Category Archives: Research & Innovation

Go-to-market research for new agriculture product

Researchers Christine George and Derek Schulze with AETIC are shown evaluating the performance of hydrangeas at Kamps Hydrangea farm in Vineland. These blue-flagged hydrangeas have been amended with varying levels of zeolite as part of a trial with International Zeolite Corp. 

Zeolite is one of nature’s more multifaceted minerals. With its microporous honeycomb structure, the volcanic mineral acts as both a natural filter used in water and air purification and an absorbent utilized by the agriculture industry to modulate water and nutrients.

Toronto-based International Zeolite Corp., which operates its own zeolite mine in British Columbia, is a supplier and marketer of natural zeolite and zeolite-infused products for environmental, livestock and agriculture industries.

International Zeolite’s newest venture entails creating a Canadian and North American market for the Cuban product Nerea, a proprietary, environmentally friendly technology that embeds nutrients directly into the zeolite. According to the University of Havana Foundation research, when used as a substrate or a soil amendment in agriculture, Nerea produces higher yields of crops and uses less water.

The company has partnered with Niagara College’s Research & Innovation division to conduct two equally significant research projects. One project comprises a comprehensive market analysis of the greenhouse environment in Canada to determine the industry where Nerea fits best. The other involves hands-on trials to test and validate the product’s technical performance.

“The challenges are to verify that the benefits obtained in Cuba can be replicated in Canadian conditions,” explains Ray Paquette, CEO, International Zeolite, “and also to determine how to promote commercial adoption of Nerea-based substrates and soil-based media.”

If validated, Paquette says the benefit to southern Ontario is that growers will gain access to an innovative technology that substantially improves greenhouse production systems’ environmental performance while enabling yields and costs of production that are competitive with existing production systems.

“Working with the Business & Commercialization research team has been both a pleasure and professional. The team was great, and their market research report is a valued guideline.”
~ Ray Paquette, International Zeolite

In addition to potentially contributing to enhanced plant productivity, and therefore grower profitability, Nerea differs from conventional greenhouse hydroponic systems, says Paquette, in that the plants access the nutrients and water only as they are required, rather than continual cycling of soluble nutrients.

“This product has significant potential to improve greenhouse agriculture in southern Ontario in the production of vegetables, berries and floriculture,” adds Paquette.

Researchers from R&I’s Business & Commercialization Solutions (BCS) team took up the challenge of understanding the markets and analyze where the company could potentially focus on commercialization.

Throughout the project, the BCS team performed comprehensive research on a number of markets in the Canadian greenhouse industry: horticulture, floriculture, organic, tropical plant and vertical indoor farm production.

The research experts also provided an extensive breakdown of the substrate industry, including the materials used in substrates, their various properties and common uses. An analysis of the COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on these industries was completed to better understand relevant trends in the industry.

Results of the market research suggest Nerea would be an ideal candidate for growing lettuce in the greenhouse hydroponic market, a soil amendment within the horticultural industry, and also as a retail plant or home-growing solution.

“Working with the Business & Commercialization research team has been both a pleasure and professional,” says Paquette. “The team was great, and their market research report is a valued guideline.”

International Zeolite is also currently engaged with R&I’s Agriculture & Environmental Technologies Innovation Centre for an applied research project to conduct trials of Nerea.

Both projects have received funding through the Niagara College-led Greenhouse Technology Network (GTN), through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario).

To learn more about the capabilities offered by the Business & Commercialization Solutions team or discover how initial feasibility research is helpful before engaging with Research & Innovation for applied research projects, visit the website.

Salon business achieves new revenue stream

Salon owner Paola Girotti still finds it emotional to talk about the early days of the pandemic. Specifically, the point when she knew everything had changed and her business faced a long road of lockdowns.

Girotti has operated the Toronto-based SugarMoon Salon for more than 20 years. With three locations, the business offers their clientele body sugaring, skin care and spray tanning. The business model was successful and by January 2020, Girotti’s company – a living wage employer with dedicated staff – had big plans in the works for franchising the business within Canada and the United States.

That all changed in the spring of 2020 when it gradually became clear to Girotti that her business would likely never be the same.

“We had to unwind our mindset because we went from building an entire franchise model to, ‘How can we support ourselves?'”
– Paola Girotti, SugarMoon Salon

“We went from preparing for a franchise expansion to me writing records of employment for my staff,” Girotti explains, visibly choked up. “We had to unwind our mindset because we went from building an entire franchise model to, ‘How can we support ourselves?’”

While it was a difficult time, Girotti says that things started to turn the corner when she decided to make a drastic pivot. In the face of continued lockdowns, in which her salon could not accept in-person clientele, Girotti decided to bring her sugaring products and skin care line directly to people’s homes.

Ultimately, the one thing that offered optimism for the future, she says, was working on a plan for this new revenue stream with Niagara College’s Business & Commercialization Solutions (BCS) team, part of the Research & Innovation division.

 

 

“Working with the research team kept us hopeful,” says Girotti. “And it kept us committed because we knew we could learn how to take this product to a new level.”

The Sugaring Take Home Kit includes everything used by professionals but is made easy to use at home. Sugaring is different than hair waxing in that it is made with all-natural sugar, water and lemon juice and is much gentler on the skin for hair removal.

Even though the business already had developed at-home kits, they needed a better understanding of this new market and who and how to target this market. They also needed in-depth knowledge of navigating the world of social media and online sales, says Cailey Ward, the salon’s marketing manager.

“We went to school to learn how to take care of people, not about social media; that’s really a specialized skill and it’s prohibitively expensive to pay for that expertise.”

The research team at BCS conducted an environmental scan to uncover key trends of the hair removal industry, looking at consumer perceptions and hesitations. They then did a comprehensive competitive analysis, target market identification and outlined potential markets in both business-to-business and business-to-consumer channels and their behaviours.

“We learned an exceptional amount from the Niagara College team. The research was invaluable to a small business like ours.”
– Cailey Ward, SugarMoon Salon

In a final report, researchers presented the company with a range of promotion strategies on how to best reach the identified target markets. A detailed understanding of social media strategies and how to successfully execute these campaigns were shared, along with branding and distribution ideas.

As part of the recommendation, SugarMoon has since implemented a separate e-commerce-based website to sell the at-home boxed kits, along with skin and body care products.

“We learned a lot about how people behave online,” explains Ward. “The team strongly suggested we have a stand-alone Instagram account, to complement our website, and we are so glad we followed that advice.

“We learned an exceptional amount from the Niagara College team. The research was invaluable to a small business like ours.”

Today, SugarMoon Salon is in the process of opening a fourth location, in Girotti’s hometown of Thorold. As more revenue from this new location streams in, the goal is to expand their online store and incorporate more key strategies outlined in the BCS report.

“We are so grateful for Niagara College’s help… we would work with them again in a heartbeat,” adds Girotti.

Alongside providing essential assistance to a small business, the research project also provided practical, real-world experience for the business research assistants with BCS, whose hours were funded through the RBC Future Launch program –a $500-million Canadian initiative aimed at helping young people access meaningful employment through practical work experience, skills development, networking and access to mental well-being supports and services. 

Through the BCS at Niagara College, the RBC Future Launch program is being used to connect students with businesses who require support for market research, go-to-market strategies and steer or creatively pivot their business model.

Kaitlyn Jonker, a former research assistant with BCS, credits working on research projects like these with helping her become career ready. The 2021 graduate of NC’s Business – Sales & Marketing program was recently hired locally as a sales & marketing representative at Martek Supply.

“It was working on projects like SugarMoon that provided me with the knowledge and experience that I take with me into my new career,” says Jonker, who was on the research team providing market research and promotions strategies for the business.

“For me, the Research & Innovation centre at Niagara College was a foundational part of my college career,” adds Jonker. “It helped me gain personal confidence in my abilities, while learning new skillsets that will benefit me in my future endeavours.”

To discover if your business could be a candidate to receive assistance from the research students at Business & Commercialization Solutions through the RBC Future Launch program, contact project manager Paula Reile at [email protected]

To learn more about the capabilities offered by the Business & Commercialization Solutions team or discover how initial feasibility research is helpful before engaging with Research & Innovation for applied research projects, visit the website.

 

Partnering with Research & Innovation on Applied Research Projects

Niagara College’s Research & Innovation division is currently offering small- and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) a way to advance their product development, improve their performance or take an innovative leap forward, thanks to government funding from various sources, and service opportunities available with our Innovation Centres.

These FAQs may help answer some questions about how we engage with industry: 

 

Who is involved?

Niagara College works with companies from key sectors to access college resources to facilitate research projects in food and beverage; advanced manufacturing; agriculture/greenhouse and environmental technologies; and business & commercialization.

What is involved?

Small- to medium-sized businesses (SMEs) partner with our research teams of students, graduates and expert faculty, to:

  • •  develop new prototypes, products, process
  • •  improve manufacturing production processes
  • •  assist with design & creation of technology applications (Internet of Things, Industry 4.0)
  • •  increase food safety & explore shelf-life extension technologies
  • •  bring products closer to market
  • •  enhance greenhouse operations
  • •  advance horticultural practices
  • •  gain market research, marketing plans and/or social media plans

Visit the web pages of our innovation centres to learn what we do in each area:

What are the results?

Industry partners take away new prototypes; products; processes; and test results that validate their products and services, bringing them ever closer to market.

Who owns the IP developed?

In all cases, the intellectual property developed during the project belongs to the partner.

Do these projects cost anything to the SME?

It depends on the funding being leveraged, but there is usually a requirement for some cash and/or in-kind contribution from the partner company. For example, the in-kind contribution can be equipment, use of company facilities, or time from company experts. Part of the in-kind commitment is the involvement of staff from the company in the project to ensure thoughtful communication throughout the project and facilitate the transfer of technology at the end.

What programs are available now?

Our research teams of students, graduates and expert faculty are either working in labs or on-campus – following health and safety protocols – or working remotely on R&I applied research and technical services. 

We are still available to speak with you about your potential project ideas, and how we may be able to put our research centres to work as partners in solving your applied research challenges. For information on current opportunities for those projects can be found here. 

How can I learn more?

Visit ncinnovation.ca, or contact Elizabeth Best, Business Development Coordinator: [email protected]

Celebrating the Class of 2021

What an exciting time! This week, during the Spring Virtual Convocation ceremonies, we have the honour of celebrating all graduating Niagara College students. I’d like to give special recognition to those, from a variety of Niagara College programs, who have spent part of their journey with us at Research & Innovation, whether as junior or senior co-op students or part-time research assistants. Some of you were able to work in labs on campus, following health and safety protocols, while others were able to work on projects with R&I remotely from your homes.

R&I graduates, we are especially proud of the resiliency you have shown during this past year, as you shifted to a new College life. We are grateful to you for having enriched our lives, while also helping our community businesses thrive. It has been our privilege to watch you grow, both personally and professionally. Wishing you all success for a healthy and prosperous future.

Krystle Grimaldi
Director, Research & Innovation

 

Research & Innovation congratulates our graduates for Spring 2021:

 

Business – Sales & Marketing

Kaitlyn Jonker

International Business Management

Roger De Oliviera Prado

Honours Bachelor of Business Administration (International Commerce & Global Development

Angela Walsh

Computer Programmer Analyst (Co-op)

Brian Culp
Max Cashmore
Nate Spilka
Scott Stratton

Computer Programmer

Bruno Vidal
Danylo Kukanov
Fabio Lopes
Felix Pozojevic
Priya Kaur

Culinary Innovation & Food Technology

Chloe Huang
Thao Nguyen

Brewmaster & Brewery Operations Management

Geoffrey McLellan
Ricardo De Araujo

Mechanical Engineering Technology (Co-op)

Scott Leuty

 

Program opens doors to Technology Access

After developing an innovative dental tool, equipped with LED lighting to increase visibility for dental professionals, Kerber Applied Research hit a roadblock. The company needed to have prototypes printed for trial, but their in-house technology was not capable of 3D printing high-quality plastics using high temperature – a requisite in order to withstand a disinfection autoclave.

Through project funding, president Tom Kerber enlisted the help of the engineering experts at the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre (WAMIC) at Niagara College. The WAMIC team used CAD-based software to design the device for injection molding, while maintaining important geometry found in the original model.

“It would not have been possible for me to run the initial trials without a very nice-looking plastic part that can withstand the disinfection process,” said Kerber.

The project funding that Kerber utilized was through the Technology Access Centre (TAC) at WAMIC, located at the Welland campus. WAMIC is one of two TACs at the College – the other is at the Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) Innovation Centre, located at the Daniel J. Patterson campus in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

The two TACs are part of a larger, national network called Tech-Access Canada, which links 60 TACs housed at colleges or cégeps and funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). TACs provide access to specialized technology, equipment, and expertise to local industry – particularly small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) – with the goal of enhancing their productivity and innovation.

Tech-Access Canada has been overseeing the offering of funding to TACs, through the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC-IRAP), for Interactive Visits (IVs). These IVs provide up to 20 hours of access to equipment, facilities and expertise of a TAC to solve a specific business or technical challenge for a qualifying SME.

At WAMIC, this includes access to leading-edge 3D and metrology technologies and expertise in product design and development, reverse engineering and process improvement.

“It would not have been possible for me to run the initial trials without a very nice-looking part that can withstand the disinfection process.”

~ Tom Kerber, president, Kerber Applied Research

Kerber Applied Research is one of 22 companies who in 2020 leveraged the benefits of NRC-IRAP’s Interactive Visits program at WAMIC’s TAC.

And there’s positive news for SMEs this year after the federal government announced support in its Budget 2021, providing for $5.7 million over two years for more businesses to access funding for Interactive Visits at TACs across the country.

The increased funding investment is also exciting for SMEs seeking food and beverage assistance at NC’s TAC at the CFWI Innovation Centre, also home to the Beverage Centre of Excellence.

Innovators in the food and beverage sector have access to the state-of-the-market technology and equipment, as well as a multi-disciplinary expert team to help advance their products, processes and service at the Centre – at the same time offer experiential learning opportunities for students.

Within the NRC-IRAP Interactive Visits program, the research team at the CFWI Innovation Centre has expertise for everything from initial business/competitive intelligence, to risk assessment, regulatory assistance, formulation and product development, food safety and analytics, productivity improvement and shelf-life testing.

Family-run Entomo Farms has grown to become North America’s largest farm raising crickets for human consumption. While they had a thriving cricket product line, the company had a challenge with the production of their popular line of flavoured whole roasted crickets.

Entomo Farms partnered with the food scientists at the CFWI Innovation Centre to help with methodology and to develop a more effective process to adhere seasoning blends to the roasted crickets that would not impede the absorption of flavours. The project received funding through the NRC-IRAP Interactive Visits program.

~ These Interactive Visits provide up to 20 hours of access to equipment, facilities and expertise of a TAC to solve a specific business or technical challenge for a qualifying SME. ~

“Crickets are still very new as a food, so there aren’t many professionals who have worked with them. We look for research partners who aren’t afraid to take on something unknown and who love to think creatively when the usual approaches don’t work,” said Kelly Hagen, Entomo Farms’ chief operating officer.

 “The team definitely proved themselves with this project, finding a superior solution that no one had thought of at the beginning. They took the time to understand our needs and our constraints and worked closely with us to find a great answer,” she added.

Companies that work with the TACs benefit from flexible intellectual property (IP) and receive assistance in de-risking the financial investment required when taking on applied research projects.

For information on the full suite of services at the CFWI Innovation Centre, visit their website. And to discover the manufacturing solutions at WAMIC, visit their website.

To discuss funding opportunities and how you can partner with the Research & Innovation division, contact Elizabeth Best, business development coordinator at [email protected].

Expert analysis probes bottle tolerance issues

Brock Husak, laboratory technician at WAMIC, uses a FARO ScanArm to 3D scan the neck of a suspect bottle for Arterra Wines.

Brock Husak, laboratory technician at WAMIC, uses a FARO ScanArm to 3D scan the neck of a suspect bottle for Arterra Wines. Once scanned, the research experts used Polyworks Inspect and Autodesk Inventor to create a colourized surface deviation map.

With roots in the Niagara region for more than 140 years, Arterra Wines Canada is now the country’s largest wine company, with 100 wine brands. Likewise, its Niagara Falls winery is the largest countrywide.

As expected, the company uses plenty of bottles. Indeed, the main production line at Arterra’s Niagara Falls facility can fill and cap up to 200 bottles per minute when operations are going well.

Most modern products get capped with a ROPP (Roll-On-Pilfer-Proof) aluminum cap, says Arterra project engineer James Stokes.

“These fresh, undeformed caps are added to the bottle immediately after filling and then rolled to take the shape of the bottle (top form, threads, and tuck) by the capping machine.”

Sometimes, however, the caps do not go on smoothly, get damaged, or “spin” or “slip off” when removed instead of breaking at the designated perforations. These defects, says Stokes, are usually a result of one of three factors: The machine, the cap or the glass bottle.

Arterra was interested in exploring the glass bottle after experiencing variations when caps were applied on the bottling line. While the variations were minor enough not to be seen with the naked eye, it also makes things difficult to measure, explains Stokes.

The company had specs and drawings for the closure geometry on the top of the bottle, however needed an independent assessment to establish if the suspect bottles were out of tolerance.

Arterra engaged with the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre’s (WAMIC) Technology Access Centre (TAC) for their technology and expertise to perform the measurement and generate a deviation report.

“WAMIC was engaged due to their ability to 3D scan in great detail the features of the glass bottle, comparing the bottle to the design drawings,” says Stokes. “This would allow Arterra to better understand the variability of the glass and rule out the bottle during this particular quality issue.”

“Through the Centre, we had access to modern technology we had not used before, and most of our team was not even aware of. It was local, quick and affordable.”
~ James Stokes, project engineer, Arterra Wines Canada

Inside the WAMIC research lab, the FARO EDGE ScanArm, in conjunction with Polyworks Inspect alongside Autodesk Inventor, was used to 3D scan the necks of the suspect bottles, says Dave McKechnie, research laboratory technologist and expert in the specialized software.

“I used Inventor to model the nominal – or ideally perfect – bottleneck from engineered detail drawings provided by Arterra,” explains McKechnie. “This gave us a theoretically perfect reference to which we could compare the scanned bottlenecks against.”

The scans were superimposed onto the nominal model, and a colourized surface deviation map was generated with a tolerance-colour scale directly on the surface of the model. The purpose, says McKechnie, was to highlight areas that are high or low on the scanned bottles’ surface compared to the nominal bottle surface.

These maps offered Arterra’s team an understanding of the differences between bottles, and around the circumference of a single bottle, on several key dimensions, impacting the closure application.

While WAMIC’s results from the study concluded the glass bottles to be consistent with the nominal model, it was an essential elimination of a possible cause from Arterra’s investigation.

“We at Arterra found the process of working with WAMIC to be quite beneficial. The staff were easy to deal with, extremely knowledgeable and competent,” adds Stokes. “Through the Centre, we had access to modern technology we had not used before, and most of our team was not even aware of. It was local, quick and affordable.”

This project was made possible through the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC-IRAP) – Interactive Visits, which provides up to 20 hours of access to the equipment, facilities, and expertise of a Technology Access Centre to solve a specific business or technical challenge.

This is one example of the types of technical services offered by the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre at Niagara College. To discover other resources and capabilities, visit the website.