Category Archives: Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre

Using metrology expertise to practise ‘tolerance’

According to the Theory of Inventive Problem Solving – the Russian translation from the acronym TRIZ – a systematic process of creativity forms the foundation for innovative design engineering or product development.

These inventive principles draw on adaptive lateral thinking solutions, with re-usable methodology across industries. In revealing patterns of technical evolution, the theory is also useful for system and failure analysis. And it’s a framework that has guided the problem-solving skills of mechanical engineer Al Spence, PhD, and research scientist-advanced manufacturing with Niagara College’s Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre (WAMIC).

He describes it more specifically as “abstract” defensive thinking, in which he calculates the consequences of what could go wrong about a particular prototype or system when small manufacturers embark on applied research projects with his research team at the Research & Innovation division.

“I try to sit a little bit in the future … the more you can anticipate the ways not to do something, then the fewer times you will iterate,” he says, adding it’s important to not sink into negative “knee-jerk” and “can’t-do” thinking.

This creative abstract approach also pairs well with research using computer-aided design (CAD) tools – Spence’s mastery. He points out that CAD is particularly helpful in providing a clear visual for the industry partners who work with WAMIC. By offering a CAD rendering – and in many cases, an accompanying moving animation or 3D-printed model – the client is offered a high-fidelity replica of the prototype before it’s mass-produced.

Spence has had extensive experience in perfecting these design concepts. Before his arrival at NC in 2016, he had spent 23 years as a faculty member in the Mechanical Engineering department at McMaster University. With degrees in Applied Mathematics (BMath 1984), and Mechanical Engineering (MASc 1986), both from the University of Waterloo, and a PhD in CAD-based machining simulation from the University of British Columbia (1992), his specialization in metrology, CAD and manufacturing automation has led to work in the spacecraft, manufacturing, energy, textile and medical device industries.

Inside the WAMIC lab, the span of applied research projects he works on today is vast. He has been known to spend late evenings validating the functionality of a novel snow melting solution system, or developing robotic solutions for an aerospace company, or helping to engineer a prototype for a medical device to help the aging population regain mobility.

And while every day is different, and each challenge is new, Spence uses his formal design principles to re-apply solutions in a creative way to other projects.

Al Spence, PhD, with a Coordinate Measure Machine (CMM) at Niagara College’s School of Technology. He’s happily awaiting the arrival of WAMIC’s own state-of-the-art CMM – adding to the lab’s other dimensional metrology equipment.

“You can take a specific problem, pull it back into an abstract way and apply it somewhere else.”

The best parts of his day, he says, are watching the students learn. He also appreciates being able to learn different perspectives from those he mentors, especially given the range of cultures of the student researchers.

“You have to have a curiosity, and not just about technology, but about the people,” he says. “The best thing you can do is sit back and listen to somebody.”

Given his background in the science of measurement, and with an established reputation in Geometric Dimensioning and Tolerancing (GD&T), Spence is happily awaiting the arrival of a highly sophisticated Coordinate Measure Machine (CMM) to the WAMIC lab. This will add to the lab’s other leading-edge dimensional metrology equipment, but makes this the most precise measuring technology on the spectrum, he says.

In terms of accuracy, the new CMM can measure a tenth of the thickness of a human strand of hair. It will be the gold standard, to which other instruments can be calibrated against. However, with such precise machinery, specialized knowledge in operation is key. They are tricky to program and take great know-how to analyze the data. Spence holds these expert skills.

Indeed, with his extensive knowledge in coordinate metrology equipment, Spence is routinely called upon to advise on drawing interpretation and measurement planning for technical services performed by the WAMIC lab for regional companies including Fleet Canada, Airbus Helicopters, and I-Cubed.

Besides his innovative mind, Spence is widely known for his practical and calm approach to projects – and life in general. He explains that in a lab filled with a variety of student and graduate researchers, part of his role is “maintaining the calm.”

As it happens, while a professor at McMaster, he was commonly referred to as “the Peace Man.” This moniker stemmed from his championing the World Peace Flame, a culmination of seven flames lit on five continents and then brought together 20 years ago to ignite one single flame.

These days, it’s not uncommon for Spence to hand out little tea lights that have been lit from the World Peace Flame; it’s his own way of spreading the notion of creating harmony in all human interactions – whether it’s work colleagues, family, friends, or community.

This guiding philosophy can also be traced to his many years as a Freemason, something he calls a family tradition (both his father and grandfather were members). Besides the camaraderie, Spence says the fraternity cultivates a strong sense of “tolerance for one’s neighbour.”

Not surprisingly, he aptly draws the analogy in terms of metrology: “You have to have some tolerance for people … we’re all a little plus or minus, but we are all precious … we mustn’t reject each other.”


Mechanical engineering grad never stops learning

Mike Granton is a 2017 graduate of Niagara College’s Mechanical Engineering Technologist program. He did his co-op with the Research & Innovation division’s Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre as a research assistant and was then hired as research associate after graduating. He also graduated from NC’s Computer Engineering Technology/Technician program in 2003. Mike is employed with Grimsby-based Jantz Canada as a mechanical designer.

Tell us about where you work:
I work for Jantz Canada in Grimsby, Ontario. We design and build conveyors, automation and robotics systems, with a focus on the food industry.

Describe your role and what you like about it:
The bulk of my job involves design work, whether it be modifications and improvements to existing systems, or brand-new designs from the ground up. I’m responsible for creating drawings for our manufacturing department and ensuring they have all the information required to build our equipment efficiently. I create and manage bills of materials for projects in order to keep track of all purchased parts and outside work required to get a project done on time. I conduct research into new technologies relevant to our industry. And, I am involved in prototype design, testing and reporting.

How has your experience with Research & Innovation helped prepare you for your current role?
My Research & Innovation experience has helped me in several ways. The research portion of the projects I was involved in taught me how to seek out relevant and useful information in order to solve a problem.

This is something I do on a daily basis and it is an invaluable tool in my current job. Another important part of my experience was my involvement in the project management and planning phases of each project. I still use similar time management guidelines that I learned at R&I to budget my time across multiple projects.

A memorable applied research project during your time at R&I?
One of my most memorable research projects was the motorized window cleaning brush I designed. This was my first project at R&I. What made this project so memorable was the feeling of accomplishment after seeing through my design from research stage to finished working prototype. I still feel that same kind of accomplishment today, but this project in particular made it clear that I had made the right decision to enroll in the Mechanical Engineering Technologist program.

“Seeing my first original design – a 20-ft-tall conveyor, fully assembled in our shop and reaching to the ceiling – was a great feeling that filled me with a lot of pride.”

You were already a Niagara College graduate; what led you back?
I remember seeing an article in the paper about a road-paving machine that was designed by students at Niagara College in the Research Department. At the time, I just thought it was neat to see that kind of work being done at the college. A year or two later I found myself wanting a change in career and I remembered that article and I thought it would be a great experience to be part of a similar type project. That’s what ultimately drove my decision to go to NC.

Most memorable experience at NC?
My most memorable experiences at NC would be the opportunities to speak in front of politicians and members of the press as a representative of Niagara College and Research & Innovation. These experiences brought me out of my comfort zone and allowed me to develop my public speaking skills and generally make me more open to experiences I would have avoided in the past.

Mike Granton, then an NC Mechanical Engineering student and research assistant with WAMIC, gets the chance to speak at the funding announcement of the Southern Ontario Network for Advanced Manufacturing Innovation (SONAMI) by the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario) in 2016.

A faculty member who influenced you?
One particular faculty member that influenced me was Costa Aza. He played a big part in my decision to apply at R&I before my first co-op term was about to start. His enthusiasm and interest in new technologies and methods related to mechanical engineering piqued my interest in the types of projects being done at R&I.

The majority of the projects I worked on at R&I were also led by Costa. He was always encouraging and allowed me to take the lead in terms of design choices and the general direction of a project while still providing enough leadership to help me avoid mistakes and poor choices.

What advice would you impart on current research students or future alumni?
Never stop learning. Your education doesn’t end once you graduate and begin your career. In fact, it’s only just beginning.

After being in the workforce, what have you learned?
One of the main things I’ve learned is to have respect and learn from the experience of my colleagues. There have been many times where I’ve been able to solve a problem or avoid a costly mistake by simply getting the input and advice from others.

Proudest achievement since graduating?
Seeing my first original design – a 20-ft-tall conveyor, fully assembled in our shop and reaching to the ceiling – was a great feeling that filled me with a lot of pride. It was my first real project at Jantz that I worked on from start to finish.

Interests outside of work?
Most of my interests outside of work revolve around music in some way. Whether I’m playing guitar or drums or restoring old tube guitar amps.

If you could have a billboard message seen by many, what would it say?
It’s never too late for a change!

Anything else you want to say?
Leaving a steady career to go back to school and start fresh was a scary experience at first. I knew if I stuck to it and worked hard, it would ultimately turn into a good experience. But I had no idea how great of an experience it would turn out to be. I met and worked with so many great people at Research & Innovation and the College in general. I’m proud to have been a part of the team at R&I and the work that we did. I wouldn’t have changed a thing about my experience at Niagara College and Research & Innovation.

To learn more about the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre and its capabilities, click HERE.



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.

RFP: Survey on advanced manufacturing

RFB Survey

Closing date: Fri. Feb. 14 at 3 p.m.

As part of its work to support advanced manufacturers across Southern Ontario, the Southern Ontario Network for Advanced Manufacturing Innovation (SONAMI) is commissioning a study/survey designed to help shape the industry.

The Niagara College-led SONAMI, has put a tender out for an Analytic Research Report. It involves survey development and execution within the manufacturing ecosystem in Southern Ontario (beyond the Golden Horseshoe). This survey will need to leverage existing research previously conducted for SONAMI to benchmark key indicators of industry health and growth.

Expected outcomes include: A detailed analytical research report that explores the state of advanced manufacturing ecosystem in Southern Ontario; analysis that includes recommendations for future activities for SONAMI, as a network, and for SONAMI partners.

This analysis will inform tools and services that are of strategic importance for SONAMI partners to offer SMEs. Further, the Service Provider will need to facilitate up to three presentations of the results of the work, including one recorded webinar.

For detailed information click HERE.

Niagara company rolls out innovative device for people with mobility challenges

The research team for the ARMM project at WAMIC: Allan Spence, PhD, researcher and industry liaison; Yodha Singh, Mechanical Engineering Technology student and former research assistant; Dave McKechnie, laboratory technologist; Daniel Bordenave, Bisep CEO and founder; and Avery Edge, Mechanical Engineering Technology student and former research assistant.


The aging population has a new made-in-Niagara solution to help regain their freedom of movement, thanks to a new device created by a local company with help from Niagara College’s Research & Innovation division

Niagara Falls-based start-up Bisep Inc. is kicking off the new year by rolling out the full-scale commercialization of a new device that helps connect a person’s wheelchair to their walker, enabling unaided movement – solving a common challenge in long-term care. Named the ARMM (Ambulation, Retraining, Mobility, and Mechanism), the device acts as a security bridge to allow users to walk unassisted with their walker while the wheelchair trails safely behind them.

They plan to manufacture 1,000 units at Spark Niagara, a small manufacturing facility in Niagara Falls which, in turn, supports the creation of jobs and economy in the Niagara region.

The device was the brainchild of Bisep Inc. CEO and founder Daniel Bordenave, who identified the need, came up with the concept and turned to NC’s engineering research team at the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre for assistance in getting its innovative medical technology to market.

“We were limited in the machinery that we had and the brain capacity … we are not engineers,” said 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.”

“This project is an example of applied research at its best, providing learning opportunities for our students as we help businesses innovate,” said Marc Nantel, NC’s vice president of Research, Innovation and Strategic Initiatives. “We are proud to use our expertise at our Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre to provide solutions for a Niagara-based company that will assist the aging population in our community and beyond.”

Bordenave came up with the concept of attaching the wheelchair to the walker. After formulating his idea, he enlisted the tool and die talents of his grandfather to help fabricate a proof-of-concept prototype in their garage. To get it to market, he sought help from the engineering team at NC’s Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre, based at the Welland Campus. NC’s R&I engineering team executed two projects to get to the final prototype, with funding from the Niagara Region and the Southern Ontario Network for Advanced Manufacturing Innovation (SONAMI).


“This device is applicable to hospital wards for medicine, surgery, orthopedics, cancer – for people who are less mobile and need to be more mobile in order to go home.” – Jodi Steele, NC professor for the School of Justice and Fitness


First, the College research team capitalized on 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. Bisep conducted successful clinical trials through a collaborative research project with the Niagara Region and Brock University.

In addition to having a NC Occupational Therapist Assistant and Physiotherapist Assistant student assist Bisep on a co-op placement, professor Jodi Steele, from the College’s School of Justice and Fitness, leveraged her contacts to help the company secure live focus groups with therapists.

Steele, who is also a physiotherapist and kinesiologist, said she initially reached out to Bordenave with some market advice after watching a promotional video about the ARMM device. She then rounded up a group of physiotherapists and occupational therapists at Hamilton’s Juravinski Hospital and Cancer Centre, where she previously worked, to offer invaluable critiques of the prototype in its early stages.

Bordenave brought the ARMM to hospitals and long-term care facilities for focus groups with more than 100 therapists.

“The device is brilliant; it allows the people who may be ambulatory but need a lot of assistance using less manpower,” Steele said, pointing to statistics that show if people sit for one or two days, they are more prone to atrophy. She was also involved in a large study that showed by just adding a physiotherapist to a medical ward, they decreased the stay by between 2.5 and 3 days.

“This device is applicable to hospital wards for medicine, surgery, orthopedics, cancer – for people who are less mobile and need to be more mobile in order to go home,” she added.

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

NC Mechanical Engineering Technology student Avery Edge valued the opportunity to work on the 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,” said 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 metalworking for prototypes allowed me to experience what it takes all around to make a great device.”

Read more at InsideNC



POSITION AVAILABLE: Senior Application Specialist with the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre team

Senior Application Specialist, Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre

Niagara College’s Research & Innovation division is seeking an enthusiastic, engaging, and entrepreneurial technical/sales support person as Senior Application Specialist, for the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre (WAMIC), based out of the Welland Campus.

Reporting to the Centre Manager, the Senior Application Specialist, WAMIC, is responsible for providing front-line external technical sales, as well as internal technical lead, for all 3D printing, 3D scanning, 3D design activities, and other technical services and/or applied research activities, as assigned.

Click HERE to see the full job posting and to apply.

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

Niagara a hotbed for applied industrial research: Financial Post

Jacob Morris, an NC Mechanical Engineering Technology graduate and former Research Assistant with Research & Innovation and Gordon Maretzki, Centre Manager, Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre (WAMIC) work on a specialized prototype inside the advanced manufacturing research labs.

Titled “Niagara’s secret superpower in manufacturing,” the Financial Post newspaper carried a story on Dec. 2, 2019, that highlighted Niagara College’s Research & Innovation division.

The article listed several reasons Niagara has been “one of Canada’s most robust industrial communities for more than 100 years, and one of the most desirable places to locate a manufacturing company.” It lists access to international markets; its large group of small- and medium-sized manufacturing firms; a collaborative manufacturing community through the Niagara Industrial Association (NIA) and its hub for applied industrial research, “thanks in large part to the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre (WAMIC)” at Niagara College.

Students and faculty at WAMIC work together to develop new products and processes for industrial clients in Niagara and across Ontario, developing a new generation of highly-skilled workers and developing real-world solutions for established companies, said Gordon Maretzki, Centre Manager at WAMIC.

The sponsored story, through the Niagara Region Economic Development, appeared in the Financial Post and will also run in upcoming issues of the Toronto Sun and National Post newspapers.

Read the story  HERE