied research project during your time at R&I?

The Grimo nut project was my first and most memorable project I was able to be part of at Research & Innovation. Grimo Nut Nursery breeds a walnut variation known as the heartnut, which is popular because of its heart-shaped shell. The nuts had to be cracked by hand using a hammer in order to keep the shell intact and the industry partner needed an automated solution for cracking.

Our team developed a proof-of-concept machine that employs pneumatics for quick feeding and positioning of the heartnut, a programmable logic control (PLC) system to control and fine-tune all of the operations on this machine, and a proprietary nut-cracking chamber. It was my first experience with PLC programming, and was one of the more intricate and complex projects that research had taken on at the time. It really challenged me and the rest of the design team to think outside the box.

What led you to Niagara College in the first place?

I knew I wanted to get into engineering and was looking for something a little more applied. My program at Niagara College offered courses that spent large portions of class time in the labs. Small class sizes also allowed students to get plenty of one-on-one time with professors.

“If you can show that you are able to recognize mistakes – correct them, learn from them, and self-regulate – you can make yourself a very valuable asset within your workplace.”

Most memorable experience at NC?

Being able to participate in open house events at NC was always a great experience. It gave me the chance to highlight the potential opportunities that await those who are interested in the Engineering faculty as well as Research & Innovation at Niagara College.

I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to learn and grow during my time at NC and Research & Innovation, and it would be an incredible disservice to potential students and program applicants if they were not made aware of these potential opportunities that await them. Whether I was giving a presentation or providing a group with a tour of the research lab, I’ve always seen it as a way of paying it forward and hopefully inspiring future students to realize their full potential at NC.

A faculty member who influenced you?

There isn’t one particular faculty member that had an influence on me, because they all did! Every one of my teachers had something different to bring to the table; they all had different experiences that they could draw from to supplement the content taught in the classroom. So without making the list too long, I want to say thanks to Paul Jiankos, Fred Graham, Paul Kendrick, Sarah Rouillier, and Mike van den Bogerd for making #myncstory a memorable one!

A mentor at R&I?

Again, there are almost too many people to list. If I had to pick, my Project Leads Gord Maretzki and Al Spence were able to provide me with literally decades of industry experience expertise between the two of them. They always encouraged me to think outside the box and to continually hold my work to the highest standard. Their experience in automation and robotics certainly played a role in the career I find myself in today.

Big shout out to Jim Lambert, Gord Koslowski, Carolyn Mullin and Marc Nantel for bringing me along to countless trade shows, research symposiums, and showcases. Thank you for pulling me out of my comfort zone allowing me to show faculty, local business owners, industry professionals, and even members of parliament what Niagara College Research & Innovation is really all about.

What advice would you impart on current research students or future alumni?

Don’t let uncertainty stop you from doing anything. In research, when we’re uncertain of what’s going to happen, we try it out ourselves to find out! The worst possible thing that could happen in the end is you learn something, and you’ll only be better because of it. 

After being in the workforce, what have you learned?

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes when you’re just starting out. That’s not to say you shouldn’t hold yourself to a high standard (because you should!), but employers recognize there is a learning curve to their processes and methods of operation. If you can show that you are able to recognize mistakes, correct them, learn from them, and self-regulate, you can make yourself a very valuable asset within your workplace. 

Proudest achievement since graduating?

Starting my career! It’s really encouraging to see all of my hard work beginning to pay off.

Interests outside of work?

In the summer months, I usually like to get out on my bike when I’m not playing on one of my slo-pitch softball teams. In the winter when the weather’s not great I’ll work on designing and building audio equipment for my home setup. My drums get played year round!

If you could have a billboard message seen by many, what would it say?

Check out Taylor Wallace & Patch Bay (my band) on Soundcloud!

https://soundcloud.com/user-618944530

De-risking in the digital space: A Niagara College – Steelcon partnership

Niagara College’s research team utilized 3D laser spatial scanning technology to create a three-dimensional image of all surroundings (left image), in order for SIN Structures to precisely plan for the installation of its massive new SIN Beam line (right image).

It was major news this past December when Steelcon Fabrication Inc. — a Brampton-based structural steel company — announced a $40 million investment into a St. Catharines facility, along with the creation of up to 100 new high-skilled jobs.

The new Garden City location is part of Steelcon’s expansion of its revolutionary SIN-Beam line — an innovation that produces construction beams that are lighter, using less steel than conventional wide flange beams. When they needed precise logistical expertise in installing this massive fabrication line, they turned to Niagara College’s Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre (WAMIC) and its 3D spatial scanning technology.

Installing the robotic SIN-beam assembler/welder — machinery that took 11 large shipping containers to transport — came with complex hurdles, explained Fabian Hoggard, general manager of SIN Structures, the company incorporated by Steelcon to operate the day-to-day manufacturing at the Grantham Avenue location.

At 250 feet long and 29 feet wide, the automated production line had to fit inside a 500 ft-long, 30 ft-wide bay, and still have enough room to store raw materials and finished product. SIN Structures also had to design and incorporate material handling equipment to maneuver the 50-ft x 5-ft steel beams, once manufactured, through a 20-ft opening between columns, into an adjacent bay for processing.

Add to that dilemma the variation in floor elevation well beyond the half-inch tolerance of the new 150-ton machinery and a very limited ceiling height.

“We basically had to shoehorn the equipment into a less-than-ideal building envelope,” said Hoggard.

It was crucial for SIN Structures to have precise measurements to plan and coordinate the intricate installation process.

Enter Niagara College and its leading-edge 3D-laser scanning and visualization technology, capturing the dimensional data of the facility to verify various elevations, distances between pieces of equipment, as well as the floor gradient, both accurately and reliably.

 “This technology is able to de-risk the equipment placement by realizing it in the digital space first, before SIN Structures committed to the placement,” explained Jim Lambert, centre manager of WAMIC, part of the College’s Research & Innovation division.

The research team, including staff and a graduate student, utilized its FARO Focus 3D laser scanner inside the facility to create a three-dimensional image of every visible surface, using laser light to measure millions of points, which is then imported into CAD software, said Lambert.

“Having that 3D profile from Niagara College was extremely valuable to see how we could move things in 3D space,” said Hoggard, adding that he hopes to further partner with the College to develop the automated equipment to fully facilitate the movement of the beams to the nearby bay.

The College-Steelcon partnership was made possible through funding from the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC IRAP).

 

Even green screen tech can be improved

Alex Davis, Computer Programming graduate and current Research & Innovation Research Associate helped develop a user-friendly interface for the innovative green screen tracker prototype created by Keyframe Studios in St. Catharines.

When Keyframe Studios, an award-winning animation and visual effects company, created a concept prototype to reduce green-screen post-production compositing time, they needed assistance taking it to the next level, and in making it sophisticated enough to hit the commercial market.

Keyframe Studios’ visual effects division, Krow VFX, is based in St. Catharines and partnered with Niagara College’s Research & Innovation team for their expertise in developing a wireless product. A technology that would lessen the work load for artists trying to track green screen movements that have no valid reference points. In addition to the original X-Men movie and many others, the studio also worked on many television series: Penny Dreadful, Warehouse 13, Expanse, and Altered Carbon to name a few.

Green screen filming in the motion picture industry requires fixed reference points on the green screen in order to synchronize post-production rendering of the background scenes. The reference points allow the software to anchor the backgrounds in reference to the moving actors and foreground elements. While these fixed reference points are sufficient when camera movement is slow, they become blurred and lose registration during accelerated movements.

Krow collaborated with the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre and Digital Media teams at NC to develop a wireless visual effects digital tracking aid prototype using addressable “Blink” LEDs, and a user-friendly interface. Students and staff researchers, from areas such as Electrical Engineering and Computer Programming, created hardware consisting of LED lights that are influenced by an accelerometer and software to control the LED units on or off function.

The program, which controls the wireless green screen reference points, connects with the sensors via a wireless signal and controls the rate of blinks per frame, as well as tracking the location of the camera in reference to those lights. The early proof-of-concept prototype is set up with software in mobile app form and using Bluetooth technology to transmit information to the nodes.

The company is entering into the second phase of the project with the College and will look into finding alternatives to the current technology that will enable faster transfer rates and low latency, explains Clint Green, Co-founder of Krow VFX.

“And there are a variety of functions that we have yet to implement into the software, size and weight issues with the nodes, mounting requirements for the camera base unit and node mounting issues. So as you can imagine, there is still a tremendous amount of work to be done before we can test in real-world conditions. But the prototype is working, so a significant amount of the heavy lifting is behind us.”

No such product currently exists in the market, so the success of this device opens the door for Krow to significantly increase their productivity and create a market with other production companies worldwide.

“Of course we will take advantage and use as part of our on-set package, but eventually we plan rental units and sales,” says Green.

The project was made possible through the Southern Ontario Network for Advanced Manufacturing Innovation (SONAMI), a Niagara College-led consortium funded by the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev).

The team has been great. I am surprised each time I visit how talented and professional the students and staff are,” adds Green. “From day one we felt as if we had engineering partners and that was important to us… our success had to be the college’s success.”

Race car measurement device drives out guesswork

Research Assistant and Mechanical Engineering Technologies (Co-op) student Cedric Malangis-Valdes (bottom left) demonstrates the digital measurement device he helped develop for industry partner Speed Composites. The measurement data is transmitted wirelessly to a tablet or smart phone app (right).

Speed Composites, manufacturers of composite panels for race cars competing at tracks in Canada and the United States, were looking to expand their product line to give an extra edge to competition vehicles, when they landed on an innovative idea. An idea that would help provide precise measurements of a vehicle’s chassis prior to a race.

Competitive racing requires the measurement of the car’s chassis frame to determine optimum adjustment for varying track conditions. So important is it, the chassis set up can mean the difference between winning and losing the race, says Charlie King, president of the Dunnville-based Speed Composites. However, accurate digital measurement equipment is expensive and beyond the budget for most small racing teams, which is why typically a team member would lay on the ground with a tape measure and a flashlight, taking their best guess at frame heights.

With limited experience in electronics or programming of the software/firmware required to bring the product to market, Speed Composites approached Niagara College’s Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre for their expertise to create a wireless laser device that could be adapted for accurate and economical measurement of the chassis frame.

 “Every time a team prepares its cars for an upcoming competition there are a series of adjustments and final checks that they perform, including weight distribution, tire size and pressure, spring compressions, fuel level and chassis height,” explains King, adding each one of these checks is critical and if any measurement is out of range, it would dramatically affect the vehicle’s performance.

“Our proposed solution was a laser sensor that would eliminate incorrect frame height readings,” he says. “Using our device will eliminate this guesswork.”

The project utilized the expertise from student and staff researchers in Mechanical Engineering, Electrical Engineering Design, and Computer Programming to develop a device that can be positioned under the car and the required points of measurement could transmit data wirelessly to a mobile phone app to report the readings.

The research team utilized lasers plus a micro-laser sensor in order to determine the chassis measurements at different specified locations on the car. The device is controlled by a user interface installed on a tablet or a smart phone via a custom app and Bluetooth communications. The app allows display of the recorded data from the sensor as well as being able to save and relay the data to other devices for further use.

The project was made possible through the Southern Ontario Network for Advanced Manufacturing Innovation (SONAMI), a Niagara College-led consortium funded by the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev).

“The College put together a very enthusiastic team to work on this project and produced a working proof of concept that we are continuing to refine before final production,” adds King.