Brian Cunningham graduated from the Electrical Engineering Technology (Co-op) program in 2018. He spent two years working on Research & Innovation’s Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre team as a Research Assistant. Brian began his new role as Engineering Technician in February 2019 at Cimcorp Automation, a global supplier of intralogistics automation.
Tell us a little about where you work:
Cimcorp Automation is a manufacturer and integrator of pioneering material handling systems for the tire industry that has developed unique robotic solutions for order fulfillment and storage. These solutions are being used in the food & beverage, retail, e-commerce, fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG), and postal service sectors.
Describe your role and what you like about it:
Currently, I am assisting in coordinating new resource management software for internal company use. My main responsibilities regarding this software include maintaining our large catalog of design and commercial parts, as well as providing training to engineering designers to allow them to utilize our new software for a number of engineering processes.
As we transition into this new software, I have also been taking on challenges with troubleshooting some of our smaller automated robots. This has led me to work with and testing servo motors and servo drives, as well as various battery and battery management technologies.
How has your experience with Research & Innovation helped prepare you for your current role?
Much of my time at Research & Innovation was spent developing automated systems. This included programming PLCs and microcontrollers. I also worked on some electrical panel design, wiring prototypes, as well as designing and assembling printed circuit boards.
I believe these experiences, that I enjoyed so much, led me directly into a career in the material handling industry. My constant exposure to electrical design as well as different advanced manufacturing processes has also allowed me to easily communicate between both electrical and mechanical designers to address their concerns, as we continue to roll out our new resource management software being used by our employees.
A memorable applied research project during your time at R&I?
The Grimo nut project was my first and most memorable project I was able to be part of at Research & Innovation. Grimo Nut Nursery breeds a walnut variation known as the heartnut, which is popular because of its heart-shaped shell. The nuts had to be cracked by hand using a hammer in order to keep the shell intact and the industry partner needed an automated solution for cracking.
Our team developed a proof-of-concept machine that employs pneumatics for quick feeding and positioning of the heartnut, a programmable logic control (PLC) system to control and fine-tune all of the operations on this machine, and a proprietary nut-cracking chamber. It was my first experience with PLC programming, and was one of the more intricate and complex projects that research had taken on at the time. It really challenged me and the rest of the design team to think outside the box.
What led you to Niagara College in the first place?
I knew I wanted to get into engineering and was looking for something a little more applied. My program at Niagara College offered courses that spent large portions of class time in the labs. Small class sizes also allowed students to get plenty of one-on-one time with professors.
“If you can show that you are able to recognize mistakes – correct them, learn from them, and self-regulate – you can make yourself a very valuable asset within your workplace.”
Most memorable experience at NC?
Being able to participate in open house events at NC was always a great experience. It gave me the chance to highlight the potential opportunities that await those who are interested in the Engineering faculty as well as Research & Innovation at Niagara College.
I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to learn and grow during my time at NC and Research & Innovation, and it would be an incredible disservice to potential students and program applicants if they were not made aware of these potential opportunities that await them. Whether I was giving a presentation or providing a group with a tour of the research lab, I’ve always seen it as a way of paying it forward and hopefully inspiring future students to realize their full potential at NC.
A faculty member who influenced you?
There isn’t one particular faculty member that had an influence on me, because they all did! Every one of my teachers had something different to bring to the table; they all had different experiences that they could draw from to supplement the content taught in the classroom. So without making the list too long, I want to say thanks to Paul Jiankos, Fred Graham, Paul Kendrick, Sarah Rouillier, and Mike van den Bogerd for making #myncstory a memorable one!
A mentor at R&I?
Again, there are almost too many people to list. If I had to pick, my Project Leads Gord Maretzki and Al Spence were able to provide me with literally decades of industry experience expertise between the two of them. They always encouraged me to think outside the box and to continually hold my work to the highest standard. Their experience in automation and robotics certainly played a role in the career I find myself in today.
Big shout out to Jim Lambert, Gord Koslowski, Carolyn Mullin and Marc Nantel for bringing me along to countless trade shows, research symposiums, and showcases. Thank you for pulling me out of my comfort zone allowing me to show faculty, local business owners, industry professionals, and even members of parliament what Niagara College Research & Innovation is really all about.
What advice would you impart on current research students or future alumni?
Don’t let uncertainty stop you from doing anything. In research, when we’re uncertain of what’s going to happen, we try it out ourselves to find out! The worst possible thing that could happen in the end is you learn something, and you’ll only be better because of it.
After being in the workforce, what have you learned?
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes when you’re just starting out. That’s not to say you shouldn’t hold yourself to a high standard (because you should!), but employers recognize there is a learning curve to their processes and methods of operation. If you can show that you are able to recognize mistakes, correct them, learn from them, and self-regulate, you can make yourself a very valuable asset within your workplace.
Proudest achievement since graduating?
Starting my career! It’s really encouraging to see all of my hard work beginning to pay off.
Interests outside of work?
In the summer months, I usually like to get out on my bike when I’m not playing on one of my slo-pitch softball teams. In the winter when the weather’s not great I’ll work on designing and building audio equipment for my home setup. My drums get played year round!
If you could have a billboard message seen by many, what would it say?
Check out Taylor Wallace & Patch Bay (my band) on Soundcloud!