At the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre (WAMIC), there are several ways that a small- and medium-sized enterprise (SME) can connect and work with us. One way to work with WAMIC is through an Interactive Visit.
An Interactive Visit provides eligible companies with 20 hours of collaboration with a Technology Access Centre (TAC) to solve an innovation challenge. WAMIC is one of those TACs.
If you’re a Canadian, incorporated business with fewer than 500 employees, who is looking to grow through innovation, you are eligible to move forward with the process.
“For WAMIC, these interactive visits are a way to engage with small- and medium-sized businesses. It allows our team to hear companies’ ideas, and say ‘This is a good idea, but will it work?’” Then, we can offer the interactive visit to focus on the core piece of technology and make sure there’s enough meat and work for a full project down the line,” says Neil Wilkinson, research program manager, WAMIC.
Not only do we have industry experts and best-in-class staff, but we provide students the opportunity to refine their skillsets through experiential learning by working with WAMIC, Wilkinson adds.
For these students, interactive visits provide them with real-world client experience that is invaluable for their development and growth as professionals in technical fields.
“I like being part of Interactive Visits because it gives me an opportunity to present my skills in front of some new people. I believe it prepares me for my future where I may have to give a presentation, explain, or teach someone about a particular skill,” says Mankirat Singh, research assistant, Mechanical Engineering, with WAMIC.
About the program
The National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC IRAP) provides funding contributions to Tech-Access Canada to enable these visits. Tech-Access Canada is a non-profit organization that supports the pan-Canadian network of 60 Technology Access Centres (TACs) who are leaders in college applied research and developing new innovative products and solutions using technology.
A Technology Access Centre (TAC) is a state-of-the-art applied research and innovation centre, affiliated with a Canadian college or cégep, that provides companies with access to cutting-edge technology and equipment, as well as a multi-disciplinary team with the expertise to turn brilliant ideas into market-ready products. For Niagara College, we currently have two TACs: WAMIC, as noted above, as well as our Food & Beverage Innovation Centre.
The program provides great value to the industry partner as they pay only $250 and IRAP covers the rest. The Interactive Visit program is open only to incorporated Canadian for-profit firms with fewer than 500 employees and the potential to grow through innovation.
Interactive Visits provide eligible companies with 20 hours of collaboration with a TAC to solve an innovation challenge, such as:
- • Evaluating technical/economic feasibility of new products, processes, or services
- • Short-term R&D assistance and prototype development
- • Providing access to cutting edge technology a company doesn’t have in-house
- • Providing objective scientific, technical, and business advice
WAMIC specializes in:
- • Additive Manufacturing
- • Reverse Engineering
- • Process Improvement
- • Product Design & Development
- • Product Redesign & Improvement
“These interactive visits are a way to engage with small- and medium-sized businesses.
It allows our team to hear companies’ ideas, and say ‘This is a good idea, but will it work?’ Then, we can offer the interactive visit to focus on the core piece of technology and make sure there’s enough meat and work for a full project down the line.”
– Neil Wilkinson, Research Program Manager, WAMIC
Proven results for industry partners with Interactive Visits
One successful example of an interactive visit was the 3D printing project with Bluicity.
Bluicity is a company whose goal is to reduce global food and pharmaceutical waste by digitalizing the logistics chains.
They achieve profitably for each chain member when information is shared live, from farm to fork, factory to pharmacy.
With Bluicity, low-cost Bluetooth tags are permanently affixed to the reusable pallets, or bins, in which perishable food or farmers products are shipped.
As products make their way through the logistics chain, Bluicity monitors the environment and builds a cumulative journal on the condition of the product. Using a model for the remainder of the journey, Bluicity notifies chain participants in advance of spoilage and suggests preventive action.
A common issue with many small- and medium-sized enterprises, like Bluicity, is that they don’t have the in-house capabilities and resources to design or manufacture prototypes.
This is where the WAMIC steps in and can fill this gap for industry.
The company had already developed an electronic device used to monitor temperature and humidity in the food and pharmaceutical logistics chain, known as the Gateway.
The requirements for the WAMIC team were straight forward: Design a prototype enclosure with injection mouldability and manufacturability in mind. It had to sufficiently house all the electronics and be a serviceable enclosure allowing the electronics to be accessed if needed. The enclosure that WAMIC needed to design had to also consider the work environment that it will be put into.
The alpha prototype that WAMIC produced, and 3D printed will be used in the field and tested at an upcoming trial Bluicity has with a food producer. In addition, moving forward, WAMIC and Bluicity will work together to research and develop a process to ultimately get the enclosure to a point where it can be mass produced.
Another industry partner that came to WAMIC through an Interactive Visit was Schenck Farms and Greenhouses. They are engaged in greenhouse flower growing for wholesale markets. The company had an existing Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system to issue orders for retrieving the flowers from the greenhouse and bringing them to the shipping area. However, sorting the flowers in the greenhouse was a manual process with multiple bottlenecks as a team of up to 11 people interact in a small shipping and sorting area.
The innovation challenge was how to effectively sort and amalgamate the orders to destination customer packing boxes for shipping. WAMIC designed a new semi-automated process that reduced the number of aisleways, created a conveyor concept layout that used the latest in QR code readers, intelligent automation, and smart conveyor technology and was scalable to increase throughput at the busiest times of the year.
The final report based on the Interactive Visit provided them with specific practical solutions and suggested local integrators to implement the design.
Interactive visit checklist
If you’re a Canadian, incorporated business with under 500 employees who is looking to grow through innovation, you are eligible to move forward with the interactive visit process.
If you qualify under the Interactive Visit program, or if you have an innovation challenge and believe WAMIC could partner with you to find a solution, contact David DiPietro, Business Development Manager, at [email protected], or call 905-735-2211, ext. 7056.