Category Archives: Research & Innovation

Cannabis experts talk trends and challenges at the Niagara Food & Beverage Innovation Summit

A panel of experts discuss the integration of cannabis into the food and drink space. Peter McCourt, PhD; Peter Crooks; Kimberley Stuck and Christopher Sayeh.

An expert panel brought insight into the challenges and innovations surrounding the integration of cannabis-infused edibles to the audience at the Niagara Food & Beverage Innovation Summit at Niagara College on October 23.

The inaugural, one-day event was organized by the Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) Innovation Centre, part of the College’s Research & Innovation division and held at the Niagara-on-the-Lake Campus. Product developers and business owners in the food space and cannabis industry spent the day learning innovative concepts and forecasted trends from experts, in areas of flavours, colours, and packaging. 

The panel was moderated by keynote speaker Skyler Webb, Director of Product Development at Cannabistry, a professional research and development company based in Illinois, United States. With his background in chemistry and food science, Webb spoke about the complexities surrounding the cannabis edible space and shared science in developing effective cannabis delivery systems – a method for providing an active ingredient to the body – such as food and beverage, sprays, and tinctures.

Skyler was joined on stage by experts to discuss the integration of cannabis into the food and drink world, the trends, food safety, and regulatory challenges in the edibles industry. Panelists included: Peter McCourt, PhD, a plant molecular biologist and professor at the University of Toronto; Peter Crooks, a neuropharmacologist and Chief Product Innovation Officer for Dosecann Cannabis Solutions; Kimberley Stuck, a leading expert in cannabis food safety and Certified Quality Auditor; and Christopher Sayeh, founder of the popular Herbal Chef™, pioneered cannabis-infused fine dining. 

With the legalization of cannabis in October 2018, Peter McCourt formed an R&D company to develop technologies to improve the genetics of the cannabis plant to formulate specific compounds in certain concentrations and ratios.  

“We see this as a huge opportunity. We don’t think cannabis will be any different than any other crop; the research just has to be done systematically,” he said. “Let’s say we could breed out the terpenes – the smells – so we wouldn’t have to do all this extraction, or others may want to breed the plants so it’s resistant to powdery mildews… we’ve done this for other crops – it’s not rocket science.”

For Peter Crooks, whose company is a Canadian-licensed dealer dedicated to developing cannabis solutions, he said the pace of innovation in this space and the regulation hurdles add layers of complexity when approaching formulation.

His products – 83 of its 130 SKUs in edibles, topicals and concentrates hitting the market before year’s end – are targeting what he calls the “big middle” – the new cannabis consumer. He said overwhelmingly consumers said they did not want to taste the terpenes in their product, so his company has focused on distillates (a cleaner concentrate). 

As for the future of the cannabis industry, Crooks said consistency is the cornerstone of consumer trust. “So how you formulate, how you extract, how you standardize and then how you formulate your cannabis extract … that maintaining the very strict standardization of that is the only way to create a product that will be consistent with a predictable effect of high quality and I think it’s going to plague the broader cannabis industry for some time.”

Skyler Webb, Director of Product Development at Cannabistry in Illinois, U.S., was a keynote speaker at the Niagara Food & Beverage Innovation Summit at Niagara College.

Consistency will be necessary in the highly regulated Canadian market; however, it’s something not always seen in its neighbours to the south. In fact, the lack of regulations in the United States affects the safety of products there, explained Kimberley Stuck, who was the first cannabis specialist for a public health authority in the nation in Denver, Colorado.

“When something is on the shelf, people really believe that it’s safe no matter what. They think the U.S. government wouldn’t allow there to be a dangerous product sold to consumers,” she said. “When it comes to cannabis, this is not the case. The fact is there’s a lot of really sketchy things.” 

She referred to the “irresponsible dosing” in edible-infused cannabis products, where one larger section of a chocolate bar could contain 1mg of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and another smaller piece as much as 20mg. However, the consumer trusts that each piece is consistent in the advertising dosage.

It is similar in the cooking industry, noted Christopher Sayegh, a biology/food chemistry professional. He said chefs might put infused butter into a pan, but have no idea how much is in the pan – not to mention that the heat (to a specific temperature) will accelerate the effects of THC.

After serving tens of thousands of gourmet cannabis-infused meals through his California-based company, Sayegh places a high value on quality and controlled consistency when it comes to cannabis-infused dosing for his guests. “If you’re going to be in a commercial setting and give something out to people and don’t know the dosage that you’re giving, it’s highly irresponsible.” 

Besides customizing individual dosing per diner, Sayeh also chooses specific strains to give certain effects for the entire dining experience. For example, during a 10-course tasting menu, the average guest will receive a total of 10mg of THC and 10mg of cannabidiol (CBD), starting with uplifting strains at the outset and ending with terpenes set to provide relaxation by the end of the meal. 

The dosing of edible cannabis products is so highly regulated in Canada, companies doing product development have to measure homogenization and potency every step of the way to hit a targeted dosage spec, explained Crooks. 

“I can’t underscore enough that having analytical validated methods internally makes a massive difference,” he said, adding there’s a strong competitive advantage for those companies who have in-house analytical capabilities, otherwise it would take some six weeks to get a result back during product development. 

Sponsors for the event included: Food in Canada Magazine; Invest Hamilton Niagara; Niagara Industrial Association; Food and Beverage Ontario; Two Sisters Vineyards; and Ontario Craft Brewers. Funding support was provided by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).

The Canadian Food & Wine Institute Innovation Centre (CFWI) team offers a full suite of services to support industry innovation and commercialization of new products and processes. From new recipe development to shelf-life testing and nutritional labelling, the CFWI Innovation Centre pairs industry partners with faculty, recent graduates and students with the right expertise and equipment to meet industry’s needs. For more information visit ncinnovation.ca.

The R&I division publishes a monthly e-newsletter to keep people informed of the innovative projects, people, jobs, events, news and opportunities available through the work at Niagara College. If you’d like to receive this in your email monthly, just follow the link below to the R&I website where you’ll find the sign-up box. https://www.ncinnovation.ca/contact

Culinary trends revealed at NC’s Niagara Food & Beverage Innovation Summit

Global culinary expert Christine Couvelier was a keynote speaker at the Niagara Food & Beverage Innovation Summit at Niagara College on October 23.

World-class chef Christine Couvelier, a culinary executive and founder of Culinary Concierge, brought her culinary crystal ball to the Niagara Food & Beverage Innovation Summit at Niagara College on October 23 at the Niagara-on-the-Lake Campus.

The inaugural, one-day event was organized by the Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) Innovation Centre, part of the College’s Research & Innovation division. Product developers and business owners in the food space and cannabis industry spent the day learning innovative concepts and forecasted trends from experts, in areas of flavours, colours, and packaging. 

Couvelier was the first keynote speaker of the day. As a global culinary trendologist, she spends much of her time in gourmet and grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and food shows around the world. Her forward-looking predictions in the culinary world are what she called her ‘trend-watch’ report – things to look to one to five years ahead. 

One of the most significant areas of growth this year, said Couvelier, is breakfast anytime. “It’s about innovation, it’s about convenience and it’s about taste.” Things like frittatas on the go, breakfast meal kits or overnight oats. Eggs are also being reimagined. For example, hard-boiled eggs have been taken to a completely different level with the innovation of Buffalo-wing flavour.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the one category that is continually innovating is plant-based foods. Couvelier said 42 percent of consumers want to eat more vegetarian dishes, and 41 per cent want to eat more vegan meals – a vast market considering only three percent of Canadians are vegan and six percent are vegetarian.

“It means we’re designing plant-based options for everybody, not for a narrow category,” she said. “Think about how this trend applies to all of you – whatever category, whatever product, whatever you’re innovating, this all applies to you.”

These innovations are hitting the plant-based meat category – which is estimated to reach $3 billion by 2024 in the United States. She said this popularity is evidenced by the growing popularity of the Beyond Meat burgers at the A&W chain. 

Plant-based seafood such as tuna is made with pea protein, chickpea flour, faba protein and navy bean flour, and offers similar texture and flavour but without the smell or mercury levels. 

“I suspect as we go into 2020 and beyond, we’ll see a lot more innovation in this category.”

Other areas growing in innovation, according to Couvelier: 

  • ♦ oat milk, with 2018 sales up 425 per cent. 
  • ♦ kombucha, with sales rising to $416 million last year.
  • ♦ cauliflower 3.0 – first steamed, then riced, it’s now a crunchy, plant-based snack.  Packaged cauliflower products rose 71 per cent in just this year. 
  • ♦ grocerants are restaurants in the middle of gourmet and grocery stores. Some even have live music and cooking demonstrations.
  • ♦ meal kits are seeing better flavours and less package waste. An estimated 600,000 meal  kits were sold in Canada in the first six months of 2019.
  • ♦ butter innovation: Couvelier noted NC’s Benchmark flavouring its butter with the campus bee honey. 
  • grilled cheese: it’s all about nostalgia and memories and even chefs at high-end restaurants are adding grilled cheese to their menus.
  •  bespoke vegetables: connecting farmers, chefs, and breeders to create a collection of tasty vegetables. An example of this: combining celery and asparagus to get the ‘celtus.’
  • ♦ doughnuts are being hailed as the ‘dish of the year’ and replacing buns or nachos.
  • ♦ sustainability: consumers are paying attention to packaging more than ever before i.e. biodegradable and reusable packaging. 
  • ♦ new innovations: pink lemonade blueberries; nighttime snack foods

Couvelier’s top advice in the product development world: taste everything!

“Wherever you are, taste the local specialties; go and talk to a distillery; go and talk to a winemaker; go and talk to a craft bartender and think outside the confines of your business and your brand and your category. And experience the food world as a whole.”

Sponsors for the event included: Food in Canada Magazine; Invest Hamilton Niagara; Niagara Industrial Association; Food and Beverage Ontario; Two Sisters Vineyards; and Ontario Craft Brewers. Funding support was provided by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).

The Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) Innovation Centre team offers a full suite of services to support industry innovation and commercialization of new products and processes. From new recipe development to shelf-life testing and nutritional labelling, the CFWI Innovation Centre pairs industry partners with faculty, recent graduates and students with the right expertise and equipment to meet industry’s needs. For more information visit ncinnovation.ca.

The R&I division publishes a monthly e-newsletter to keep people informed of the innovative projects, people, jobs, events, news and opportunities available through the work at Niagara College. If you’d like to receive this in your email monthly, just follow the link below to the R&I website where you’ll find the sign-up box. https://www.ncinnovation.ca/contact

NC’s Niagara Food & Beverage Innovation Summit a sell-out success

A sold-out crowd of innovators in the food and beverage space assembled at Niagara College’s Niagara-on-the-lake campus on October 23 for the Niagara Food & Beverage Innovation Summit. The one-day event was hosted by the Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) Innovation Centre, part of the Research & Innovation division.

Product developers and business owners in the food space and cannabis industry spent the day learning innovative concepts and forecasted trends from experts, in areas of flavours, colours, and packaging. 

Attendees also discovered the complexities surrounding the hottest topic of the day: the integration of cannabis into the food and beverage chain. In the second phase of legalization, cannabis-infused edibles gained legal status by Health Canada on Oct. 17, one year after legalizing recreational marijuana in the country on the same date in 2018.

The inaugural event was organized by the CFWI Innovation Centre with the support of several sponsors, including Food in Canada Magazine; Invest Hamilton Niagara; Niagara Industrial Association; Food and Beverage Ontario; Two Sisters Vineyards; and Ontario Craft Brewers. Funding support was provided by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).

“It was exciting to collaborate with industry experts and innovators to drive growth and development in the food and beverage space,” said Lyndon Ashton, Centre Manager for the CFWI Innovation Centre. “This innovation summit seemed like a logical step given how intimately connected our institute is with food, beverage, and cannabis from an educational and applied research perspective. It just made sense to bring industry and researchers together to share the latest developments in these key sectors.”

 
CULINARY TRENDS

The first keynote of the day was world-class chef Christine Couvelier, a culinary executive and founder of Culinary Concierge. 

Global culinary expert Christine Couvelier was a keynote speaker at the Niagara Food & Beverage Innovation Summit at Niagara College on October 23.

As a global culinary trendologist, Couvelier spends much of her time in gourmet and grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and food shows around the world. Her forward-looking predictions in the culinary world are what she called her ‘trend-watch’ report – things to look to one to five years ahead. 

One of the most significant areas of growth this year, said Couvelier, is breakfast anytime. “It’s about innovation, it’s about convenience and it’s about taste.” Things like frittatas on the go, breakfast meal kits or overnight oats. Eggs are also being reimagined. For example, hard-boiled eggs have been taken to a completely different level with the innovation of Buffalo-wing flavour.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the one category that is continually innovating is plant-based foods. Couvelier said 42 percent of consumers want to eat more vegetarian dishes, and 41 per cent want to eat more vegan meals – a vast market considering only three percent of Canadians are vegan and six percent are vegetarian.

“It means we’re designing plant-based options for everybody, not for a narrow category,” she said. Think about how this trend applies to all of you – whatever category, whatever product, whatever you’re innovating, this all applies to you.”

For an inside look into Couvelier’s forecast of food & beverage trends click HERE 

To expand on trends, a panel of experts joined Couvelier on the stage; the specialists included: Jason Mittelheuser, a biochemist with FONA International; Kaela Lewis, Senior Product Developer at Hela Spice Canada;  Ana Cristina Vega-Lugo, PhD, Senior Food Scientist at the CFWI Innovation Centre and Mitin Rathod, a marketing, research and innovation professional.

An expert panel discuses food and beverage trends: Jason Mittelheuser; Kaela Lewis; Ana Cristina Vega-Lugo, PhD; and Mitin Rathod.

As for trends in the beverage space, Ana Cristina Vega-Lugo, PhD, identified non-alcoholic products as being a significant trend and said her research team at the College has developed many alcohol-free beverages.

“Consumers are looking for a healthy alternative, with lower calories,” she said. “We’ll soon be seeing a greater number of seniors in the population and they’re more conscious of their health, but still want to enjoy the tastes of wine, beer or distilled spirits.”

That same health consciousness applies to food choices in general, she added. “Consumers are wanting more healthier choices with more clean-label ingredients. They’re looking for the nutritional value of the produce: lower calories, fewer fat, less sugar… they are looking for the whole package of health.”

During a number of breakout sessions, hosted by experts, participants took away strategies to de-risk new product introductions, taste modification and plant-based science.

 

CANNABIS TRENDS

The afternoon keynote speaker was Skyler Webb, the Director of Product Development at Cannabistry, a professional research and development company based in Illinois, United States. With his background in chemistry and food science Webb spoke about the complexities surrounding the cannabis edible space and shared science in developing effective cannabis delivery systems – a method for providing an active ingredient to the body – such as food and beverage, sprays, and tinctures.

Skyler Webb, Director of Product Development at Cannabistry in Illinois, U.S., was a keynote speaker at the Niagara Food & Beverage Innovation Summit at Niagara College.

Since the cannabis plant contains more than 600 chemical compounds, it’s no wonder that complexities are many in terms of formulation, interactions with carriers and monitoring a product that’s easily degraded by temperature, explained Webb.

Considerations in the edible cannabis space include the route of administration, applied dose and additional factors in the formulation, he said.

“A proper route can be selected depending on what your desired effect or outcome is desired to be – whether it’s for therapeutic, wellness or recreational purposes,” he said. “The number one takeaway here is to remember when you’re developing cannabis-infused products you’re actually developing a drug-delivery system, since cannabis is biologically active for the human body.”

Many things affect bioavailability (the percentage that is available to the body), including carrier oils; however, these absorption methods are understudied, Webb noted. “While it’s one of the most important things in understanding the resulting effect of your product, unfortunately, it’s one of the most difficult to determine.”

An expert panel also discussed the integration of cannabis into the food and drink world, the trends, food safety, and regulatory challenges in the edibles industry. Panelists included: Peter McCourt, PhD, a plant molecular biologist and professor at the University of Toronto; Peter Crooks, a neuropharmacologist and Chief Product Innovation Officer for Dosecann Cannabis Solutions; Kimberley Stuck, a leading expert in cannabis food safety and Certified Quality Auditor; and Christopher Sayeh, founder of the popular Herbal Chef™, a pioneer in cannabis-infused fine dining. 

A panel of experts discuss the integration of cannabis into the food and drink space. Peter McCourt, PhD; Peter Crooks; Kimberley Stuck and Christopher Sayeh.

The dosing of edible cannabis products is so highly regulated in Canada, companies doing product development have to measure homogenization and potency every step of the way to hit a targeted dosage spec, explained Peter Crooks.

“I can’t underscore enough that having analytical validated methods internally makes a massive difference,” he said, adding there’s a strong competitive advantage for those companies who have in-house analytical capabilities, otherwise it would take some six weeks to get a result back during product development. 

Learn more about the expert discussion surrounding cannabis edibles HERE

The day also included tours of the research labs at the CFWI Innovation Centre, the College’s Teaching Winery and Teaching Brewery. Attendees got an inside look into NC’s Cannabunker, the school’s teaching facility for its Commercial Cannabis Production program, launched in September 2018, and the first of its kind in Canada. 

Bill MacDonald, Coordinator of NC’s Commercial Cannabis Production program gave a tour of the Niagara-on-the-Lake campus Cannabunker to attendees of the Niagara Food & Beverage Innovation Summit.

“This event was a unique opportunity for thought leaders, product developers, marketers, entrepreneurs, and innovators in the food, beverage and edible cannabis sectors to learn from one another, as well as other world-renowned experts,” added Ashton.

The Canadian Food & Wine Institute Innovation Centre (CFWI) team offers a full suite of services to support industry innovation and commercialization of new products and processes. From new recipe development to shelf-life testing and nutritional labelling, the CFWI Innovation Centre pairs industry partners with faculty, recent graduates and students with the right expertise and equipment to meet industry’s needs. For more information visit ncinnovation.ca.

The R&I division publishes a monthly e-newsletter to keep people informed of the innovative projects, people, jobs, events, news and opportunities available through the work at Niagara College. If you’d like to receive this in your email monthly, just follow the link below to the R&I website where you’ll find the sign-up box. https://www.ncinnovation.ca/contact

 

 

Where are they now?: Jason Wright

Jason Wright is a 2018 graduate of Niagara College’s Mechanical Engineering Technology (Co-op) program and was a Technical Services Research Assistant at the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre for the Research & Innovation division for one year. Jason has been employed with Burloak Technologies in Oakville as a Process Designer since November 2018.

Tell us about where you work:

Burloak Technologies is a leading partner for advanced additive manufacturing solutions. The company uses additive manufacturing with a variety of metals and plastics, and multi-axis machining to serve the aerospace, satellite communications, spaceflight, energy and high-end industrial sectors.

Describe your role and what you like about it:

As a Process Designer, it is my responsibility to get Burloak to define company processes around DfAM (design for additive manufacturing, operation of additive manufacturing equipment, and manufacturing of advanced manufacturing parts. I am creating documentation to support our processes and support traceability to our customers, and support the engineering team with any new projects that come along. Some days I am at my desk, and other days I am on the manufacturing floor either making something or helping to solve problems. My favourite part of the job is that every day is different, and everyone at Burloak shares the same passion: leading the advancement of additive manufacturing technology in Canada and across the globe.

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

R&I gave me the additive manufacturing background that my company was looking for, which helped me to land this job.  I also had the opportunity at R&I to speak with customers, and turn their conceptual ideas into 3D models, and eventually into printed parts. The research, design, and communication skills I learned at R&I are skills I use every day at work. 

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

In 2017, I worked with a company developing a product that required significant product design, and additive manufacturing for rapid prototyping purposes. The most memorable work I was a part of at R&I was working with the Fortus (3D printing) production systems (FDM Additive) and design projects.  The technology is very advanced, I always looked forward to going to work at R&I to see what the Fortus had finished printing the night before.

Most memorable experience at NC?

The most memorable experiences at NC were with my friends that I met in the program. The Mechanical Engineering Technology program at NC is very demanding and very rewarding. I lived with a few of my classmates, and we became close friends. The most memorable experiences were pulling long nights and early mornings studying and completing projects with my friends. It was a huge challenge and we all supported each other.

“The research, design, and communication skills I learned at R&I are skills I use every day at work.”

A faculty member who influenced you?

All of my professors were greatly influential, and helped me to develop strong interests in the classes they taught. 

Lois Johnson instilled in me a strong interest in material sciences; her classes were the most interesting to me. I plan to work towards a career in material sciences within the additive manufacturing industry.

Neil Walker has such a distinct passion for his courses and his students. He could explain the same concept a thousand different ways until everyone understood it. He really helped to connect the dots between the applicable engineering concepts and the math.

Scott Phillips really wants to exercise your mind. He might give you a problem, almost like an engineering puzzle, and give you 50 percent of the jigsaw pieces. It is your job to find the other 50 percent using any resources possible, with no hints. This was often frustrating, but I tried hard to solve those puzzles. I strongly believe his lessons contributed the most to my flexibility and problem-solving skills that I use every day now.

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

Take time to learn from your colleagues at R&I. Even if it isn’t a project you are directly working on, you can learn so much just from asking questions and being interested. This opens up the opportunity to be a part of multiple projects at once, which is both a great learning opportunity and can be a lot of fun.

After being in the workforce, what have you learned?

Entering the workforce can be intimidating and nerve-racking, but that’s where you are going to learn about your own strengths and weaknesses. It is humbling to enter a place where your knowledge is not judged on an even playing field, and it is certainly rewarding to learn new things about yourself. I quickly learned what my strengths are in terms of project management and the application of knowledge through technical writing. I also learned where I needed to improve. Keep your mind open and remember, you don’t know everything yet.  

What are your interests outside of work?

 I enjoy spending time outside, whether that means going for a hike, cycling, or reading a book by the lake. Working indoors all day can take a lot out of you – spend some time outside!

 

New WAMIC Centre Manager big on solutions

With more than 30 years in the small manufacturing arena, Gordon Maretzki, the new Centre Manager at the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre (WAMIC), has had to be multi-disciplined, assuming roles of design engineer, innovator, fabricator, market evaluator, and business owner.  

Prior to arriving at Niagara College in 2016 as a WAMIC Researcher and Industry Liaison, Maretzki amassed expertise in areas of engineering design, automation, manufacturing/fabrication and performance testing/validation.

As an entrepreneur, he was involved in product development, in a variety of technologies, while serving in numerous capacities in bringing products to market. It’s fair to say he has established a deep understanding of the sacrifices and challenges that face SMEs (small- and medium-sized enterprises) of today and his desire to support the industry is unmistakable. 

Being in the driver’s seat as Centre Manager for the Innovation Centre and its Technology Access Centre (TAC) for Advanced Manufacturing, within the College’s Research & Innovation division, Maretzki is passionate about charting a course that taps into the specific solutions for SMEs that the Centre can offer.

Foremost is clearly illustrating the value that the TAC and Innovation Centre bring – focusing on the real-world solutions for manufacturers, beyond the technology and expertise in house.

“We can provide solutions to challenges and there are funding sources available,” says Maretzki. “Yes, we have state-of-the-art equipment, but the solutions go beyond the 3D printing/scanning and metrology equipment.”

It means reaching out to the manufacturers that share the understanding of how to do business and who know the pain and sacrifices that coexist. Indeed, many of these local companies have survived Niagara’s manufacturing downturn of the 1980s. While historically, the region’s manufacturing sector consisted of large plant facilities, the industrial sector is now primarily comprised of smaller manufacturers and remains one of the largest private-sector economic engines.

Still, even for experienced entrepreneurs, identifying pain points can be tricky. Oftentimes business owners don’t know exactly what they need to solve their challenges. “That’s where we come in,” Maretzki explains. “We can help SMEs view the situation from a different perspective.”

It may not be about deciding on the technical cure, but a higher-level prescription. This could mean having the Innovation Centre team work with a company on quality control, engineering design, or develop creative strategies. In many cases, Maretzki’s research team provides an in-depth overview of what needs to be done and how to get there.

“Not only do we have the capabilities to solve most issues, but we also can provide the essential roadmap of what’s next,” he says, adding that such a framework is often highly valuable for a small company.

“Making machined parts on a CNC mill may be the best method in a particular situation, however there may be surrounding processes that can be improved,” he says. “Maybe it’s looking at a different way of tooling up, or material handling, or part verification. It may not be immediately apparent to SMEs in their day-to-day activities, but we can offer an outside perspective and show them the value in considering surrounding issues.”

The starting point is determining how the technology at the College can enhance an SME’s current process, or getting their product to market quicker. The scan technologies, combined with its modeling and prototyping expertise at the Innovation Centre labs, can be a powerful combination.

This technology can be helpful for companies doing commercial tenant work, for example. “Having a 3D digital field scan of an architectural space gives the designers an as-built model of their current spaces. Designers can use that information when setting up for a new tenant,” says Maretzki. “Knowing that something will fit and not have interference issues on site can be of great value and save many costs at installation time. The same is true for factory moves and fit-ups services that the R&I team has provided others.”

Not only do we have the capabilities to solve most issues, but we also can provide the essential roadmap of what’s next.”

Perhaps an SME has a legacy part, with no drawings; the item may need changes to it or data to reproduce the part. Bringing that model into digital form and making those changes on the screen, followed by 3D printing it, could save weeks of work for a small manufacturer.

“We can 3D print a prototype, a fixture, new tooling – there are alternative ways that someone might approach making a new product,” he adds.

What’s more, the Centre is also part of a larger network, so managing the solutions while also reaching out as a connector to other expert industry partners to work on a project has frequently been successfully demonstrated.

Gordon Maretzki, the new Centre Manager at the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre (WAMIC).

For entrepreneurs still in the concept stage and who may be passionate about a new idea, Maretzki says they can be directed to the Business & Commercialization team who can help them with market research or feasibility studies for their invention. Such cross-collaboration within the R&I division has proven beneficial for a variety of companies across numerous sectors.

In addition to providing real value for SMEs, a priority within the Innovation Centre is building highly-qualified workers who will bolster both the local and national economy. Maretzki emphasizes the value for students of building relational skills from an industrial point of view. They receive rare access into the inner workings of a manufacturer and get to see first-hand the nuances of how people run their business.

“It is a tremendous opportunity for students to get into many different companies with all the industry partners we work with,” he says. “The astute student can see the various processes and learn about the challenges.”

Maretzki is also known for his candidness with the students he has advised during applied research projects, something he sees as essential for instilling authentic life skills.

“I share everything with them. If we have a challenge with an industry partner’s project, I don’t shield them from it, I say, ‘Okay, how are we going to deal with this the best way possible?’” he explains. “They learn to deal with difficult situations that way… and hopefully they can carry those soft skills with them in the real world.”

He brought this same mentoring philosophy during his time teaching part-time at the College in the Industrial Automation Certification program – a program he developed much of the curriculum for during its start-up.

Maretzki has a Mechanical Engineering degree from the University of Manitoba (1985) and has his Professional Engineering designation (PEng).

His mechanical aptitude also serves him well finding solutions for the many challenges of operating his 47-acre century farm in Beamsville, which he shares with his large family – his wife and eight children.

For more on the array of solutions provided by WAMIC visit the website.

Innovative medical technology for aging population

The research team for the ARMM project at the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre: Allan Spence, PhD, Researcher and Industry Liaison; Yodha Singh, Mechanical Engineering Technology student and Research Assistant; Dave McKechnie, Research Laboratory Technologist; Daniel Bordenave, Bisep CEO and founder; and Avery Edge, Mechanical Engineering Technology student and Research Assistant.

Niagara College’s engineering research team has helped a local company get its innovative medical technology to market and start helping an aging population regain their freedom of movement.

Bisep Inc., a Niagara Falls-based innovation start-up, is the brainchild of CEO and founder Daniel Bordenave. His invention – a device that connects a patient’s wheelchair to their walker, enabling unaided movement – solves the common issue of understaffing in long-term care.

It was a challenge he personally experienced while working as a kinesiologist in a long-term care facility. The standard practice is for two or more health-care practitioners to help one patient with mobility training – one or two helping the individual walk, while another walks behind with the wheelchair at a consistent pace, in case of any fatigue or falls. However, says Bordenave, there’s typically only funding available for a second therapist twice a week, greatly reducing the time spent with patients.

“These patients weren’t walking on a daily basis and I couldn’t keep up due to safety concerns and regulations,” he explains. “These folks were spending more sedentary time in their beds, in their wheelchairs and not improving, or causing further muscle loss because they were just not walking.”

His device, named the ARMM (Ambulation, Retraining, Mobility, and Mechanism) acts as a security bridge so the patient can walk unassisted with their walker while the wheelchair trails safely behind them. And Bordenave is crediting the student and staff expertise at the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre (WAMIC) for help bringing it to fruition.

 “I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this without the help of Niagara College’s Research & Innovation department,” says Bordenave. “If it weren’t for them, I probably would not have the company now or would not have done anything. Having access to funding and the research expertise was beyond amazing.”

In coming up with the concept: “I thought, let me see how I can help myself in my practice… so what I did was think, let’s try attaching the wheelchair to the walker.” After formulating his idea, Bordenave enlisted the tool and die talents of his grandfather to help fabricate a proof-of-concept prototype in their garage.

From there, he sought the help of the engineering team at WAMIC. “We were limited in the machinery that we had and the brain capacity… we are not engineers,” says Bordenave. “What attracted me to Niagara College was the ability to access the amazing innovation department, a national-leading group of engineers, and essentially create a quality product that would be functional, user-friendly, and safe.”

Getting to the final prototype took two projects, executed by the R&I engineering team at the College – with funding by both the Niagara Region and the Southern Ontario Network for Advanced Manufacturing Innovation (SONAMI).

The research team first leveraged its mechanical design software and rapid prototyping technologies to create an initial prototype that would be ready for real-world testing, while Bisep put it into use in a medical research environment.

With the prototype in hand, Bordenave conducted successful clinical trials through a collaborative research project with the Niagara Region and Brock University. He also brought the ARMM to hospitals and long-term care facilities for focus group meetings with more than 100 therapists with the goal of improving full utilization of the device.

Bisep returned to the College for essential design modifications, mainly in further designs to produce a product that was both universal to most wheelchairs and walkers, and also adjustable in order to accommodate varying heights of patients. The team replaced all the welded parts with 3D printed components to increase the degree of variability in adjusting the device.

“So we were able to make the device expand wider, expand taller and also expand on the angle from the arm of the wheelchair to the handles of the walker – the incline from when the person is transferring himself from the chair to the walker,” explains Bordenave.

Another major modification to the design was something Bordenave calls the “exercise mode,” a function that could be used by patients to strengthen muscles involved in standing from a seated position, an ability that is critical for mobility and fall prevention. The aim is to prevent any further atrophy in the lower muscles, and increase the patient’s neuromuscular capabilities.

“We wanted to make the device more versatile so it allows the patient to disconnect their walker by dropping down the two legs on the device,” he adds. “This then allows them to practice their exercises from their own chair, unassisted, and also grab on the ARMM correctly and stand themselves up.”

Avery Edge, a Mechanical Engineering Technology student at Niagara College, worked as part of the team on this second phase of the project, as a Research Assistant with WAMIC.

“I have learned a lot about material strengths and properties and how they affect the strength and performance of a device,” says Edge. “Being able to work with all technologies on this project also made it so enjoyable… going from computer CAD software to 3D printing to manual metal working for prototypes allowed me to experience what it takes all around to make a great device.”

Yodha Singh, Mechanical Engineering Technology student and former Research Assistant at the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre, demonstrates Bisep’s ARMM device in action.

This past summer, Bisep placed first in a competition for start-up companies whose innovation in technologies or services can benefit older adults and caregivers.

In its National Impact Challenge: Startup Edition, AGE-WELL (Aging Gracefully across Environments using Technology to Support Wellness, Engagement and Long Life NCE Inc.) held three regional events in the country and five finalists pitched their technology-based solution at each event. Bordenave was crowned the winner for Ontario and received $15,000 in cash, plus in-kind prizes.

Bisep was also selected to work with XLerate Health, the largest health-care accelerator in the United States, to help them tap into the U.S. market, doing demonstrations at various health-care facilities.

With a dozen or so pre-orders, full-scale commercialization will roll-out at the beginning of the new year with the manufacturing of 1,000 units. All production will take place at the Spark Niagara small manufacturing facility in Niagara Falls, where Bisep currently operates.

“I’m proud to say all manufacturing and any future production that we do will always be in the Niagara region to help create jobs and help support the economy,” vows Bordenave.

As an innovation company, Bisep is also busy coming up with new solutions based on problems Bordenave has experienced during his time as a practising kinesiologist. Research underway that will help target the aging population include collecting data on falls and the way falls happen within the senior population.

“We can then read into that data and try to minimize any future falls that happen in the same way.”

Bordenave remains grateful to the expert solutions he received from the College’s Innovation Centre. “Everybody who I worked with was amazing and very intelligent. They worked very hard and the communication was perfect.”