Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre Team
The seeds of sustainability and efficiency in agriculture have firmly taken root at Niagara College Research & Innovation through the efforts of Dr. Mike Duncan, the first NSERC Industrial Research Chair for Colleges. With a specialization in Precision Agriculture and Environmental Technologies, the five-year mission of the Chair is to continue the work Duncan has already started when he arrived at Niagara College in 2001; to develop new tools; and to engage provincial and national farming communities.
Duncan came to Niagara College to found the Centre for Advanced Visualization (CFAV), a research group dedicated to exploring the use of virtual reality (VR) for urban and land use visualization. A year later, Duncan received one of the first large grants ever awarded to colleges, when the Ontario Innovation Trust (OIT) invested more than $330,000 dollars in CFAV. Two years later, he received one of six NSERC Community College Innovation Pilot Program grants awarded across Canada. While it was a research facility, CFAV worked with international firms like Parsons Engineering, and Delcan Engineering, as well as local governments and cities. In 2006, CFAV Inc. was incorporated to commercialize the CFAV group, and to pursue private contracts, so Duncan then founded the Augmented Reality Research Centre (ARRC) to continue research into VR and to expand its use into other areas such as precision agriculture.
An Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE) grant in 2007 established ARRC and Niagara College firmly in the area of agricultural remote sensing and visualization with the PrAgMatic project which aims to help farmers increase crop yields while reducing dependence on fertilizers and water, therefore reducing environmental impact. The PrAgMatic system currently encompasses a host of technologies, including GIS/GPS, databases, 2D and 3D visualization, digital soil mapping (DSM), image classification, sensor networks, LIDAR, and other remote sensing technologies.
In 2009, Niagara College received one of the first Community College Innovation (CCI) grants of $2.3 million for the development of the Land Use Technology Centre to further focus on the PrAgMatic project. This work attracted the attention of local and international partners, including Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), and IBM.
Maintaining a healthy respect for the fact that farming is a business, Duncan and his team of students and collaborators are examining questions like how to establish management zones in farm fields, how to recognize the onset conditions of killer frost events, and how to interpret and use remote sensed data in the context of a farm field.
Gordon Maretzki is the Centre Manager for the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre at the Welland Campus of Niagara College. As Centre Manager, he is responsible for the overall operations of the Centre, shaping its strategic direction, including outreach to industry, as well as determining new or untapped sectors that could benefit from the Centre’s offerings. Prior to his role as Centre Manager, he spent three years as Researcher and Industry Liaison with the Centre, and was a part-time instructor in the Industrial Automation Certification program. Gordon came to the College from the private sector, where he operated his own business for more than 12 years, holding many applied research government contract in areas of engineering design, automation, manufacturing/fabrication and performance testing/validation. He has a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Manitoba (1985) and has his Professional Engineering designation (PEng).
As the Research Program Manager of the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre (WAMIC), Amal Driouich oversees the R&D needs of Niagara’s SMEs (small- and medium-sized businesses), managing a wide range of applied research projects and bringing together faculty, staff, students, and industry partners.
No stranger to project management, Amal has a successful history in leading all phases of diverse technology, engineering, and applied research projects and has developed innovative advanced manufacturing solutions within industries in Ontario and Canada. Most recently, she served as Project Manager for Oakville-based Promation, an automation manufacturing company with nuclear, automotive, and industrial divisions. Prior to that, she was a Research Associate at Quebec’s Laval University in the department of Mechanical Engineering.
Amal holds a BSc in Industrial Engineering from Mohammadia School of Engineers in Morocco, her home country; and an MSc in Mechanical Engineering from Laval University. She is fluent in Arabic, French, and English. In her spare time, she volunteers with the Women in Nuclear Canada, Golden Horseshoe West chapter, and is chair-elect for the Toronto chapter of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers. In 2022, Amal earned her professional engineering licence in Canada, providing her with the PEng designation.
Niagara College’s WAMIC specializes in 3D technologies, engineering design and additive manufacturing, all to help SMEs with innovative prototype development or process improvement.
Product development engineering perfectly matches the capabilities and passion that Dr. Al Spence shares as a Research Scientist-Advanced Manufacturing at the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre at the Welland Campus.
Al has degrees from the University of Waterloo in Applied Mathematics (BMath 1984) and Mechanical Engineering (MASc 1986), and a PhD in CAD-based machining simulation from the University of British Columbia (1992). His specialization in computer-aided design and manufacturing automation has led to work in the spacecraft, energy, textile, manufacturing, and medical device industries. He has also been a faculty member in Mechanical Engineering at McMaster University for 23 years, where he completed numerous government-funded research awards and industry contracts, and supervised over 30 graduate students.
He is a regular reviewer of NSERC and OCE grant applications, and has recently served on both the federal and provincial CFI-CITT expert review committees.
This broad influence with an established network of industry and academic collaborators is good fortune for both students and industry partners involved with the Research & Innovation division. As Al notes: “It’s so very difficult to gain this specific experience. The greatest thing that’s happening here at Niagara College is that the students are getting some experience outside the classroom because we actually have matched equipment and expertise.”
In addition to supervising research projects, Al is developing teaching Coordinate Metrology and Product Development notes to share with laboratory students, and soon hopefully a wider audience of college and industry colleagues.
In particular, he is a proponent of TRIZ style design approaches. “Here’s where the creativity comes in,” he explains, “… you take a specific problem, abstract it, and find a different way to look at it. There is a science to design approaches to this that can be taught.”
Brian Klassen is the Research Laboratory Technician with the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre (WAMIC). In his role, he supports all research and technical service activities related to producing and testing prototypes, evaluating new technologies and developing new or improved products or processes for small- and medium-sized businesses. Brian is a graduate of Niagara College’s Electronics Engineering Technology (Co-op) program and has worked in the research labs at both WAMIC and the Agriculture & Environmental Technologies Innovation Centre (AETIC). He is also a partial-load professor teaching electronic fabrication skills.
In his role as co-ordinator in the new Renewable Energies Technician program, Bryan Mewhiney makes sure he practices what he preaches, carving out time for research projects that are heavily integrated with local industry.
From developing the capacity to test the thermal resistance of insulating materials for the construction industry, to developing a new method of solar-power generation, Mewhiney devotes many of his waking hours to creating a greener future.
As co-ordinator of the Renewable Energies Technician program – which saw its first graduates one year ago – he invests time in developing the curriculum, working with the lab trainers and delivering courses.
As part of the research team at the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre, Mewhiney has worked with student research assistants to oversee the development of the electrical control systems for several projects. Recent industry partners have included Papernuts, for whom Research & Innovation developed a dispensing machine prototype; Durham Foods, a hydroponics company that wanted to automate part of its harvest operations; and Ryan IT, a Grimsby-based machine fabricator which also came to Research & Innovation for prototype development.
“Being involved on a practical level with our industry partners and their projects ideas has allowed me the opportunity to really engage our students both inside the classroom, while also offering them exciting and rewarding employment opportunities outside the classroom,” Mewhiney notes.
With his commitment to sustainable energy sources, Mewhiney is currently investigating the possibility of installing solar panels above his office space, so that he may run his computer, coffee maker and desk lamps on solar energy only.
Before coming to Niagara College, Mewhiney worked for a climate control company, gaining invaluable experience with design, building and testing a climate control automation panel for greenhouses, one of which is installed at the Niagara College Teaching Greenhouse.
He is a graduate of Niagara College’s Electrical Engineering Technology (Co-op) program.
When not working on these projects or teaching, he somehow also finds time to work on classic cars, and go camping in provincial parks.
Rick Baldin doesn’t like to hear pessimistic talk about the state of manufacturing in Niagara.
The Research & Innovation faculty lead knows first-hand there are plenty of opportunities for skilled workers, and plenty of partnership possibilities for industry with Niagara College.
The former GM engineering team leader has been putting his skills to the test in Niagara’s advanced manufacturing division, working on projects that develop efficient, quality-driven processes.
His past coaching and managing teams of engineers, tradespeople, and production workers, ensuring all objectives are met under strict timelines, translates well into his role in the Technology Research Lab.
“Companies call us, instead of consultants, because consultants will give you a report, but we will actually come in and work with that company on a project to implement something that works.”
What’s more, the new processes are implemented without interrupting the existing manufacturing systems.
For example, Baldin’s team recently worked on a LEAN manufacturing workcell project with Calhoun Sportswear. The old way involved shipping bulk quantities to large suppliers, but with an e-commerce plan came the need to promptly respond to one-time custom online orders. Baldin and his student research assistant were able to research, develop and implement the system, which reduced labour requirements while still allowing next-day delivery of custom-built products.
In all projects, Baldin says he adheres to five metrics: safety, quality, people (working with industry partners), responsiveness (meeting deadlines) and cost efficiency.
Baldin, who holds a Bachelor of Applied Sciences in Mechanical Engineering, has taught at Niagara College since 2008. Courses include Dynamics, Manufacturing Processes, Materials Technology, Physics, Machine Design, Quality Improvement Tools, Health and Safety for Technology, and Computer Applications.
Much of Baldin’s spare time is spent either coaching competitive soccer or watching his two sons play in youth sports.