Category Archives: Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre

NC research lab tech talks engineering, art and adrenaline

Creativity is often thought of as the cornerstone of engineering.

For artist and mechanical engineering technologist Brock Husak, he is proving engineers are indeed fundamentally creators – both requiring imagination and smarts to develop novel solutions to problems. 

During the course of many research projects, this research laboratory technologist at the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre (WAMIC) generates conceptual freehand designs before moving onto a digital CAD drawing format.

“It can be a blessing, but I also have to catch myself trying to get creative with something that does not need to be overly complicated,” he says with a laugh.

In addition to his busy full-time position at Niagara College, Husak burns the midnight oil designing and painting helmets for athletes, from professional motocross racers to Olympic cyclists, using his drawing and airbrush talents.

“This is a way for me to satisfy my burning desire to be creative and make art while also generating some extra money from it.”

Graduating from NC’s Mechanical Engineering Technology program in April 2019, Husak has been with the Research & Innovation division since January 2017, first during his co-op as a research assistant and then as a research associate until this past September, when he assumed his new interim role of research laboratory technologist.

Husak has amassed a wealth of experience in all areas at the research labs at WAMIC, including reverse engineering in conjunction with 3D CAD modelling/printing and rapid prototyping, metrology and machine design, to name just a few.

All this has laid a solid foundation for his current position, where he is responsible for coordinating the technical services and applied research activities and managing the various advanced manufacturing technologies and equipment in the research labs. He also provides mentorship training to the co-op students and graduate research associates.

Husak says he most appreciates the diversity of projects and tasks he’s afforded. “Every day really is a new day here. You’re always doing something new, which is so important to me.”

“When I’m grooving, and in the zone, it’s a feeling like no other – a sense of satisfaction and happiness all at once.”

Likewise, on his list of advantages, he would tell prospective co-op students interested in working at WAMIC, is having the opportunity to learn new skills.

“Sometimes, you’ll be tasked with something you’ve had no experience with, and you’ll slowly understand and work through the challenges,” he explains. “This makes for a smarter you and allows you to build your resume for future endeavours.”

He recalls a successful project he worked on during his senior co-op term for medical technology industry partner Studio 1 Labs. The company invented an intelligent medical bed sheet with fabric sensing and non-invasive technology that wirelessly monitors vital signs for hospital patients and can predict the onset of health decline and emergencies.

R&I’s digital media team helped with the interface software, and Husak developed an electrical component enclosure designed for injection molding – a creative undertaking.

“The project literally went perfect,” he recalls. “I learned some valuable lessons along the way. The client was very happy; our team at WAMIC was happy. So it was a huge success.”

More recently, the Niagara Falls native also played a large role in producing many thousands of face shields at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic when PPE was scarce. During the closure of both NC campuses, Husak was one of only a few graduate students in the WAMIC lab assembling the PPE for local health-care workers.

A total of 17,300 face shields were donated to the local Niagara Health System and another 20,000 units going to other essential workers and community members throughout the province.

“It felt rewarding knowing I was helping the community and the brave front-line workers.”

During these challenging times Husak has used his love of art to provide his own sense of inspiration.

“When I’m grooving, and in the zone, it’s a feeling like no other – a sense of satisfaction and happiness all at once.”

Husak draws, paints and does the occasional mural, but most of his time is dedicated to helmet work for his business, Twisted Design. He has had his own art exhibition and even won ‘creator of the year’ at the 2018 Niagara Social Awards, which recognizes the Niagara region’s writers, entrepreneurs and creators.

While he “lives for creativity,” Husak says his need for adrenaline is just as important.

He feeds this passion with motocross, where he races throughout Canada and the United States. It’s a sport he took up as a youngster and has acquired the trophies and more than a few broken bones along the way.

He also satisfies his craving for adrenaline – and exercise – through rock climbing, a discipline that he devotes time to, as many as three times a week.

Grad hired thanks to 3D design experience with R&I

Anusha Qureshi is a 2020 graduate of Niagara College’s Mechanical Engineering Technology program and was a mechanical research assistant for Research & Innovation’s Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre (WAMIC) for eight months in 2018. Anusha is employed as a technical specialist for Tetra Tech Inc., working as contractor with Ontario Power Generation.

Tell us about where you work:

I was hired by Tetra Tech Inc., an international consulting and engineering firm, as a technical specialist. Tetra Tech provides engineering solutions to clients working on water, environment, infrastructure, resource management, energy, and international development.

Through Tetra Tech, I have been working since August 2020 as a full-time contractor-draftsperson at Ontario Power Generation (OPG) in Bowmanville, Ont. OPG is one of the world’s largest power production companies in North America, and works with hydro, nuclear, biomass, gas and solar as generating sources.

Describe your role and what you like about it:

My job is to draft and modify mechanical/civil engineering drawings using 2D design software. I draft fabrication and construction drawings for Darlington Nuclear plant refurbishment, maintenance and training purposes. The refurbishment drafting includes drawings for concrete, steelwork, fire plan drawings and roadways.

I really enjoy working for a company that is providing for the country every day in the form of electricity and environmental safety. It is a great feeling. When I was in college, I recognized I was a good CAD designer, and I also seemed to enjoy doing it throughout my program. It makes me grateful to think that I have landed a job for something I enjoy doing. I am so grateful for the amazing professors at Niagara College who taught us the software so well that it has become a full-time job that I enjoy doing.

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

It is safe to say that my experience at R&I helped me get this job. I am saying this because I got into OPG as a co-op student initially, and I was told on my first day by one of the supervisors that the reason my resume stood out was my experience with 3D design technologies at my previous co-op at Research & Innovation. R&I provided me with the opportunity to put my hands on new technologies such as 3D printers, 3D scanners and laser cutters at an early stage of my program — not only technologies, but at R&I, I developed my project management, writing, presentation, and speaking skills.

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

I had the opportunity to work with OKE Polymer Systems at R&I. The project was to design an aid using their polymer-based material that would help immobile and bed-ridden patients. More than a project, it was an incredible opportunity to work for a good cause. Working on this project was an all-encompassing experience as I worked on so many skills. I worked on my 3D CAD-designing skills, where I learned about mold design function in CAD and became familiar with mold designing in general.

I was also introduced to 3D polyjet printing and print iterations. We did endless trials and errors, where I enhanced my troubleshooting skills and bit by bit improved 3D printing every time I used it to design a different model. At the end of the project, I made a detailed final report, where I demonstrated the report-writing skills I learned in college and also learned new aspects of report writing. I was able to challenge myself throughout this project with so many new skills.

What led you to Niagara College in the first place?

My brother went to Niagara College and took the same program as I did, so I followed in his footsteps. When my brother was a student at NC, and I was in Pakistan, he introduced me to Niagara College. He would also talk about his projects and co-ops and how the professors, career advisors and international advisors had helped him. It was a depiction of how international student-friendly NC is and how innovative the programs are designed.

“I got into OPG as a co-op student initially, and I was told on my first day by one of the supervisors that the reason my resume stood out was my experience with 3D design technologies at my previous co-op at Research & Innovation.”


Most memorable experience at NC?

I had the opportunity to go on the ‘Be World Ready’ trip to Germany with some students and professors from NC’s School of Technology. We were able to visit the factories of Porsche, BMW, and Volkswagen. Wow, I can never put it into words how incredible the trip was. It was amazing to learn how people from similar professions are operating in a different part of the world. With lots of learning, we had endless fun. I would highly recommend current students to take part in at least one Be World Ready trip.

A faculty member who influenced you?

Well, it would be extremely difficult to pick one. I am so grateful for all the professors I had during my program. I have heard horrible stories about professors from friends who went to other colleges or universities before me. I was lucky because I was taught by amazing professors all along.

The most amount of time I have spent in classes were with professor Neil Walker [Mechanical Engineering Technology] and professor Aaron Shatkosky [Mechanical Engineering Technology] because they taught us in almost every semester. I do not remember going to Aaron with a question and coming back without an answer. He was always there to help during class or after. His lectures included a lot of learning, a little bit of humour and delicious cookies.

There were no bad questions in Neil’s class because Neil would answer everything with such expertise that it would reflect his experience. The way Neil addresses every student’s concern in such a huge class is commendable. I was influenced by Neil’s dedication and teaching skills throughout the program. He nailed each and every subject he taught (and they were not easy). He has just figured out the art of teaching.

A mentor at R&I?

It was a pleasure to work with everyone at R&I. I mostly worked with my project lead, Gordon Maretzki [now centre manager, WAMIC]. He was a great mentor to me during my co-op at R&I. Even though it was my first-ever job in the field of engineering, he gave me full responsibility for the projects and kept me challenged throughout. He made it very clear that he trusts every student, which made me strive for solutions without fear of messing up. In one of our final project reports, he wrote a paragraph to recognize my work on the project, which today still encourages me every time I read it.

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

To future alumni, I would like to say: Do not be afraid of trying out new things. Be experimental with co-ops and new interests. Try everything, and, in the end, you might find what you enjoy doing the most. College is the best place to make mistakes and to learn from them.

To current research students: There are endless opportunities and learning at Research & Innovation. Between projects, try to interact and explore new technologies that they have to offer.

Proudest achievement since graduating?

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, our last semester was completed online. It was new and challenging for all the students and professors. Therefore, I was proud to complete my semester with desirable grades. I worked really hard on the job search and finally got hired during a pandemic.

Interests outside of work?

Now that I have graduated, I have some free time after work, in which I have started to invest in learning some music. I recently started to learn to play the guitar.

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

Never associate happiness with the destination. Be happy and enjoy the journey. The destination would itself become desirable.

Anything else you want to say?

Any guitarist reading this? I would love some free lessons! 😀

Learn more about Anusha: https://www.ncinnovation.ca/ar/anushaq

NC expertise helps partner get innovative dental device to trials

Kerber Applied Research Inc. (KAR) is known for helping other companies with their existing electronic projects, providing system engineering, design guidance and creating prototypes from conceptual ideas through finalized products.

However, the Hamilton, Ont.-based KAR also focuses on their own original inventions for various markets. They sought the expertise of the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre (WAMIC) for one such prototype for the dental industry.

Vacubright is an innovative dental tool, with LED lighting to increase visibility for dental professionals –providing increased visibility in the oral cavity with a bendable, hand-held device, instead of only using the overhead lamp, used by most dentists and hygienists.

“Our challenge was to have a design 3D printed for testing purposes for dentists and hygienists,” says KAR president Tom Kerber, adding that sterilization of the prototype for the trials was an absolute must, given the requirements of the coronavirus pandemic; there was also a limited quantity of LED devices that could be made during the trial period.

Kerber needed to have 20 sets 3D printed using high temperature, high-quality plastic pieces for his trial with dental professionals.

“I tried to 3D print at my facility with good success with printing low temperature plastics, but multiple failures printing with higher temperature plastics, such as nylon,” explains Kerber. “The plastic needed to pass through the autoclave disinfection dental appliance with no deformation in the disinfection process.”

Kerber then approached Niagara College’s Research & Innovation division to leverage its design capabilities and knowledge of injection molding, says Brock Husak, interim research laboratory technologist with WAMIC. “It turned out to be a tricky project considering the requirement needed to make a part injection molded while maintaining important geometry found in the original model.”

The WAMIC team used CAD-based software to design the device for injection molding, keeping in mind draft angles, wall thickness, ribbing for added strength, and geometry that is moldable, explains Husak.

After a number of testing and design corrections by the research engineers, in the end, the prototype worked flawlessly, says Kerber.

“I retested the parts under the high temperature disinfection process, extending the normal one-hour dissention time to 12 hours and there was no deformity of the plastic,” he says, adding he’s now ready to approach the dentists who have expressed an interest to evaluate the new dental device.

He says both dentists and hygienists have told him this “revolutionary light device will offer more depth of light to see in the oral cavity,” making their job easier.

“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,” notes Kerber.

KAR has also worked with the Research & Innovation division’s Business & Commercialization Solutions team to obtain market research about the dental industry, developing a website and research into the best channel for launching their product.

This project was made possible through the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC-IRAP), which provides up to 20 hours of access to the equipment, facilities, and expertise of a Technology Access Centre (TAC) 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. To discover other resources and capabilities, visit the website.

WAMIC improves leak detection, prevention solution device

 

As any homeowner who has experienced water damage can attest, reliably detecting and preventing the leak in the first place would have saved enormous money, not to mention time and headaches.

It’s this principle that Burlington, Ont.-based company EcoNet Controls adopts in producing its line of water leak detection and prevention solutions for both residential and small commercial properties.

The company’s flagship product, the Bulldog Leak Detection & Prevention Solution, fits over the watermain valve and, in response to leak detection, can automatically close the valve – potentially avoiding damage to the property.

In looking to upgrade and improve this product using a wired leak sensor solution, EcoNet Controls needed the expertise of research engineers at Niagara College’s Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre (WAMIC) for a viable manufacture and design solution, says Blake Allen, president at EcoNet Controls.

“Our current standard leak sensor is a puck-type module that sits on the floor in leak sensitive locations,” explains Allen. “If water reaches the puck, it activates the sensor and the system will shut off the water.” 

The rope extension to the puck adds area coverage and is ideal for locations such as the fridge, hot water tank, laundry room, etc.    

While EcoNet Controls had created a wired leak sensor prototype, it had an issue of long dry time and the company was looking to eliminate this problem.

The research team at the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre (WAMIC) explored and tested several solution variations, including 3D-printed components, explained Al Spence, PhD, and research lead WAMIC.

While exploring several solutions for EcoNet Control’s robot valve (shown on the home’s watermain shutoff), researchers use a testing multimeter and an early version of a prototype rope extension to reliably detect and prevent water leakage.

“A length of detection ‘rope’ that encircles or zig-zags over the potential leak area is an improvement, but commercial offerings often do not lay flat on the floor (missing detection areas), or after a leak take many hours to dry before they can be reused,” says Spence.

Allen says he is taking the results from this initial project research to complete a design that is manufacturable and that integrates into his company’s current leak detection and prevention solutions.

“Together with our internal development efforts, we plan to incorporate the best ideas into a new rope sensor product,” says Allen. “We were impressed that the WAMIC team expressed a genuine interest in our challenge. Regular update telephone calls and emails ensured that the project direction was maintained.” 

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 (TAC) to solve a specific business or technical challenge.

“We are currently engaged in a second IRAP IV project, and anticipate a similar beneficial interaction,” Allen adds.

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.

WAMIC designs small-scale 3D replicas to showcase large equipment

The research team at Niagara College’s Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre used CAD-based software to generate small-scale 3D-printed replicas (approximately four times smaller) of two large assembly equipment pieces to be used to showcase the company’s capabilities at tradeshows.

It’s no small matter for a company to pack up and ship thousands of pounds of equipment in order to showcase products at tradeshows – both in terms of transportation cost and carbon footprint.

In fact, for Handling Specialty, much of what they custom build for multiple industries is too large to consider representation outside of photography and video to exhibit their products, says Michael Poeltl, marketing manager for the Grimsby, Ont. Company.

Handling Specialty is a leading provider of custom-engineered material handling systems – such as lifting, tilting, rotating and traversing equipment – to a wide range of industries, including automotive, aerospace and for a variety of advanced manufacturing applications. 

They sought the 3D-engineering and printing capabilities of the experts at Niagara College’s Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre (WAMIC) for an innovative solution to provide smaller-scale replicas of two products to overcome this challenge.

The company specifically needed to develop two models to use at a major aerospace tradeshow. Such models, says Poeltl, are an effective tool to help promote their capabilities in providing custom-engineered solutions for complex material handling challenges.

“In order to drastically cut costs of crating and shipping many thousands of pounds across the continent while still physically representing our product at tradeshows, 3D printing from our existing engineering drawings and models made perfect sense,” adds Poeltl. “This and the fact that we could limit our carbon footprint by shipping something weighing less than a kilo [2.2 pounds] rather than two or three thousand pounds was a great incentive.”

Handling Specialty wanted to scale down and 3D print replicas of two large pieces; one, an aero engine work station, a custom lifting system used by aero engine manufacturers to safely position engines for final assembly or testing operations. The model sourced from the Research & Innovation team was based upon a design approximately 35 feet long by 30 feet wide and 28 feet tall. The unit offers 40,000-lb capacity, 18 feet of vertical travel with multi-axis positioning capabilities.

The second piece was a manually guided vehicle (MGV), a self-contained, DC powered transporter used by aero engine OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers), aircraft manufacturers and MRO (Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul) companies. The equipment is rated for 40,000 lbs capacity and is approximately 20 feet long by 14 feet wide and designed to transfer engines from various assembly stations to engine test cells.

The WAMIC research team worked to manipulate and modify the existing engineering drawings in order to generate scale models and then printed the prototypes in its Technology Access Centre (TAC) labs at the Welland Campus of Niagara College.

A scale model (1:26.2) was produced of the aero engine work station, bringing the dimensions to approximately 20 inches by 14 inches by 13 inches; and the manually guided vehicle was scaled down 1:11.9 (20 inches by 13 inches by 13 inches), and was also printed again even smaller at 1:20.8 scale (nine inches by six inches by six inches).

“Niagara College gave Handling Specialty the opportunity to see tradeshows in a new perspective,” says Poeltl, “including our large-scale products in miniature which people could still touch and feel their way around, while keeping displays affordable and sustainable.”

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 (TAC) to solve a specific business or technical challenge.

“The results of 3D printing our products were inspiring. They were perfectly proportioned and showed very well,” added Poeltl. “When not travelling in tradeshows, the impressive replicas are showcased at our Grimsby offices.”

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.

Computer grad “grows” as developer in new career

Michael Gall is a 2019 graduate of Niagara College’s Computer Programmer/Analyst (Co-op) program. He spent a year with the Agriculture & Environmental Technologies Innovation Centre, with Research & Innovation, first as a research assistant and then a research associate. Michael started in March 2020 at Rentsync in St. Catharines as a software developer.

Tell us about where you work:

I work at Rentsync (formerly Landlord Web Solutions) in St. Catharines, Ont. They provide a wide variety of services to the housing rental industry, mostly in the form of marketing and data tracking tools. Some examples of these would be creating websites and providing ad syndication for property management companies, to distribute ads out to listing platforms (like Kijiji or PadMapper) without the client needing to individually manage each ad posting.

Describe your role and what you like about it:

My current position is a software developer on the “Feeds & Integrations” team. I work primarily with importing, managing, and exporting property data for clients. I work first-hand with clients and their developers in creating a plan to bring in their property data, and then use available tooling or create custom solutions for formatting. For the most part, I am using website scrapers, direct XML or JSON feeds, and REST API responses to gather this data. The team is a rather new addition to the company, so I really love the freedom I have, to plan and use technologies as I see fit. This has offered me great room to grow as a developer by learning new technologies, while also letting me implement things that I’m already comfortable with, that I learned while I was at Research & Innovation.

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

My experience at R&I, specifically in AETIC, really gave me the ability to pick up new technologies and understand them in a fast-paced environment. When I started at R&I, I went in with very little web development experience, and ended up learning a whole slew of modern technologies. Being comfortable with learning and researching translates well to this current job I have, as it has been all about learning since I started. 

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

I worked on a web portal for farm data [Niagara College Crop Portal], that was used to display point-by-point variables of soil. This project was quite memorable because I learned so much about geographic information systems (GIS mapping specifically) as well as the math and science behind the growth of plants. It was all about learning how to apply a scientific formula, then creating a user interface. Not only was it nice to learn how a data scientist views data and how they calculate it, it also helped imagining how the eventual end user would use that product as well. 

What led you to Niagara College in the first place?

I was led to Niagara College after high school as I was undecided if I wanted to pursue Mechanical Engineering or if I wanted to study Computer Science. Niagara College was recommended to me by a friend who was a recent graduate (Matthew Felice) who said it offers a lot of hands-on experience. This led me to taking my Computer Programmer/Analyst program.

Most memorable experience at NC?

The most memorable experience was seeing that a drag-and-drop designer was available in Visual Studio in my first year of programming courses. My mind was blown learning that the websites and applications I use could have been pieced together by someone dragging and dropping buttons, text boxes, and check boxes.

“When I started at Research & Innovation, I went in with very little web development experience, and ended up learning a whole slew of modern technologies.”

A faculty member who influenced you?

There were plenty of faculty members who really influenced me. Peter Vanscoy [professor, Computer Programming] gave a great introduction to programming for me as he was my first-year, first-semester teacher. Marsha Baddeley [professor, Computer Programming] and Dave Kendall [professor, Computer Programming] stick out to me as the professors who probably had the most impact on me due to them working with me through our community sponsored projects. I remember having so many “A-HA!” moments when talking with them where the solutions I was working on finally made sense. Oh! And I do want to toss a shout-out to Melissa Vanderlely [professor, Computer Programming] in there for causing me to draw an interest in getting my Bachelor’s degree with her teaching of advanced programming techniques in my third year.

A mentor at R&I?

During my co-op at R&I, Alex Davis was the senior research associate [AETIC] I worked under, and was incredibly helpful when it came to learning the technologies we used there. Angular (a JavaScript framework) is notoriously difficult to pick up for students, and he helped me turn around to being productive in less than a month. As I progressed more and more, I worked closely with Shubham Kumar [former senior research associate, AETIC] and Sarah Lepp, [former senior research associate, AETIC] who were mentors for the topic of GIS. They took me from zero knowledge about geography, to knowing how to project points onto a map, and calculate if hazelnuts would grow at that point!

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

Software development involves a lot of programming, and it’s important to learn the tools available to you inside of certain languages for you to tackle issues, but this shouldn’t be the only focus. As developers, we’re paid to be problem solvers, not to write the most trendy, or least lines of code solution. We are paid simply to solve the problem as best as we can. Try to focus on broadening your own mental toolkit, and don’t tie yourself down to a language. 

After being in the workforce, what have you learned?

I’ve learned that clients will do everything in their power to break something. The code that I write has to be impervious to people cramming numbers into where words should go, deleting random things, using an incredibly old computer, you name it! Work showed me that validation and security are equally as important as writing the code to solve the issue. I used to think “Well, no one’s ever going to put a picture in the box labelled ‘Please don’t put a picture here’” but they definitely will, without fail. 

Proudest achievement since graduating?

In terms of schooling, I was accepted to Brock University for a Bachelor’s of Computer Science program! And in terms of work, at Rentsync I’ve already onboarded my first co-worker to my team and have taken on a “mentor” role for them.

Interests outside of work?

I usually like playing video games, analysing data, cooking, and playing with my new kitten! 

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

We made it to today – we can make it to tomorrow.

Anything else you want to say?

Stay safe during this pandemic everyone, and get used to remote work because I have a funny feeling it’s going to be sticking around!