Category Archives: Research & Innovation

Digitizing complex geometries to problem solve

For a company that fabricates glass structures for the high-rise residential and commercial construction industry, having tools and machinery on its production floor up to the task, is critical.

This is certainly the case for BVGlazing Systems Ltd., a major player in this industry. The company was created in 2016 through the merger of Allan Windows Group and Global Architectural metals Group, two dominant forces in the design, manufacture and installation of commercial and residential glazing, cladding, railing, skylight and entry systems in Canada and the United States for the past 60 years.

BVGlazing’s facilities in Niagara Falls and Concord, Ont., produce curtain wall, window wall, doors and railing systems.

When the company had two corner crimping machines in their Concord plant in need of repair, they sought the assistance of the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre (WAMIC) at Niagara College’s Research & Innovation division.

“The parts that came off of the machine were originally cast iron and were cracked and in bad shape,” says Jeremy Pasma, manufacturing engineering manager at BVGlazing. “There were attempts to repair the parts by trying to weld them and bolt extra pieces on, but this was not successful.”

In the fabrication process, crimping machines are used in conjunction with a corner key to crimp the corners on vents and doors to mechanically hold the corners together.

“Normally, I would be able to use CAD software, along with measuring tools to reverse engineer the part, but this top plate was more complex, with a lot of holes and angled faces.”
~ Jeremy Pasma, BVGlazing Systems

The only fix, explains Pasma, was to remake the parts. However, as is often the case with many companies, the company did not have any drawings or 3D models of the part, and therefore did not have a starting point.

“Normally, I would be able to use CAD software, along with measuring tools to reverse engineer the part, but this top plate was more complex, with a lot of holes and angled faces. I decided that a 3D scan would be the best way to produce a 3D file that I would be able to use.”

Pasma is no stranger to the expertise at WAMIC: He employed the technical services of the research engineering team when he needed to rebuild a set of dies for a punch, but again, there were no drawings or 3D files available.

“I was happy with the previous results, so I got them to do my most recent project. They have the right equipment in the Centre to handle this type of work,” notes Pasma.

That equipment is WAMIC’s laser scanning arm, a portable coordinate measuring machine (PCMM) that captures precise measurements with reverse engineering capabilities. The technology is able to digitize complex geometries and create 3D models as future design files.

The research team scanned the cracked part and provided BVGlazing the 3D model, who is now using the 3D file in conjunction with their CAM software to CNC machine a new part.

“Working with the team at the Innovation Centre was excellent. Given that we are currently in a COVID lockdown, the team was still very accommodating,” added Pasma. “If more projects come up in the future that require 3D scanning, the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre will be my go-to for this type of work.”

This is one example of the types of technical services offered by WAMIC’s Technology Access Centre (TAC). Funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and housed at colleges or cégeps across Canada, TACs provide access to specialized technology, equipment, and expertise to local industry – particularly small- and medium-sized enterprises – with the goal of enhancing their productivity and innovation.

Through its TAC, the research team at WAMIC provides small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) access to needed facilities, equipment, funding and technical expertise – including 3D technologies, such as Computer-Aided Design (3D scanning) of objects as small as a dime and as large as a whole factory – and serves to assist them in product development, technology adoption, expansion into new markets and commercialization.

For more information on the array of solutions offered by the technical services at WAMIC, visit the website.

Research assistant builds on knowledge

Ba Binh Luong (pictured) at his workstation and Niagara College

When telecommunications engineer Ba Binh Luong wants to take a break and de-stress from his daily tasks of computer programming, developing software and creating wireless protocols, he turns his attention to researching a diverse range of topics – just for fun.

His curiosity leads him to explore new technologies, big data, cryptocurrency, geography and law. And what is sitting on his nightstand? Introduction to Algorithms, Third Edition, MIT Press.

“I know it is a weird relaxation method, but it is how I unwind my head.”

Luong started with the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre (WAMIC) in November 2020 as a computer programming research assistant. A Niagara College graduate (2021) of Computer Programming, he’s now enrolled in the Industrial Automation program – a one-year graduate certificate – at NC for this fall.

Prior to arriving in Canada to begin his studies, the 33-year-old spent eight years as a telecommunications engineer for Viettel Network, Vietnam’s largest telecommunications company. This after earning a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical, Electronics and Communications Engineering at the Post and Telecommunications Institute of Technology, a university based in his home country of Vietnam. He also specialized in physics at a high school for gifted students. 

While he had a “good career” in Vietnam, he wanted to widen his knowledge in a complementary field and to also lay the groundwork for his goal of obtaining a Master’s degree in computer science.

“All IoT devices have to have software to process data and protocol, and what I have learned in the programming field can help me develop the application for it,” explains Luong. “The evolution of Industry 4.0 and the rapid growth of the Internet of Things (IoT) has changed our world. The core of it all is based on software development, speed of information transmission and big data processing.”

At WAMIC, Luong is receiving real-world experience working on projects for industry partners, including IoT projects, developing software and web services to support device-to-device connection.

“I had the chance to develop embedded software for a microcontroller, a mobile application for smartphones, and conduct research about the protocol for interacting with and controlling electronic devices.”

Currently, he’s working on a project to develop a mobile application for the remote control of a set of wireless IoT devices which are geographically dispersed.

“WAMIC is a great place to apply my knowledge in the real world. Engaging in the workforce definitely helps me to immerse and improve my technical knowledge.”

“I’m working to develop both the mobile application and Web API (Application Protocol Interface) on a server site,” he says, adding that the project interests him because it involves not just software development but also hardware, electrical circuits and IoT.

“WAMIC is a great place to apply my knowledge in the real world. Engaging in the workforce definitely helps me to immerse and improve my technical knowledge,” he says. “I also appreciate all the time I share with the team on my present project.”

One of Luong’s biggest hurdles in making Canada home, he says, has been learning the English language. He spent two years of serious study to reach the standard to apply for a study permit to come to this country and upon arrival he was required to take an eight-month EAP (English for Academic Purposes) program to enhance his skills.

“I have problems with pronunciation and accent, which results in many embarrassing situations,” he says with a laugh. “It is hard to express my ideas or feelings in English, and not everyone has the patience to communicate with me.”

His other challenge has been the restriction to visiting his family (parents and two siblings) back in Vietnam. His plans to visit in July 2020 were thwarted by the global pandemic restrictions.

That said, Luong is accustomed to not seeing his family much over the years. Being from a small rural village, he has had to move away on his own for education in larger cities since the age of 16 – visiting his family only twice a year.

“Thanks to technology, I can make video calls to my family at home and keep in touch closely.”

Meanwhile, he takes pleasure in sharing outdoor activities, like jogging, with his fiancé.

“I enjoy Canada’s natural beauty and have many stories to share with my fiancé when we are out,” he adds. “I believe that jogging has to turn into a habit. It’s not only good for my health but also creates a bond between me and my girl.”

Always a keen student of knowledge, he also plans on learning to swim as soon as his gym reopens.

Hard work pays off for computer programmer graduate

Rafael Almeida sitting at his desk in his new position within Niagara healthcare as a systems administrator.

Rafael de Castro Almeida is a 2018 graduate of Niagara College’s Computer Programming program and was a research assistant with the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre from April 2019 to August 2020. Today, Rafael is a systems administrator with Niagara Health. 

Tell us about where you work:

I was hired in April 2021 as systems administrator for Niagara Health, a regional healthcare provider with multiple sites (including five hospitals), serving the residents of the Niagara region.

Describe your role and what you like about it:

The role of the systems administrator is related to the management of the various systems to support the day-to-day systems operations of the hospital. My responsibility is specifically to administer SharePoint servers, a Microsoft tool that is used at Niagara Health to provide a platform for all intranet websites within the company. In addition, it serves as a collaboration and document management tool, used to spread the news about new procedures inside the organization and share documents securely. 

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

Working at R&I made a huge difference for me for various reasons. Firstly, besides helping me financially, it was my first job here in Canada in my area of knowledge. Secondly, I started working when I was studying, so I could apply the fresh knowledge I was receiving in the classroom to the research projects I worked on. Lastly, I was able to meet new people, and create great networking opportunities with knowledgeable and experienced co-workers that helped me to understand the market and the details about this new culture.

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

The most important project I worked with was Keyframe Studios, a project that we had to integrate different knowledge from engineering, software and business. It made me see beyond the code, but also look at challenges from an engineering perspective. In addition, it made me dig a bit more into the IoT (Internet of things) world. Being part of the task force to build the face shields was also important due to the meaning it had during the battle we were having against the [Covid-19] virus. 

What led you to Niagara College in the first place?

The region of Niagara played an important role in my family’s decision to emigrate here from Brazil. However, in our research about colleges here in Canada, Niagara College stood out by its programs and good reviews online. Also, NC provides a scholarship to Latin American students, which helped financially in our decision.

Most memorable experience at NC?

When all my efforts materialized in a 96 per cent overall score (GPA) at the end of the program, despite all my struggles to manage two jobs and a family in a foreign country.

Is there a particular mentor who influenced you?

I had two people who influenced me the most. First was Alex Davis [former R&I research associate], who mentored me when I needed support with coding and understanding the legacy we had in our department. And the other person was Amal Driouich [project manager], who helped me in numerous situations regarding career counselling, project management and task direction.

“I would like to thank R&I and Niagara College for the opportunities I had and for helping me build the foundation – it will last forever in my life.”

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

Give your best. No matter what you are struggling with – in your personal, student or professional life – always give your best. It might sound cliché, but being comfortable with yourself throughout your journey, knowing that you are doing the most you can, despite all the workload and responsibilities you have, is crucial for your mental health and professional life.

After being in the workforce, what have you learned?

That all efforts count. I can see now that all I did is paying off today. All the nights with little sleep, having two or three jobs at the same time – it is all experience, no matter what field you’re in. I learnt from my time at Walmart collecting carts in the parking lot that being humble and treating customers well matters. I learnt that building a computer to meet the client’s expectations is important. And here at Niagara Health, I know that I have to do the best I can to provide the platform all Niagara residents will benefit from when they need health care (which makes me proud to be part of).

Proudest achievement since graduating?

Getting a good job to be able to provide for my wife and my daughter.

Interests outside of work?

Spending time with my family. Now that our life is starting to get back on track since we started from scratch since we came to Canada, I will probably be looking for some sports or physical activity to have a healthier life. I used to play paintball and soccer in Brazil.

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

Do your best and give opportunities to those you see are genuinely trying their best. Be kind, especially to immigrants.

Anything else you want to say?

I would like to thank R&I and Niagara College for the opportunities I had and for helping me build the foundation – it will last forever in my life. I’m truly grateful.

 

READ RAFAEL’S FULL PROFILE

Industry Partner intake ongoing at Research & Innovation

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.

We can help solve your innovation challenges related to technology adoption, in the sectors of:

    • • advanced manufacturing
    • • food and beverage
    • • agriculture/greenhouse and environmental technologies
    • • business & commercialization

The Niagara College team of expert faculty, students and researchers from our Innovation Centres will work with businesses to access resources to address technology and innovation challenges. As a result of this partnership opportunity, industry partners will:

    • • develop new prototypes, products, processes
    • • explore shelf-life extension
    • • enhance greenhouse operations
    • • test results that validate their products and services
    • • advance horticultural practices
    • • improve manufacturing production process
    • • bring their products closer to market
    • • gain market research, marketing plans and/or social media plans

In some cases, where government funding is involved, companies accessing these resources at Niagara College will be required to match those funds, at least 1:1, with a combination of cash and in-kind. In some cases, there is the possibility of fee for service opportunities, usually involving a short turn-around in a project outcome, but where the cost of the project is borne entirely by the industry partner.

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

For more information, visit our Centres, linked below:

When you are ready for a conversation on next steps, please reach out to Elizabeth Best, Business Development Coordinator, at [email protected].

 

*Updated messages to Niagara College’s response to COVID-19 can always be found on the NC homepage.

Applied research on the upswing at R&I division

Applied research at Niagara College is thriving once again. Buoyed by additional student co-ops and expert researchers across the Research & Innovation (R&I) division, industry partners have increased opportunity for R&D, while students gain career-ready skills development.

Last spring, the pandemic forced R&I to cancel the majority of its student positions and on-site research due to campus restrictions. Over the past year, however, with implementation of physical safety protocols and an increase in remote-applied research, the team has steadily continued to flourish, says Krystle Grimaldi, director, Research & Innovation.

“We have gradually increased the number of projects we are taking on and growing the team in key areas,” she explains. “We are continuing to support industry, deliver on our commitments to funders/partners and once again providing students with valuable professional experiences and training.”

The division’s team members have continued to work remotely where possible, such as within the Business & Commercialization Solutions (BCS) area, and we have instituted safety processes to resume on-campus research in other areas, including: the Agriculture & Environmental Technologies Innovation Centre (AETIC), the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre (WAMIC) and the Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) Innovation Centre.

As for staffing, a research lead has been hired to support BCS projects and the CFWI Innovation Centre has added an expert for its recently established cannabis edibles research.

AETIC has increased capacity to support applied research projects for the greenhouse, horticulture and cannabis sectors. A research lead has been hired for greenhouse technology applied research, to work alongside full-time faculty experts, and the team is currently seeking a research technologist to to support all project work and research spaces.

An advanced manufacturing scientist, is being sought for the WAMIC team to act as research lead in advanced manufacturing technical service and applied research activities.

“We are continuing to support industry, deliver on our commitments to funders/partners and once again providing students with valuable professional experiences and training.”
~ Krystle Grimaldi, director, Research & Innovation

The division has hired 19 summer students to work across the division. “While that isn’t the number we would typically have in a COVID/restriction-free world, given capacity issues related to physical space, we are thrilled to once again have teams in place at all of our Centres,” adds Grimaldi.

While the applied research and technical services provided by the R&I team is vital for small- and medium-sized businesses in order to continue to innovate and commercialize, at the same time, such research provides an invaluable opportunity for students to put theory from the classroom into real-world action.

For Kyler Schwind, a Culinary Innovation and Food Technology graduate, he says his time with the CFWI Innovation Centre as a research assistant was key to his landing a position as product development scientist at Rich Productions Corporation soon after he graduated last year.

While at R&I, Schwind had a primary research role with projects that have become commercially successful. Working on the Sobrii “Zero Gin” project – Canada’s first ever non-alcoholic gin product – he was involved with the entire product lifecycle, from brainstorming and development phases, to scale-up and commercialization.

“Being able to work with customers directly and develop products that suit their needs helped me to understand the product development process,” explains Schwind. “Gaining this experience [at R&I] has made a world of difference in my current role.”

For information on how to partner with Research & Innovation, access to funding, or learn about the state-of-the-art technical services available, contact Elizabeth Best, business development coordinator at [email protected] or visit the website.

Validating vertical growing design for market

 

For more than 50 years, Beamsville, Ont.’s Zwart Systems has been designing and manufacturing custom horticultural technology solutions for the greenhouse industry across North America.

With the aim of expanding its product line to offer a lower-cost growing option for the microgreens, cannabis and vegetable industry, the company designed a vertical growing system and partnered with Research & Innovation’s Agriculture & Environmental Technologies Innovation Centre (AETIC) for research and validation of the system engineering and efficacy.

In an effort to grow more on the same footprint, the role of vertical farming is gaining in popularity. Vertical growing can take many forms, from trellising cucumbers to growing lettuce in PVC pipes, says Felix Pozojevic, a second-year student in NC’s Greenhouse Technician program and a research assistant for this AETIC project.

“Vertical growing allows for farmers to use other mediums for plants to grow in. This can include spun volcanic rock (Rockwool), coconut husks (coir), or even no substrate at all (aeroponics),” explains Pozojevic. “These growing alternatives are reactions to changing environmental conditions, lack of land access, increased food demands, and increased pressure for low food prices.”

Currently, the market believes that to grow floating lettuce requires 6″ to 12″ of continuously moving water. This is at great expense to the grower from a number of standpoints, water usage is chiefly among them. Other factors include the cost of the system infrastructure to achieve this water depth, as well as difficulties managing the wastewater.

Through the applied research project, the goal was to test the multi-tiered growing system for greenhouse application using various crops, in hopes the Zwart Systems growing rack could bring a new option to the market for floating lettuce growth, and other crops in a water depth less than the current market thinking.

Zwart Systems’ product has four levels, utilizing the bottom level for ebb and flood production – a technique to deliver water and nutrients to plants – while the remaining three levels are equipped with misting nozzles, ideal for seed germination or cutting propagation. The goal is to conserve water and space, as prices for both resources continue to soar for greenhouse operators.

“This project was instrumental in my understanding of how research operates, how to formulate and perform trials, record data, present my data in a professional manner for clients, and has increased my personal confidence in my growing abilities.”

Some difficulties with ebb and flow, notes Pozojevic, such as expensive initial cost, (although labour savings quickly cover the investment), and water-borne pathogens and diseases are easily spread throughout the entire crop through recirculated water. This means if water is not frequently tested, and diseased plants are not quickly removed, plants can contaminate each other very quickly.

The research team grew two main varieties of lettuce from seed, and propagated cuttings from peperomia (Peperomia sp) little leaf jade (Crassula ovata), monstera (Monstera adansonii), spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum), English ivy (Hedera helix), and German Ivy (Delairea odorata). All of these plants were grown with corresponding controls, all located at the greenhouse at Niagara College’s Daniel J. Patterson campus in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Crop wet weight at harvest and dry weight were measured, as well as crop stretch at the end of the crop growth cycle before harvest.

Research reveals the multi-level growing system proves to be a successful design for lettuce seed germination and tropical plant cutting propagation. With structural and process changes, the ebb and flow bottom table has the potential to produce marketable lettuce in a recycling water system, using comparatively lower water levels than traditional ebb and flow or deep-water culture methods.

For Pozojevic, who is hoping to pursue a career in research, this was an “amazing” introduction project. “This project was instrumental in my understanding of how research operates, how to formulate and perform trials, record data, present my data in a professional manner for clients, and has increased my personal confidence in my growing abilities.”

This project received funding from the Ontario Centre of Innovation (OCI), through the College Voucher for Technology Adoption (CVTA) program, and from the Niagara College-led Greenhouse Technology Network (GTN), backed by the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario).

Niagara College’s AETIC team works with private and public sector partners to develop innovative solutions to address today’s challenges in agriculture, local and sustainable food production, plant growth, horticulture practices, greenhouse operations, aquaponics and environmental management. For more information, see the website.