Category Archives: Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre

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 unit’s 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.

Flourishing success for local agri-food innovator

Pictured with the Hamill’s Microgreens Harvester Dryer: Lucas Howe, Mechanical Engineering student and former Research Assistant with NC’s Research & Innovation division and Al Spence, PhD, Research Lead at the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre.

No longer just a tiny garnish, microgreens — the edible delicacies grown from the seeds of vegetables and herbs — are now a flourishing market in North America. To save farmers’ time and money harvesting this specialty crop, Niagara’s Hamill Agricultural Processing Solutions added manufacturing to the mix, with its automated industrial system, the MicroGreens Harvester line.

Without the resources or capabilities for in-house R&D, Hamill sought the applied research expertise at Niagara College’s Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre (WAMIC) to help develop a new product line of agri-food equipment that automates the harvesting (cutting, washing and drying) of microgreens, sprouts and wheatgrass. The three “Harvester” machines can be used separately or conjointly.

The Research & Innovation team collaborated with Hamill to experiment, testing the various air knife positions, blowers and mechanical/electrical systems, to design the optimum microgreen conveyer dryer. The stainless steel machine will work alone or conjointly with both the Harvester cut and wash machines, which are capable of harvesting 2,200 trays a day of microgreens, results that are more than 50 times faster than manual harvesting.

“We’ve reduced the time needed for processing a tray from 2 minutes by hand to three seconds with the harvester,” says Hamill owner Bob Benner.

This innovative trio is already saving farmers thousands of dollars daily and is receiving interest from across the globe — a success now requiring Hamill to expand both its facilities and workforce. Since collaborating with Niagara College, Hamill has hired 10 more permanent employees, including welders, machinists and mechanical engineers.

After commercializing its microgreens product line, Benner has forecasted total sales to rise after two years from $750,000 to $2 million.

“With the help of the research team we’ve been able to fine-tune the equipment, of which we are now selling in Canada, the U.S., and most recently New Zealand,” says Benner, whose business received funding help 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).

“We’re thankful that we have an R&D partner like the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre at Niagara College,” says Benner. “It has been integral to our innovation success, demonstrated through our collaborations both in tech services and applied research projects.”

POSITION AVAILABLE: Centre Manager, Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre with Research & Innovation team

Centre Manager, WAMIC

The Centre Manager, WAMIC for the Technology Access Centre (TAC) in Advanced Manufacturing, is responsible for the day-to-day performance of the Centre to ensure successful outreach, development, implementation, and dissemination of advanced manufacturing technical services. Reporting to the Associate Director, Research and Innovation, this role involves managing the TAC team including the Applications Specialist and the Research Laboratory Technologist.

For more details, click HERE. The deadline to apply is Tuesday, June 25.

Position Available: SONAMI Network Manager

SONAMI Network Manager

The Southern Ontario Network for Advanced Manufacturing Innovation (SONAMI) is a Niagara College led consortium of seven post-secondary institutions supporting manufacturers’ research and development needs through applied research projects.

Reporting to the Manager, Business Development & Strategic Partnerships, the SONAMI Network Manager is responsible for managing a range of strategic initiatives and partnership activities in an effort to grow and sustain the operations of SONAMI and for ensuring the performance of all partner institutions in their delivery of successful project outcomes as committed to funders. These activities will be led through outreach to business and liaison with partner institutions for project development, funding generation, financial and human resources management, quality assurance, project management and client and supplier relationship management.

This role requires extensive travel within Southern Ontario to institutional and industry partner premises as well as working occasional weekend and evening hours.

Click HERE for the full job posting. The deadline to apply is Monday, June 24th.

While we appreciate all applications, only those selected for an interview will be contacted.

57th Annual Advanced Technology Think Tank (ATTT) Conference

The 57th Annual Advanced Technology Think Tank (ATTT) will be held at Niagara College’s Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre on June 6 & 7. The conference, with the theme, “Smart Manufacturing – Using Tomorrow’s Technology Today,” provides a forum for leading experts and specialists in productivity-enhancing technologies to meet and share. The conference will conclude with a tour of the Research & Innovation advanced manufacturing lab facilities.

The public is welcome to attend a special Advanced Technology Tabletop Trade Show on the evening of June 6. Advanced registration and tickets are needed for the full conference.

Co-founded in 1962 by renowned author, publisher and educator Steve Krar, the ATTT is an annual opportunity to share concepts and new technologies among fellow visionaries “to meet tomorrow’s challenges.” The focus has been on advanced manufacturing, advanced technology, advanced thinking, and education.

The ATTT Foundation is a non-profit educational board to help run ATTT and advance its educational principles. This year provides a special deal for students. As well, some students can attend the conference for free if they agree to work as interns at or before the conference.

The cost of the conference is $150 CDN per person, which includes the venue, equipment and conference meals, payable in advance. Participation in the trade show is an extra $150, but attendance is free and open to the public.

For more information or questions, contact Tom Gaasenbeek, ATTT Executive Director – tomg@attt.ca.
For tickets, click here.