Hey Google, How Can My Business Adopt Digital Technology?

Written by Carolyn Mullin, manager, business development & strategic partnerships with Research & Innovation and printed in Business Link Niagara – April 2019

Small- to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Niagara know that to stay competitive they sometimes need to keep innovating, to keep pushing themselves to the next level.

Problem is, as SMEs, usually with a handful of employees or less, they are busy running their day-to-day operations, producing their current product or service, without the time or resources to put to their next big idea.

Niagara College’s Research & Innovation division offers SMEs a way to go beyond big dreams to find a focused reality of innovation. Thanks to provincial and federal funding, the division exists to provide innovative, real-world solutions for many businesses, primarily in the agri-food and manufacturing sectors, in areas such as product or prototype development, or process improvement in their existing operations.  In other words, R&I equals R&D.

But more than that, Niagara College R&I is able to put students and faculty to work on projects that address fundamental business challenges for Niagara’s SMEs, such as market studies, digital technology adaptation, competitive analysis, e-commerce adaptation or even how to introduce artificial intelligence (AI) or Internet of Things (IoT) technologies – adding computing devices to everyday objects – into their business.

The connectivity of IoT and the related automation play an increasingly vital role for a surprising number of businesses in diverse sectors. For example, recent industry partner ParemTech came to Niagara College to partner on a project to enhance the functionality of a smart device alerting customers to the water level in cisterns. ParemTech developed the IoT device, which reports that water level to a customer’s computer or smartphone in real time, while the college team, including computer programming students, improved the experience so that the customer’s water levels could also be shared in real time with water delivery companies and property managers.

For those in the advanced manufacturing sector, IoT investments have been made in printed circuit board design and surface mount technology fabrication equipment, as well as an assortment of prototyping microcontrollers, sensors, and interface electronics. 

The research labs are also equipped with Google and Alexa smart speakers to add industry standard voice control. Laser scanning, Computer Aided Design, and CNC machining facilities are available to design enclosures and create custom mechatronic attachments needed for product development success.

In the health-care field, Niagara College worked with Studio 1 Labs to develop an intuitive, aesthetically pleasing user interface for the company’s fabric-sensing technology, that measures a patient’s vital signs, which is viewable either by a monitor next to a patient’s bed or remotely through a centralized system. The patent-pending intelligent bedsheet has sensors embedded within it, saving the patient from wearing wired sensors.

While these amazing innovations unfold, students from programs such as mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, computer programming, are gaining experience working with real-world companies on real deadlines and within real budgets.

What happens when they graduate? They are already skilled, experienced workers ready to be employed by you.

For more information on how Niagara College’s Research & Innovation division can become your innovation partner, visit ncinnovation.ca, or contact Elizabeth Best, Business Development Coordinator, at [email protected], or 905-641-2252, ext. 4287.