“Superdave” – an out-of-the-ordinary poster boy for Research & Innovation

Ask anyone who has ever worked at Research & Innovation with long-time fixture and Niagara College alumni Dave McKechnie for three adjectives to describe him and most won’t hesitate to offer six.

They would agree he’s a high-spirited and clever character, who’s a little eccentric and beyond passionate about his role as Senior Research Associate with the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre.

Ask Dave and he’d simply say he, “strives to be different.” Indeed, his personal perspective to any problem is to break the mold and dare not set a new one. Innovate or die, as they say.

Without question, his one-of-a-kind charm and unique sensibilities have had an impact on many.

To most, he’s known as “Superdave” – a moniker that has stuck since his pre-secondary school days. Along with the noble honorific comes the super trademark hat – he’s never seen without either his fedora or newsboy cap. Although, he’ll joke that it’s his hat that gives him his superpowers – just as  the cape makes Bruce Wayne Batman.

“Without the hat, I’m just David … which isn’t pretty,” he laughs, revealing his unpretentious nature.

Not to be outdone by his signature headpiece, Dave can also be recognized in the halls for his 3D neck ties – as in real ties he 3D printed himself. From the 3D printer he painstakingly built on his own. His latest style sports a paisley pattern and took upwards of 40 hours to produce, from design to printed and assembled product.

“Without the hat, I’m just David … which isn’t pretty,” he laughs, revealing his unpretentious nature.”

One could say he is rather obsessed with anything to do with additive manufacturing. “3D space is my happy place,” he stresses, “virtual reality scanning, reverse engineering, 3D printing, CAD designing, even the marketing of it – all of it – I just love being in that space.”

To the fellow car buffs, Dave is known for the infamous and mostly mysterious turbo-charged Mazda Miata named Roxanne (Roxy), even though few have seen her for the past seven years. She resides in Dave’s garage and gets at least some attention when he has time.

The Ottawa native’s love for all things cars – racing, building, customizing – and anything in between has competed only with his obsession for 3D technology.

“I’m definitely a fabricator guy – I like wrenching, building stuff, welding stuff, banging things; and when I’m done, I’m bleeding, sweaty, bruised and covered in black stuff.” And he loves every minute of it.

He’s also somewhat celebrated for the amount of time he’s been a student here. In fact, he’s affectionately referred to as the Van Wilder of Niagara College – a nod to National Lampoon’s movie series depicting a fun-loving character in his seventh year as a senior who helps out undergraduates. However, Dave has that beat since he’s rounding out a decade here. Although he did graduate – twice – from the College. First in 2012 from the Welding Technician program and again this year from the Mechanical Engineering Technology program.

But personas aside, and perhaps above anything, the 31-year-old is rather notorious for his enthusiastic nature. Willing to do whatever it takes to make something happen, whether it’s a technical service or an applied research project, he wants to help both the industry partner and the students he mentors. It’s been like that since his first year at the Advanced Manufacturing labs five years ago, first as a Research Assistant in co-op, then Research Associate and now a more supervisory role.

“In my first year I was doing things I never imagined I could even ask a person to do with all the education in the world, let alone do myself,” he remembers. “It blew me away; I’d go home to bed and it was hard to sleep because I wanted to go back to work. In my first week at Research I learned five new pieces of technology that most people in industry don’t know how to use and some possibly don’t even know exist.”

And that passion hasn’t let up one bit.

Neither has his life philosophy for striving to be out of the ordinary, unconventional. “If anything, what has made me happy in life is doing things differently than expected.”

A current applied research project he’s involved in, and which requires heaps of divergent thinking, is product development for a patent-pending environmental lawn mower called Rotary Axis Turf Technology (RATT) for a local entrepreneur. Dave’s team is working to enhance design features and reduce the manufacturing cost of the mower.

And it’s just the type of challenge requiring out-of-the-box solutions that he thrives on.

“I’m definitely a fabricator guy – I like wrenching, building stuff, welding stuff, banging things; and when I’m done, I’m bleeding, sweaty, bruised and covered in black stuff.”

“This isn’t just a job to Dave, he is all-in on research, and does everything he can to help WAMIC succeed,” says David Vuyk, Research Laboratory Technologist at the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre.

“Dave is 100 percent here. He’s up-front, honest, and practical,” he says. “He’s extremely amusing – not only funny and easy to get along with, but genuinely interesting due to the dynamic experiences he brings to the table.”

Those experiences harken back to his younger self, a more “introverted and lost” version, who Dave describes as someone who struggled to just get out of bed.

And to those similar faces he now sees in students passing in the halls, he has a rallying cry of sorts. He wants to get the message to them that it can be different.

“Honestly, I’m so excited every day to see what my next day’s going to look like, and what my future’s going to look like and I’ve never had that,” he enthuses. “I’ve definitely found myself – I guess is the best way to say it.”

Today, Dave is recognized as the unofficial “poster boy” of sorts for the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre, as someone who never misses the chance to tout the attributes of the centre.

 “I love it, love it, love it – and I need to not be the only person who feels like this!” he insists. “And all I want is to bring students into this same light.”

Dave shares a home in St. Catharines with his girlfriend Ashley and his Miata, Roxy.