Category Archives: Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre

NC research team supporting COVID-19 efforts

Inside WAMIC labs, the 37,000 face shields are being assembled by research associate Brock Husak (top centre), a graduate of NC’s Mechanical Engineering Technology program and research assistant Tyler Winger (bottom left), an NC Electrical Engineering Technology graduate. R&I has partnered with Niagara-based Jay-Line for its die-cutting services.​

At the Research & Innovation labs at Niagara College’s Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre (WAMIC), researchers are engaged in the production of 37,000 face shields – currently filling an order of 17,000 for the Niagara Health System in response to their increased demand for the protective equipment – as well as to other emergency responders in the region.

The WAMIC research team used computer-aided design to create the face shield prototype and has partnered with a local industry partner for its die-cutting services to accelerate the number of plastic visors pressed. Niagara-based Jay-Line is a trade-only manufacturer and commercial printer of promotional products and marketing materials. 

WAMIC staff are completing the face shields with foam and Velcro and are currently producing upwards of 350 units per day, with plans underway to scale up to 800 units per day. 

The face shields will be supplied at no cost to the NHS and other emergency responders in the Niagara region.  The material to produce the face shields alone is valued at more than $100,000, made possible through the support of FedDev Ontario.

In addition to responding to local healthcare organizations, the College’s Research & Innovation division has received temporary approval for a Medical Device Establishment Licence (MDEL Class 1) to produce Health Canada-classified face shields in order to supply to other hospitals outside of the Niagara region. About 20,000 units will be donated out of region, with assembly completed at WAMIC. 

Inside the advanced manufacturing labs at the Welland campus, the “production line” includes research assistant Tyler Winger, an NC Electrical Engineering Technology graduate and research associate Brock Husak, a graduate of the Mechanical Engineering Technology program.

For Winger, getting his first taste of production, even on a smaller scale, has been educational. “I’m learning a great deal – from delivery of raw materials, preparing the raw materials into the parts needed to make a shield, assembling the shield, packaging and delivery of the shields, and being involved in getting the correct certifications.

“To be able to contribute and do my part to the community has been a rewarding experience,” says Winger.

It has certainly been interesting switching gears from “research and innovation” to assembly line work for Husak, however, he says it’s all worth it knowing he’s helping the brave local hospital staff during these challenging times.

“It’s also nice knowing that our quality is very close to the quality of the normal shields that medical staff are used to,” Husak says. “One time after delivering a batch of shields to Niagara Health, a staff member in the shipping and receiving area said, ‘Niagara College? Yes! The nurses love your masks; thank you for donating them.’”

The WAMIC research team is also supporting McMaster University researchers in their project to develop 3D-printed laryngoscopes for Hamilton Health Sciences. Laryngoscopes are needed to guide the placement of a tube during the intubation procedure for patients needing assisted ventilation. Some hospitals may be unable to get laryngoscopes from usual suppliers and have no access to the drawings. To prepare for a supply chain interruption, WAMIC engineers are reverse engineering sample units and McMaster will manufacture.

WAMIC’s activities are in addition to a college-wide effort to donate more than 30,000 personal protective items to the Niagara Health Foundation for its front-line workers. The items were collected from various program areas and departments across the College’s two campuses. 

Staff members at NC’s Teaching Distillery – based at the College’s Daniel J. Patterson campus in Niagara-on-the-Lake – have been running the stills since mid-March to produce disinfectant products, with help from the College’s Teaching Winery and Teaching Brewery, and SONAMI funding from FedDev Ontario. The products are being donated to front-line healthcare and community organizations in Niagara.

The special advanced manufacturing projects through R&I’s WAMIC labs are possible thanks to funding support from the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario), through the NC-led Southern Ontario Network for Advanced Manufacturing Innovation (SONAMI).  

Niagara College is one of seven academic members of SONAMI that have mobilized in the fight against the health crisis. Read more about their efforts here.

“These important and responsive projects, enabled through an increased budgetary flexibility by FedDev Ontario, are supporting the dual goals of immediately helping those most in need during this crisis and of fighting against COVID-19 more generally,” said Marc Nantel, PhD, NC’s vice-president of Research, Innovation & Strategic Initiatives, and chair of the SONAMI Steering Committee.  

“It’s heartening to see these tremendous efforts from our SONAMI members who have jumped in to find innovative ways to help many people across the province and the country.” 

For more information about the applied research and technical services offered at R&I’s Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre, visit the website. 


NC industry partner wins top prize for medical technology innovation

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.

Research & Innovation industry partner Bisep Inc. has taken first place at the Hamilton Synapse Life Science competition, held virtually last week, for its medical technology invention. 

The Niagara-based start-up won the top prize of $35,000 cash and $7,000 in-kind services for its medical technology innovation. Named the ARMM (Ambulation, Retraining, Mobility, and Mechanism), the device acts as a security bridge between a walker and a wheelchair and is the brainchild of Bisep CEO and founder Daniel Bordenave.

Bordenave undertook two engineering research projects with the team at Niagara College’s Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre to help get his product to market. The company began commercialization of its new device in Niagara Falls at the beginning of the year.

Held at the Innovation Factory in Hamilton, the annual Synapse Competition is touted as the province’s premier life science pitch competition and is “dedicated to fostering the commercialization of innovation and the life science sector.”

Read about the award HERE

Read about the R&I project HERE

Optimizing productivity for local robotics company

A local robotics company has seen their assembly times cut in half and has experienced a “drastic” reduction in rework and quality issues. This is thanks to an engineering productivity assessment completed by Niagara College’s Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre (WAMIC).

St. Catharines-based Factory Surplus Direct (FSD) is a source for automation and robotics parts and service. They are a global leader in supplying advanced automation and robotics parts and services with a team of engineering professionals.

When FSD was experiencing difficulties keeping up with the demand for their rebuilt robot cable harnesses and needed to improve productivity, they approached WAMIC, part of NC’s Research & Innovation division. 

The productivity assessment for FSD’s cable harness build laboratory started with an in-depth analysis in order to outline productivity improvements to reduce the time required to complete the refurbishment of robot cable harnesses, says Angela Naar, industrial engineer and research & industry liaison at WAMIC.

By improving their productivity and standardization with the cable harness rebuild process, it allows FSD to reduce their lead time, facilitate the expansion of their production process, and enables employees with a more diverse skill-set to complete their tasks successfully, explains Naar.

“Execution of the recommendations will allow FSD to increase productivity and ensure product quality, visually manage inventory, and provide flexibility in the skills future employees will require,” says Naar.

In recommending a documented standard process flow for the cable lab at FSD, the WAMIC research team conducted a review of the current process to help define the desired steps in the overall process and segregated the overall process into specific tasks for standardization.

These included such critical steps as having check sheets for identified tasks, processing documentation, tracking of employee skills, colour-coding storage areas, creating tool requirement lists – all things to help define the physical layout and work-station design needed to absorb business growth, as well as the addition of new employees.

“Essentially, the College helped us streamline and modify our manufacturing process to increase overall efficiency while allowing for multiple quality control measures to increase product reliability,” says FSD Robotics president Dave Burgess.

“They showed us areas of waste with regards to ergonomics, movement of assemblies, pre-process work and storage of supplies and tools,” he adds. “Assembly times have been cut in half, and we have already seen a drastic reduction in rework and quality issues.”

This project was funded by 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 at WAMIC lab. To discover other resources and capabilities, visit the website.

Reverse engineering a game changer for industry partner

left: The 115-tonne gantry crane at CMI Heavy Industries that needed to get back into operation; right: Dave McKechnie, research laboratory technologist at WAMIC, performs the tricky laser scanning procedure in order to get precise measurements.

Reverse engineering is the process of extracting design information from a device, object, or system through analysis of its structure and functions. And it adds to the critical significance of precise data documentation in computer-aided manufacturing.

This type of engineering helped solve a problem for Niagara-based CMI Heavy Industries (CMI) and saved them the time and expense of machining a new part. With more than 80,000 square feet, CMI’s Stevensville manufacturing facility provides such services as machining, fabricating, and assembly and testing to all heavy industries.

CMI needed to get their older 115-tonne gantry crane back in operation. While purchasing needed parts, they soon realized the hydraulic diesel pump motor was missing its spline, a challenging problem without the specifications. It was impossible to know if a new part had to be machined, and, if so, to what specs?

Engineers at CMI tried making a clay impression mould; unfortunately, it proved not to be accurate enough. The company then looked to the reverse engineering expertise at Niagara College’s Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre (WAMIC), part of the Research & Innovation division, to perform a precise laser scan of the female section of the internal spline with the intention of gathering the specs to have an involute spline custom machined.

The R&I team took the FARO Edge ScanArm on location to the CMI for the tricky laser scanning procedure. The portable metrology technology provides point cloud capture with high accuracy.

From the generated points scanned, the research team was able to extract a cross-sectional profile using Geomagic Design X, a 3D metrology software, which could then be imported into Autodesk Inventor, a 3D Modelling software, in order to manually build the shape of the resulting spline and use it to determine a standard industry specification, says Dave McKechnie, research laboratory technologist at WAMIC.

 “It was a very tight area to get the scanning arm into, so definitely a surgical procedure that took two people,” explains McKechnie, who had to crawl under the crane to reach the small opening to scan.

The team was able to 3D print the male spline for form, fit and function, to ensure it fits before ordering or machining the new part.

A laser scan of the female section of the internal spline with WAMIC’s FARO Edge ScanArm generated a point cloud so the research team could create a cross-sectional profile using Geomagic Design X, a 3D metrology software, which was then imported into Autodesk Inventor, a 3D Modelling software, in order to manually build the shape of the resulting spline for specification. The male spline was 3D printed for form, fit and function.

“A key point is that the industry partner was under the impression that this would be a unique spline, and they would have to machine something,” explains McKechnie. However, through researching the specifications, his team was able to identify a metric ISO standard part, available for purchase.

“It would save money to buy something off the shelf, rather than have something custom machined,” he says.

Brock Husak, research associate with WAMIC and NC graduate, describes the project as the “perfect” example of reverse engineering success. The industry partner CMI provided clear direction on the goals of the technical service, and everything went smoothly.

“Between our equipment and our technical expertise, we’re pretty special in that sort of sense,” says Husak. “This highlights where we’re really strong.”

McKechnie agrees: “It’s an ideal situation as far as being able to adequately obtain the information on the scanner, use that information and produce a successful and ideal result.”

This project was funded by 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.

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 lead 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 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 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 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 takes 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.