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.
With more than 30 years in the small manufacturing arena, Gordon Maretzki, the new Centre Manager at the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre (WAMIC), has had to be multi-disciplined, assuming roles of design engineer, innovator, fabricator, market evaluator, and business owner.
Prior to arriving at Niagara College in 2016 as a WAMIC Researcher and Industry Liaison, Maretzki amassed expertise in areas of engineering design, automation, manufacturing/fabrication and performance testing/validation.
As an entrepreneur, he was involved in product development, in a variety of technologies, while serving in numerous capacities in bringing products to market. It’s fair to say he has established a deep understanding of the sacrifices and challenges that face SMEs (small- and medium-sized enterprises) of today and his desire to support the industry is unmistakable.
Being in the driver’s seat as Centre Manager for the Innovation Centre and its Technology Access Centre (TAC) for Advanced Manufacturing, within the College’s Research & Innovation division, Maretzki is passionate about charting a course that taps into the specific solutions for SMEs that the Centre can offer.
Foremost is clearly illustrating the value that the TAC and Innovation Centre bring – focusing on the real-world solutions for manufacturers, beyond the technology and expertise in house.
“We can provide solutions to challenges and there are funding sources available,” says Maretzki. “Yes, we have state-of-the-art equipment, but the solutions go beyond the 3D printing/scanning and metrology equipment.”
It means reaching out to the manufacturers that share the understanding of how to do business and who know the pain and sacrifices that coexist. Indeed, many of these local companies have survived Niagara’s manufacturing downturn of the 1980s. While historically, the region’s manufacturing sector consisted of large plant facilities, the industrial sector is now primarily comprised of smaller manufacturers and remains one of the largest private-sector economic engines.
Still, even for experienced entrepreneurs, identifying pain points can be tricky. Oftentimes business owners don’t know exactly what they need to solve their challenges. “That’s where we come in,” Maretzki explains. “We can help SMEs view the situation from a different perspective.”
It may not be about deciding on the technical cure, but a higher-level prescription. This could mean having the Innovation Centre team work with a company on quality control, engineering design, or develop creative strategies. In many cases, Maretzki’s research team provides an in-depth overview of what needs to be done and how to get there.
“Not only do we have the capabilities to solve most issues, but we also can provide the essential roadmap of what’s next,” he says, adding that such a framework is often highly valuable for a small company.
“Making machined parts on a CNC mill may be the best method in a particular situation, however there may be surrounding processes that can be improved,” he says. “Maybe it’s looking at a different way of tooling up, or material handling, or part verification. It may not be immediately apparent to SMEs in their day-to-day activities, but we can offer an outside perspective and show them the value in considering surrounding issues.”
The starting point is determining how the technology at the College can enhance an SME’s current process, or getting their product to market quicker. The scan technologies, combined with its modeling and prototyping expertise at the Innovation Centre labs, can be a powerful combination.
This technology can be helpful for companies doing commercial tenant work, for example. “Having a 3D digital field scan of an architectural space gives the designers an as-built model of their current spaces. Designers can use that information when setting up for a new tenant,” says Maretzki. “Knowing that something will fit and not have interference issues on site can be of great value and save many costs at installation time. The same is true for factory moves and fit-ups services that the R&I team has provided others.”
“Not only do we have the capabilities to solve most issues, but we also can provide the essential roadmap of what’s next.”
Perhaps an SME has a legacy part, with no drawings; the item may need changes to it or data to reproduce the part. Bringing that model into digital form and making those changes on the screen, followed by 3D printing it, could save weeks of work for a small manufacturer.
“We can 3D print a prototype, a fixture, new tooling – there are alternative ways that someone might approach making a new product,” he adds.
What’s more, the Centre is also part of a larger network, so managing the solutions while also reaching out as a connector to other expert industry partners to work on a project has frequently been successfully demonstrated.
For entrepreneurs still in the concept stage and who may be passionate about a new idea, Maretzki says they can be directed to the Business & Commercialization team who can help them with market research or feasibility studies for their invention. Such cross-collaboration within the R&I division has proven beneficial for a variety of companies across numerous sectors.
In addition to providing real value for SMEs, a priority within the Innovation Centre is building highly-qualified workers who will bolster both the local and national economy. Maretzki emphasizes the value for students of building relational skills from an industrial point of view. They receive rare access into the inner workings of a manufacturer and get to see first-hand the nuances of how people run their business.
“It is a tremendous opportunity for students to get into many different companies with all the industry partners we work with,” he says. “The astute student can see the various processes and learn about the challenges.”
Maretzki is also known for his candidness with the students he has advised during applied research projects, something he sees as essential for instilling authentic life skills.
“I share everything with them. If we have a challenge with an industry partner’s project, I don’t shield them from it, I say, ‘Okay, how are we going to deal with this the best way possible?’” he explains. “They learn to deal with difficult situations that way… and hopefully they can carry those soft skills with them in the real world.”
He brought this same mentoring philosophy during his time teaching part-time at the College in the Industrial Automation Certification program – a program he developed much of the curriculum for during its start-up.
Maretzki has a Mechanical Engineering degree from the University of Manitoba (1985) and has his Professional Engineering designation (PEng).
His mechanical aptitude also serves him well finding solutions for the many challenges of operating his 47-acre century farm in Beamsville, which he shares with his large family – his wife and eight children.
For more on the array of solutions provided by WAMIC visit the website.
Niagara College’s engineering research team has helped a local company get its innovative medical technology to market and start helping an aging population regain their freedom of movement.
Bisep Inc., a Niagara Falls-based innovation start-up, is the brainchild of CEO and founder Daniel Bordenave. His invention – a device that connects a patient’s wheelchair to their walker, enabling unaided movement – solves the common issue of understaffing in long-term care.
It was a challenge he personally experienced while working as a kinesiologist in a long-term care facility. The standard practice is for two or more health-care practitioners to help one patient with mobility training – one or two helping the individual walk, while another walks behind with the wheelchair at a consistent pace, in case of any fatigue or falls. However, says Bordenave, there’s typically only funding available for a second therapist twice a week, greatly reducing the time spent with patients.
“These patients weren’t walking on a daily basis and I couldn’t keep up due to safety concerns and regulations,” he explains. “These folks were spending more sedentary time in their beds, in their wheelchairs and not improving, or causing further muscle loss because they were just not walking.”
His device, named the ARMM (Ambulation, Retraining, Mobility, and Mechanism) acts as a security bridge so the patient can walk unassisted with their walker while the wheelchair trails safely behind them. And Bordenave is crediting the student and staff expertise at the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre (WAMIC) for help bringing it to fruition.
“I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this without the help of Niagara College’s Research & Innovation department,” says Bordenave. “If it weren’t for them, I probably would not have the company now or would not have done anything. Having access to funding and the research expertise was beyond amazing.”
In coming up with the concept: “I thought, let me see how I can help myself in my practice… so what I did was think, let’s try attaching the wheelchair to the walker.” After formulating his idea, Bordenave enlisted the tool and die talents of his grandfather to help fabricate a proof-of-concept prototype in their garage.
From there, he sought the help of the engineering team at WAMIC. “We were limited in the machinery that we had and the brain capacity… we are not engineers,” says 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.”
Getting to the final prototype took two projects, executed by the R&I engineering team at the College – with funding by both the Niagara Region and the Southern Ontario Network for Advanced Manufacturing Innovation (SONAMI).
The research team first leveraged 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.
With the prototype in hand, Bordenave conducted successful clinical trials through a collaborative research project with the Niagara Region and Brock University. He also brought the ARMM to hospitals and long-term care facilities for focus group meetings with more than 100 therapists with the goal of improving full utilization of the device.
Bisep returned to the College for essential design modifications, mainly in further designs to produce a product that was both universal to most wheelchairs and walkers, and also adjustable in order to accommodate varying heights of patients. The team replaced all the welded parts with 3D printed components to increase the degree of variability in adjusting the device.
“So we were able to make the device expand wider, expand taller and also expand on the angle from the arm of the wheelchair to the handles of the walker – the incline from when the person is transferring himself from the chair to the walker,” explains Bordenave.
Another major modification to the design was something Bordenave calls the “exercise mode,” a function that could be used by patients to strengthen muscles involved in standing from a seated position, an ability that is critical for mobility and fall prevention. The aim is to prevent any further atrophy in the lower muscles, and increase the patient’s neuromuscular capabilities.
“We wanted to make the device more versatile so it allows the patient to disconnect their walker by dropping down the two legs on the device,” he adds. “This then allows them to practice their exercises from their own chair, unassisted, and also grab on the ARMM correctly and stand themselves up.”
Avery Edge, a Mechanical Engineering Technology student at Niagara College, worked as part of the team on this 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,” says 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 metal working for prototypes allowed me to experience what it takes all around to make a great device.”
Yodha Singh, Mechanical Engineering Technology student and former Research Assistant at the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre, demonstrates Bisep’s ARMM device in action.
This past summer, Bisep placed first in a competition for start-up companies whose innovation in technologies or services can benefit older adults and caregivers.
In its National Impact Challenge: Startup Edition, AGE-WELL (Aging Gracefully across Environments using Technology to Support Wellness, Engagement and Long Life NCE Inc.) held three regional events in the country and five finalists pitched their technology-based solution at each event. Bordenave was crowned the winner for Ontario and received $15,000 in cash, plus in-kind prizes.
Bisep was also selected to work with XLerate Health, the largest health-care accelerator in the United States, to help them tap into the U.S. market, doing demonstrations at various health-care facilities.
With a dozen or so pre-orders, full-scale commercialization will roll-out at the beginning of the new year with the manufacturing of 1,000 units. All production will take place at the Spark Niagara small manufacturing facility in Niagara Falls, where Bisep currently operates.
“I’m proud to say all manufacturing and any future production that we do will always be in the Niagara region to help create jobs and help support the economy,” vows Bordenave.
As an innovation company, Bisep is also busy coming up with new solutions based on problems Bordenave has experienced during his time as a practising kinesiologist. Research underway that will help target the aging population include collecting data on falls and the way falls happen within the senior population.
“We can then read into that data and try to minimize any future falls that happen in the same way.”
Bordenave remains grateful to the expert solutions he received from the College’s Innovation Centre. “Everybody who I worked with was amazing and very intelligent. They worked very hard and the communication was perfect.”
The engineering research team at Niagara College has helped a leading plumbing products manufacturer and distributor further its innovative smart-drain prototype. Once commercialized, the bathtub device will allow users to close and open the drain – for filling and emptying – using smart technology.
For this device, the market is primarily for seniors or people with mobility limitations and their support workers. “The need comes from people with mobility issues as well as caregivers to provide an easier way for them to open and close the drain,” explains the company’s general manager. “Imagine having to do that manually while the bather is still in the tub. This provides more dignity.”
Given that their expertise is in plumbing drainage, the business sought out help with the electronic/software engineering capabilities to develop a home integration system.
The Research & Innovation team at the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre involved students from various programs, including Mechanical Engineering Technology, Electrical Engineering Technology, and Computer Programming, all with the expert help of an experienced Research Lead.
“It was like having a small research division of our company,” says the industry partner. “This has been a great learning experience for us and has improved our knowledge base.”
The device will be targeted to the bath manufacturers, but installed by a licensed plumber, notes the company.
“For the industry partner, we were uniquely able to advance their software and electronics direction that is outside their everyday business scope,” says Research Lead Allan Spence, PhD. “The special combination of mechanical, electronic, and software is the core of Internet of Things.”
For Mechanical Engineering Student Samantha Jemison, she says working on this project brought her a new perspective that has changed the way she will analyze projects going forward.
“As we continued, more small ideas, realizations, and setback slowly modified the project in ways we could never have predicted,” she says. “This project has also taught me that to make something that is user friendly, safe, and affordable, there is going to be a lot of engineering involved.”
With the prototype in hand, the company’s next goal is to review with the certification body for technical standard compliance. This will be followed by a review with potential clients.
“The College provided much-needed expertise and man hours in order to advance this project,” the general manager adds. “We could not have done it without them.”
The applied research project was funded by the Southern Ontario Network for Advanced Manufacturing Innovation (SONAMI).
To read about other innovative projects at the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre, check out the website.
When a local lighting manufacturer needed to print a large model of a custom light fixture and their in-house printing could not accommodate, they turned to technology solutions at the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre (WAMIC) at Niagara College.
Founded in 1995, BJ Take Inc. is an established manufacturer and designer of energy-efficient lighting products. Their 56,000-sq.ft. facility is located in Dunnville and all innovation is custom designed and built in Canada.
The company needed a 2-foot-diameter print that their in-house printer could not achieve, says Josh Buma, Chief Operating Officer at BJ Take.
“The challenge was to produce a 1:1 scale model to test out the mechanical aspects of our light fixture design,” explains Buma. “We needed someone with the capabilities to print large models with high resolution and Niagara College fit the bill perfectly.”
It was a straightforward job for the research team as the industry partner supplied ready-to-print STLs – a type of 3D file that represents the model of interest, says Dave McKechnie, Research Laboratory Technologist at WAMIC.
“The purpose of the STL is to view the part, perform automated fabrication practices and possibly most importantly, to protect the design,” he says. “I appreciate when clients like BJ Take have the in-house skill and engineering expertise to provide 3D models that I trust and can process without any further engineering or added lead time.”
The research team printed the model on the Fortus 900mc, the largest FDM (Fused Deposition Modelling) engineering polymer printer available, providing a wide selection of engineering materials for medical, dental, aerospace, automotive, food production and general manufacturing.
“The Research & Innovation division was a pleasure to work with,” adds Buma. “They turned our model around quickly and to our specifications.”
Located at the Welland Campus of Niagara College, the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre is one of two of NC’s Technology Access Centres (TACs) – the other being the Canadian Food & Wine Institute Innovation Centre. TACs are specialized applied research and development centres affiliated with Canadian colleges or cégeps.
The Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre and the TAC provides small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) access to needed facilities, equipment, funding and technical expertise – including 3D technologies, such as Computer-Aided Design (3D scanning) of objects as small as a dime and as large as a whole factory – and serves to assist them in product development, technology adoption, expansion into new markets and commercialization.
For more information on the array of solutions offered by the technical services at WAMIC, visit the website.
The Mechanical Engineering Research Assistant 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. The successful candidate may work on research projects or technical services in Additive manufacturing, Product Design & Development, Product Testing, Reality/Spatial Capture, Reverse Engineering and Lean Manufacturing Assessment. Hours completed during this work term may be used toward your co-operative placement hours.
Click HERE to see the full job posting. To apply, please email your resume, cover letter, transcript and school schedule to [email protected] and reference ‘WAMIC19-01’ in the subject line. The deadline to applyis Wednesday, October 16th, 2019.
We thank all applicants; however, only those qualifying for an interview will be contacted.