R&I engineering grad lands dream job

Daniela Cortes is a 2018 graduate of Niagara College’s Mechanical Engineering Technician program and was a Research Assistant – Process Improvement for Research & Innovation’s Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre (WAMIC) for 18 months. She also graduated from NC’s Business – Sales and Marketing program in 2015. Daniela is now a Global Applications & Technical Sales Representative at Factory Surplus Direct (FSD) Inc.

Tell us about where you work:

FSD Robotics is a global supplier for automation and robotics parts and service. We supply automotive manufacturers as well as general industry. Our capabilities include cable harness repair labs for robotic harnesses, Servo Motor repair labs, electronics repair labs, and repairs/refurbishment of industrial equipment.

Describe your role and what you like about it:

My role involves working with our clients on a day-to-day basis ensuring their production lines are being supported and reaching out to manufacturers to provide service and support. I help mobilize resources and source parts for their automated processes and robotic lines, assist with integration projects through cell design and perform reach studies with RoboDK (an offline programing software). I also work with our technicians to ensure all repairs and projects are completed and delivered as quickly as possible.

One of my favourite projects was an integration project for a paint recycling company. This was a unique project as we had to reverse engineer the EOAT (End of Arm Tooling). The project consisted of two robotic lines that pick up and clean out paint cans to recycle the leftover paint.

My involvement included assessing the facility and providing a cell layout that worked within their available space. I used 2D CAD to design the cell layout, which I then translated into RoboDK to generate the 3D layout of the cell. We performed reach studies to ensure that the positioning of the robot would work within the robot’s reach without interference with the other cell components, including the conveyors, recycle bins and the can crusher. What I enjoyed about this project was working with a small local manufacturer and helping them improve their productivity with their new robotics lines. They were very happy with their cells and even named the two robots!

“I was so scared to go into the mechanical engineering program and it was very challenging for me. Now looking back, I am so grateful I stepped out of my comfort zone and accepted this challenge.”

How has your experience with Research & Innovation helped prepare you for your current role?

My role at WAMIC was to perform productivity assessments with local manufacturers. Automation was a big part of improving processes to increase their efficiency, reduce waste and increase their output. Now that I work for FSD I bring that experience to help many manufacturing companies automate their process so they can become more productive and competitive.

I also had the opportunity to bring WAMIC on board as a partner at FSD to help us improve even our own process in our cable labs. I was able to work with my project lead once again after working with her when I was at Research & Innovation.

A memorable applied research project during your time at R&I?

Every project I was able to work on was very exciting, and they were all unique and different from each other. One that really stands out for me is performing a productivity assessment for a frozen pie manufacturer. We performed time studies, assessed their processes, and provided recommendations to improve, including automating some of their cells.

I remember going in there and smelling the meat pies every morning while I was doing the time studies. I will definitely never forget that smell, but more importantly, I can never forget how much we were able to help them in terms of waste reduction and overall productivity. They were very pleased with everything we did for them.

What led you to Niagara College in the first place?

Niagara College was where I had set my sights on since my father, as well as my sister, both attended Niagara College. I originally graduated from the Business – Sales and Marketing program and upon completion, I went into Mechanical Engineering.

Most memorable experience at NC?

Having the opportunity to share my story in front of all the Niagara College staff for Niagara Day. What an honour! And I was also able to speak at the inauguration of the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre when we opened our new facility back in 2017. That was amazing! What an experience. But overall, working at R&I was an incredible experience and one that carries with me today. I am still working with R&I through my company and it is so cool to see it all come back around. I feel so lucky to have R&I be such a huge part of my professional growth.

Daniela Cortes talks about her engineering journey at the 2017 grand opening of the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre at Niagara College’s Welland campus.

Is there a particular mentor at either R&I or a faculty member who influenced you?

Influential members: Angela Narr [Research Lead, R&I]; Rick Baldin [Research Lead and Professor]; Gord Koslowski [former WAMIC Project Manager] and Jim Lambert [former WAMIC Centre Manager]. 

What advice would you impart to current research students or future alumni?

The main advice I can give is to take on any challenge, as it will help you grow! Fear holds us back from reaching our potential. I was so scared to go into the mechanical engineering program and it was very challenging for me. Now looking back, I am so grateful I stepped out of my comfort zone and accepted this challenge. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I let the fear of the unknown stop me from entering this program.

After being in the workforce, what have you learned?

I learned to be persistent, to not be scared to ask questions and to not be afraid to say I don’t know something. I learned to keep my network open and utilize resources I’ve collected throughout the years – especially staying in touch with people I have worked with. I also learned the value of my volunteer work because I met so many people hosting National Engineering Month (NEM) events, attending Niagara College ceremonies and putting myself out there!

Proudest achievement since graduating?

Obtaining my current position at FSD Robotics. I love my job and I am so proud to work for such an amazing company.

Interests outside of work?

Outside of work I enjoy working out and staying healthy. I host promotional events (well prior to Covid anyways). I love to dance and pick up part-time modelling jobs. I also enjoy spending time with my family. My boyfriend has a nine-year-old son and I love my time with them so much. I still have my sweet Django (my cat) and he has grown on them as well. 

If you could have a billboard message seen by many, what would it say?

No one will remember what you didn’t do!