Category Archives: Project Highlights

Providing market research expertise

When your house salad dressing is so popular that restaurant patrons ask to buy a bottle, you just may have a hit on your hands. And for one family-owned restaurant, they recently looked to the experts at Niagara College’s Research & Innovation to find out if they had a winner.  

Theo’s Eatery, an Italian and Greek-style casual dining restaurant in Orillia, Ont., wanted to discover if their crowd-pleasing Greek and Caesar dressings had the potential for commercialization.

“Our salads became very popular over the years in the restaurant to the point where customers were asking to buy the dressings, so we began to sell them over the counter,” says owner John Tselikis, who, along with his father, started Theo’s 26 years ago.

The family recipes for these distinctive dressings have been passed down three generations, he says.

“The reason the Caesar dressing is so unique is because of its flavour profile and its colour. Even though it has a mayo base like many other Caesar dressings, it has many more ingredients. The Greek dressing has a zing that is very authentic and home-made in flavour.”

Being in the restaurant business for more than 40 years, Tselikis knew that prior to launching the product to a broader market, he needed to conduct market research in order to assess the viability of the endeavour. However, he did not have the in-house resources for an extensive study.

“The professional and in-depth research the team provided us boosted our confidence to proceed with our venture.”  –  John Tselikis, owner, Theo’s Eatery

“Even though we know our products are successful at the local level, we retained the services of Niagara College to give us insight on the current market trends in order to determine if our venture had the potential of being viable, and if so, to help us establish a marketing strategy,” he explains.

The Research & Innovation team, consisting of students and staff, went to work on a market research feasibility study in order to understand the market and determine whether commercializing the dressing was a good move, says Paula Reile, Project Manager for the Business & Commercialization area.

“The team researched current consumer food trends, buying habits, social media activity, and conducted a competitive analysis,” explains Reile. “We then identified potential consumer markets and researched potential distributions channels for the two salad dressings.”

The group also provided recommendations for branding and promotional efforts and developed a sales kit to be used for business-to-business or business-to-consumer meetings.

“Working with the research team was an outstanding experience,” says Tselikis. “From the beginning, we felt the team had the ability to provide us with the expertise we needed to pursue our endeavour. The professional and in-depth research the team provided us boosted our confidence to proceed with our venture.”

The project was funded by the Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE) through its College Voucher for Technology Adoption (CVTA) program.  

But the relationship with Niagara College hasn’t ended there. Theo’s Eatery is now working with R&I’s Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) Innovation Centre on a food science project. The process involves a food safety assessment; product scale-up (formula optimization and recommendations); identification of potential co-packers; packaging and shelf-life recommendations; and regulatory/labeling claims.

“We look forward to having a lasting business relationship with the College,” adds Tselikis.

RoamIO Land Robot Hits the Ground

Research & Innovation’s RoamIO Jumbo land robot has opened the door to new opportunities for future industry partners in precision agriculture.

Text by: Michael Hanemaayer

 

Last fall, the Research & Innovation division at Niagara College welcomed a new member to its team in the form of the land rover RoamIO Jumbo, which has opened the door to new opportunities for future industry partners in precision agriculture.

Built by Korechi Innovations, the RoamIO Jumbo is a remote-controlled land robot that is highly customizable and workable for the students and research leads who are working with, modifying, and operating the machine.

The 400-lb rugged machine will be able to conquer the previous difficulties that came with operating a remote-controlled vehicle on the ground, such as uneven terrain or unexpected obstacles, i.e. rocks and trees, while allowing for ease of use in places such as vineyards.

Some of the high-tech features being tested, added or modified on the robot include a camera to provide visuals of the crops and fields, as well as a sensor that is able to detect the hot and cold spots in a field, allowing for an elevation in the quality of the yield from crops. The robot will also have aerial support via unmanned drones.

With the ability to monitor weather (temperature and humidity) in various locations throughout a field, in real time, losses due to temperature changes and disease can be greatly reduced thanks to RoamIO. And with an onboard generator, it’s able to patrol vineyards 24 hours a day.

The project was made possible thanks to a grant of $94,000 from NSERC (the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada).

RoamIO will be working with grape growers in Niagara collecting crop imagery in vineyards for grape health analysis, ripeness estimation and ultimately yield prediction.

For more information about Niagara College’s smart farming technology click here.

Improving the sewer guardian

Project Highlights: Improving the sewer guardian

Residential sewer systems require backflow prevention devices to protect the home from sewage entering into the home. The current technology of backflow preventers poses a problem in that there is no way to determine if the backflow prevention device is operational. Failures of the backflow prevention device can be catastrophic. Rock Bar Construction developed a solution to this problem using electronics to communicate to a remote device alerting the homeowners if the backflow preventer has failed or is having problems. The WAMIC team then worked with Rock Bar to miniaturize the electronics and design a watertight enclosure housing the electronics, which are then retrofitted on existing design backflow preventers. 

A number of design considerations were taken into account while creating a new working prototype for Rock Bar, including improvements to the backflow valve transmitter, custom printed circuit board and PLC programming, and custom enclosure design and 3D print. The final prototype brings Rock Bar Construction one step closer to having a market-ready product.

Learn more about WAMIC’s project successes here.

Efficient trimming

Project Highlights: Efficient trimming

The WAMIC team recently worked with Airbus Helicopters in Fort Erie, Ont., to develop 3D-printed plastic vacuum fixtures to hold composite helicopter parts, so that a robotic trimming system can be used. Enabling the vacuum, the operator was able to quickly and repeatedly locate the part on the fixture and with full vacuum applied, the part held very securely, particularly near the trim edges.

The fixture pose was constant with respect to the robot coordinate system, while after trimming, the procedure to release the part from the vacuum was equally ergonomic. The fixture was as lightweight as possible, yet stiff enough to not be displaced during the trimming process. The success of this research project included all technologies currently available in our labs, combined with investment in software recently acquired in early 2018. Similar technologies will be applied to Airbus’s painting cell, while a continuation of this project to introduce the robotics and visons systems is scheduled for early 2019, pending additional provincial and federal funding.

Learn more about WAMIC’s project successes here.

Digital landscape meets manufacturing world

Project Highlights: Digital landscape meets manufacturing world

     MTech Hub, a network created by a Burlington-based software development company Seradex, represents small- and medium-sized manufacturers devoted to exploring and introducing the digital landscape into their businesses. They came to Research & Innovation last May to develop an Internet of Things (IoT) sensor solution that would measure equipment voltage in an attempt to mitigate long-term repair costs and reduce energy consumption.

     Seradex is a Burlington-based software development company focused on the development of enterprise resource planning (ERP) software that is geared economically towards SME manufacturers. Commonly, this kind of software is created and costed out for large enterprises. Working against the grain, Seradex has developed a platform that offers the opportunity for the SME manufacturing market to make use of large enterprise ERP tools at a fraction of the cost. To extend this, Seradex created the MTech (Manufacturing Technology) Hub. MTech consists of a network of SME manufacturers that seek to overcome common industry business challenges through the use and adoption of digital technologies. The latest challenge identified was in monitoring manufacturing equipment activity in an attempt to mitigate repair costs and high energy consumption.

     For this project, Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre (WAMIC) and the Digital Media & Web Solutions teams were able to identify wireless voltage sensors already in the market that could be retrofitted to existing equipment. For testing purposes, WAMIC’s 3D printers were outfitted with numerous sensors to get an idea of what voltage levels would look like. A comparison was also conducted to determine the accuracy and setup ease for different brands of sensors.

     Ksenia Daich, a co-op student from the college’s Computer Programmer Analyst program and member of the Digital Media and Web Solutions team, developed a database for storing sensor readings, along with an internal real-time dashboard for the WAMIC team to use as a monitoring tool. As a result, the team was given an immensely valuable overview of the equipment’s daily activity.

     With the results in hand, Seradex and Research & Innovation were both able to better understand how IoT sensors could mitigate high-energy consumption and equipment repair costs. Furthermore, this was a stepping stone in understanding how sensors can improve everyday processes without spending a lot of money, because each sensor that was found could be retrofitted to existing machinery with ease. Based on the research team’s sensor recommendations, the next step for Seradex is to build out monitoring software that can then be commercially distributed through the MTech Hub network of SME manufacturers.