Category Archives: Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre

Rafael Almeida on his strategy for life

Rafael Almeida

The Niagara region has a particularly sentimental meaning for Rafael Almeida. When searching for a Canadian school to enrol in computer programming, it was the beauty of this region that reminded him of his honeymoon locale in his home country of Brazil.

While it may not seem a likely comparison given the tropical South American climate, the southern tourist town of Gramado is a scenic four-season destination, with an array of food, culture, wine … and snow.

“Niagara really got to my heart because of the memories from my honeymoon,” says Rafael, a Research Assistant with the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre at Niagara College’s Research & Innovation division. “Then when I learned about what Niagara College had to offer for me, everything was a perfect match.”

His quest to further develop his specialized knowledge in information systems was just part of a bigger plan. In leaving the political and economic upheaval of Brazil, he and his wife also wanted to make a better life for their young daughter.

With a Bachelor’s degree in information systems and post-graduate education in IT Management, Rafael spent 15 years working for one of Latin America’s largest software companies. And while he had a comfortable financial footing back home, he knew that his education needed to be broadened to have security for the future.

“It was not only specialized, and a proprietary language that I was experienced in, it was very old technology,” he explains. “If they suddenly closed, I would be in trouble … it’s not a programming language that could be transferred easily.”

“In my job in Brazil I would never have the opportunity to work with lasers. Here, I have real-world problems that I’m solving with my knowledge – my college knowledge and my past business knowledge.”

Since arriving in 2018, Rafael’s strategy has been to work extremely hard at his grades, provide for his family, learn the language and give back when he can. To date, he has earned near perfect grades in his first two terms, holds down two jobs, he’s nearly fluent in English, and peer mentors, and tutors other international students.

At 35, Rafael has the maturity to understand the importance of all his actions.

“I knew that it would be hard mentally and financially, but it’s all part of the strategy. I came here with this in my mind,” he says. “I had to be the best one in class and get as much knowledge as I can. I need to make it work. I need to do whatever I have time to in order to hopefully establish here.”

He realized it was going to be a challenging schedule, leaving little time to spend with his wife Priscila and five-year-old daughter Alice, given his school work, his R&I position and a part-time job at Walmart near his St. Catharines’ home. “That’s the only thing that makes me a little sad. But we all know it’s temporary and it’s good for our future.”

Since starting with Research & Innovation earlier this summer, Rafael has had the opportunity to work on projects he never dreamed possible – lasers, 3D printers, Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence and more.  

His first assignment was helping his team with a project for industry partner Speed Composites, who had invented a product to provide precise measurements and optimum adjustments of a race car’s chassis prior to a race, and wirelessly transmit the data to an app. The company needed help building the electronics and programming the software/firmware.

Rafael was brought on board to help troubleshoot issues with the laser measurement sensor. He soon discovered that various surfaces made differences with the measurements and his team was able to adjust the sensors.

“In my job in Brazil I would never have the opportunity to work with lasers,” he says. “Here, I have real-world problems that I’m solving with my knowledge – my college knowledge and my past business knowledge.”

As well, with his expertise in process management software in fields such as logistics, manufacturing and financial services, he has been putting his experience to good use in helping to revamp the R&I platform work management software, Tracksuite.

“The experience I’m gaining will definitely make a difference on my resume.”

Rafael understands that his current experiences will shape his future. So, when he was invited by R&I staff to be the student representative guest speaker at a $14-million funding announcement by the federal government to Niagara College, he knew he could not pass up the opportunity, even if he was hesitant to speak in front of a group of dignitaries in his second language.

“I was told the federal Minister of Infrastructure and Communities would be there, and I was like, ‘for all of Canada?’” he jokes. “But I’m pretty sure this is going to help me in the future. The videos and photos of that day will definitely be part of my portfolio.”

For every milestone so far in the region that’s so close to his heart, he is grateful. “It’s been very good for us here,” he says. “For my daughter she’s learning things and having opportunities that she didn’t have. Brazil is a good country with good people, but here in Canada we have opportunities that we wouldn’t have there, mainly for our daughter.”

Upon graduation, Rafael says his plan is to apply for a post-graduate work permit with the hope of staying in Canada another three years.

In the meantime, he continues to find time to mentor other international students who may be struggling to adapt to the region or their academics. 

“It’s always good to help others achieve success,” he adds. “We are more than only ourselves in this life. If at the end of the day you make someone feel better about themselves, I call it a good day.”


POSITION AVAILABLE: Mechanical Engineering Research Assistant position available with our Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre team

Mechanical Engineering Assistant 

The Mechanical Engineering Research Assistant will have a comprehensive skill set to work with the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre team and Industry Partners on a variety of time-sensitive projects. The successful candidate may work on research projects or technical services in areas such as additive manufacturing, product design and development, reverse engineering and more.

Click HERE to see the full job posting. The deadline to apply is Friday, August 23rd at 4PM.

To apply, please email your resume, cover letter, class schedule and transcript to and reference posting ‘WAMIC19-01’.


We thank all applicants; however, only those qualifying for an interview will be contacted.

Positions Available with our Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre team

Mechanical Engineering Research Associate

The Mechanical Engineering Research Associate will have a comprehensive skill set to work with the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre team, Faculty Leads and Industry Partners on a variety of time-sensitive projects.

Click HERE for the full job posting. The deadline to apply is Tuesday, July 23rd at 12pm.

To apply, please email your resume, cover letter and transcript to Niagara College Research & Innovation, and reference ‘Mechanical Research Associate’ in the subject line.


Computer Programmer Research Associate

The successful candidate will work with the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre team. The work includes programming, testing and troubleshooting of interface software for product development of advanced manufacturing research projects. 

Click HERE for the full job posting. The deadline to apply is Monday, July 29th at 12pm.

To apply, please email your resume, cover letter and transcript to Niagara College Research & Innovation, and reference ‘Computer Programmer Research Associate (WAMIC)’ in the subject line.


We thank all applicants; however, only those qualifying for an interview will be contacted.

Where Are They Now?: Brian Cunningham


Brian Cunningham graduated from the Electrical Engineering Technology (Co-op) program in 2018. He spent two years working on Research & Innovation’s Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre team as a Research Assistant. Brian began his new role as Engineering Technician in February 2019 at Cimcorp Automation, a global supplier of intralogistics automation.

Tell us a little about where you work:

Cimcorp Automation is a manufacturer and integrator of pioneering material handling systems for the tire industry that has developed unique robotic solutions for order fulfillment and storage. These solutions are being used in the food & beverage, retail, e-commerce, fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG), and postal service sectors.

Describe your role and what you like about it:

Currently, I am assisting in coordinating new resource management software for internal company use. My main responsibilities regarding this software include maintaining our large catalog of design and commercial parts, as well as providing training to engineering designers to allow them to utilize our new software for a number of engineering processes.

As we transition into this new software, I have also been taking on challenges with troubleshooting some of our smaller automated robots. This has led me to work with and testing servo motors and servo drives, as well as various battery and battery management technologies. 

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

Much of my time at Research & Innovation was spent developing automated systems. This included programming PLCs and microcontrollers. I also worked on some electrical panel design, wiring prototypes, as well as designing and assembling printed circuit boards. 

I believe these experiences, that I enjoyed so much, led me directly into a career in the material handling industry. My constant exposure to electrical design as well as different advanced manufacturing processes has also allowed me to easily communicate between both electrical and mechanical designers to address their concerns, as we continue to roll out our new resource management software being used by our employees.

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

The Grimo nut project was my first and most memorable project I was able to be part of at Research & Innovation. Grimo Nut Nursery breeds a walnut variation known as the heartnut, which is popular because of its heart-shaped shell. The nuts had to be cracked by hand using a hammer in order to keep the shell intact and the industry partner needed an automated solution for cracking.

Our team developed a proof-of-concept machine that employs pneumatics for quick feeding and positioning of the heartnut, a programmable logic control (PLC) system to control and fine-tune all of the operations on this machine, and a proprietary nut-cracking chamber. It was my first experience with PLC programming, and was one of the more intricate and complex projects that research had taken on at the time. It really challenged me and the rest of the design team to think outside the box.

What led you to Niagara College in the first place?

I knew I wanted to get into engineering and was looking for something a little more applied. My program at Niagara College offered courses that spent large portions of class time in the labs. Small class sizes also allowed students to get plenty of one-on-one time with professors.

“If you can show that you are able to recognize mistakes – correct them, learn from them, and self-regulate – you can make yourself a very valuable asset within your workplace.”

Most memorable experience at NC?

Being able to participate in open house events at NC was always a great experience. It gave me the chance to highlight the potential opportunities that await those who are interested in the Engineering faculty as well as Research & Innovation at Niagara College.

I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to learn and grow during my time at NC and Research & Innovation, and it would be an incredible disservice to potential students and program applicants if they were not made aware of these potential opportunities that await them. Whether I was giving a presentation or providing a group with a tour of the research lab, I’ve always seen it as a way of paying it forward and hopefully inspiring future students to realize their full potential at NC.

A faculty member who influenced you?

There isn’t one particular faculty member that had an influence on me, because they all did! Every one of my teachers had something different to bring to the table; they all had different experiences that they could draw from to supplement the content taught in the classroom. So without making the list too long, I want to say thanks to Paul Jiankos, Fred Graham, Paul Kendrick, Sarah Rouillier, and Mike van den Bogerd for making #myncstory a memorable one!

A mentor at R&I?

Again, there are almost too many people to list. If I had to pick, my Project Leads Gord Maretzki and Al Spence were able to provide me with literally decades of industry experience expertise between the two of them. They always encouraged me to think outside the box and to continually hold my work to the highest standard. Their experience in automation and robotics certainly played a role in the career I find myself in today.

Big shout out to Jim Lambert, Gord Koslowski, Carolyn Mullin and Marc Nantel for bringing me along to countless trade shows, research symposiums, and showcases. Thank you for pulling me out of my comfort zone allowing me to show faculty, local business owners, industry professionals, and even members of parliament what Niagara College Research & Innovation is really all about.

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

Don’t let uncertainty stop you from doing anything. In research, when we’re uncertain of what’s going to happen, we try it out ourselves to find out! The worst possible thing that could happen in the end is you learn something, and you’ll only be better because of it. 

After being in the workforce, what have you learned?

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes when you’re just starting out. That’s not to say you shouldn’t hold yourself to a high standard (because you should!), but employers recognize there is a learning curve to their processes and methods of operation. If you can show that you are able to recognize mistakes, correct them, learn from them, and self-regulate, you can make yourself a very valuable asset within your workplace. 

Proudest achievement since graduating?

Starting my career! It’s really encouraging to see all of my hard work beginning to pay off.

Interests outside of work?

In the summer months, I usually like to get out on my bike when I’m not playing on one of my slo-pitch softball teams. In the winter when the weather’s not great I’ll work on designing and building audio equipment for my home setup. My drums get played year round!

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

Check out Taylor Wallace & Patch Bay (my band) on Soundcloud!



Innovation in Action

Through applied research activities, Niagara College’s Research & Innovation division is preparing the workforce with the right know–how by providing an array of researcher expertise, supported by leading-edge facilities, technology and equipment. See how graduates and R&I alumni are applying their skills and knowledge in the real world.

Even green screen tech can be improved

Alex Davis, Computer Programming graduate and current Research & Innovation Research Associate helped develop a user-friendly interface for the innovative green screen tracker prototype created by Keyframe Studios in St. Catharines.

When Keyframe Studios, an award-winning animation and visual effects company, created a concept prototype to reduce green-screen post-production compositing time, they needed assistance taking it to the next level, and in making it sophisticated enough to hit the commercial market.

Keyframe Studios’ visual effects division, Krow VFX, is based in St. Catharines and partnered with Niagara College’s Research & Innovation team for their expertise in developing a wireless product. A technology that would lessen the work load for artists trying to track green screen movements that have no valid reference points. In addition to the original X-Men movie and many others, the studio also worked on many television series: Penny Dreadful, Warehouse 13, Expanse, and Altered Carbon to name a few.

Green screen filming in the motion picture industry requires fixed reference points on the green screen in order to synchronize post-production rendering of the background scenes. The reference points allow the software to anchor the backgrounds in reference to the moving actors and foreground elements. While these fixed reference points are sufficient when camera movement is slow, they become blurred and lose registration during accelerated movements.

Krow collaborated with the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre and Digital Media teams at NC to develop a wireless visual effects digital tracking aid prototype using addressable “Blink” LEDs, and a user-friendly interface. Students and staff researchers, from areas such as Electrical Engineering and Computer Programming, created hardware consisting of LED lights that are influenced by an accelerometer and software to control the LED units on or off function.

The program, which controls the wireless green screen reference points, connects with the sensors via a wireless signal and controls the rate of blinks per frame, as well as tracking the location of the camera in reference to those lights. The early proof-of-concept prototype is set up with software in mobile app form and using Bluetooth technology to transmit information to the nodes.

The company is entering into the second phase of the project with the College and will look into finding alternatives to the current technology that will enable faster transfer rates and low latency, explains Clint Green, Co-founder of Krow VFX.

“And there are a variety of functions that we have yet to implement into the software, size and weight issues with the nodes, mounting requirements for the camera base unit and node mounting issues. So as you can imagine, there is still a tremendous amount of work to be done before we can test in real-world conditions. But the prototype is working, so a significant amount of the heavy lifting is behind us.”

No such product currently exists in the market, so the success of this device opens the door for Krow to significantly increase their productivity and create a market with other production companies worldwide.

“Of course we will take advantage and use as part of our on-set package, but eventually we plan rental units and sales,” says Green.

The project was made possible through the Southern Ontario Network for Advanced Manufacturing Innovation (SONAMI), a Niagara College-led consortium funded by the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev).

The team has been great. I am surprised each time I visit how talented and professional the students and staff are,” adds Green. “From day one we felt as if we had engineering partners and that was important to us… our success had to be the college’s success.”

Race car measurement device drives out guesswork

Research Assistant and Mechanical Engineering Technologies (Co-op) student Cedric Malangis-Valdes (bottom left) demonstrates the digital measurement device he helped develop for industry partner Speed Composites. The measurement data is transmitted wirelessly to a tablet or smart phone app (right).

Speed Composites, manufacturers of composite panels for race cars competing at tracks in Canada and the United States, were looking to expand their product line to give an extra edge to competition vehicles, when they landed on an innovative idea. An idea that would help provide precise measurements of a vehicle’s chassis prior to a race.

Competitive racing requires the measurement of the car’s chassis frame to determine optimum adjustment for varying track conditions. So important is it, the chassis set up can mean the difference between winning and losing the race, says Charlie King, president of the Dunnville-based Speed Composites. However, accurate digital measurement equipment is expensive and beyond the budget for most small racing teams, which is why typically a team member would lay on the ground with a tape measure and a flashlight, taking their best guess at frame heights.

With limited experience in electronics or programming of the software/firmware required to bring the product to market, Speed Composites approached Niagara College’s Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre for their expertise to create a wireless laser device that could be adapted for accurate and economical measurement of the chassis frame.

 “Every time a team prepares its cars for an upcoming competition there are a series of adjustments and final checks that they perform, including weight distribution, tire size and pressure, spring compressions, fuel level and chassis height,” explains King, adding each one of these checks is critical and if any measurement is out of range, it would dramatically affect the vehicle’s performance.

“Our proposed solution was a laser sensor that would eliminate incorrect frame height readings,” he says. “Using our device will eliminate this guesswork.”

The project utilized the expertise from student and staff researchers in Mechanical Engineering, Electrical Engineering Design, and Computer Programming to develop a device that can be positioned under the car and the required points of measurement could transmit data wirelessly to a mobile phone app to report the readings.

The research team utilized lasers plus a micro-laser sensor in order to determine the chassis measurements at different specified locations on the car. The device is controlled by a user interface installed on a tablet or a smart phone via a custom app and Bluetooth communications. The app allows display of the recorded data from the sensor as well as being able to save and relay the data to other devices for further use.

The project was made possible through the Southern Ontario Network for Advanced Manufacturing Innovation (SONAMI), a Niagara College-led consortium funded by the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev).

“The College put together a very enthusiastic team to work on this project and produced a working proof of concept that we are continuing to refine before final production,” adds King.