Students and employers benefit from Georgian’s Competitive Smart Manufacturing program

In June, Georgian received a $2M BUILD Innovation Enhancement grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada’s (NSERC) College and Community Innovation Program. The funding is being used to deepen our collaboration with regional manufacturers by supporting our Competitive Smart Manufacturing program – a growing part of research and innovation at the college.

We sat down with Mira Ray, Director, Research and Innovation (pictured left below), to better understand what this funding means for Georgian, and how it’s benefitting students, industry and the region Georgian serves.

Mira Ray and colleague in C-RIC discussing competitive smart manufacturing at a table

What is Competitive Smart Manufacturing? It’s about using technology and data to digitize and enhance products and processes so manufacturers can work better, smarter and ultimately be more cost effective.

What’s Georgian using the funding for? We’re supporting small and medium-sized companies through student and faculty-led research and innovation projects. The funding will also be used to train industry, students, faculty and staff; to host industry workshops and networking events; and to support course-based projects.

What are we essentially helping companies do? Become more data enabled. There are four main areas we focus on:

  • Advanced product development – using tools and technology to develop enhanced products
  • The Internet of Things (IoT) – integrating sensors into products or environments to collect data, with real-time inputs
  • Automation and robotics – incorporating these into systems and processes
  • Big data – digital transformation in this manner will allow for the data collection companies need to bring in analytics and strategies that pave the way for machine learning, predictive maintenance and artificial intelligence functionalities

What’s the demand for Competitive Smart Manufacturing in our region? There’s a strong appetite. Manufacturers understand they’re under global pressure that will impact their future success. They know they need to advance their products or services – and that data can get them there – but often are unsure how, where to start, or what opportunities are available to them. That’s where Georgian comes in.

How did Georgian develop its program? We surveyed 60 local manufacturers, 80 per cent who identified automation and robotics as the top innovation they need to implement to remain competitive. We partnered with the County of Simcoe and they conducted a manufacturing labour market survey. Georgian also held an industry think tank with representatives from the manufacturing sector to continue the dialogue and three manufacturing innovation summits where we gathered insight into local companies’ innovation needs.

How are students benefitting from the program? Through research and innovation projects, students get to work with industry partners and apply what they’re learning in the classroom to real-world challenges. They learn new processes and tools, network with future employers, and get to see the industry in new and different ways. They work with faculty mentors to problem solve and develop solutions. By the time they graduate, they’ll have an incredible skillset that will stand out.

Can you give us an example of a current Competitive Smart Manufacturing partnership? Environmental Systems Corporation (ESC) Inc., a Barrie company, is looking to expand its product and service offerings by leveraging technology. The company manufactures clean rooms that ship throughout North America. Clean rooms are environmentally controlled to a high degree to make sure nothing interferes with business processes.

Georgian is helping ESC develop a smart gateway application and web-based interface for its clean rooms to aggregate all its data points into a centralized system. ESC wants to provide its clients with dashboards, mobile applications and smart environmental controls to better empower them to make decisions and improve efficiency. Those clients will be able to anticipate and respond to challenges in real time.

Student working on competitive smart manufacturing program in C-RIC at Georgian College, working on equipment

Any past successes? We’ve worked with dozens of companies that have benefitted from our Competitive Smart Manufacturing program. For example:

  • Georgian partnered with Busch Systems Inc., on integrating sensors to facilitate its waste monitoring activities and automated assembly of a new product line.
  • President and founder of Jayne’s Cottages collaborated with students to build an all-in-one, user-friendly, web-based tool that manages all aspects of the business – from property management and customer relations, to scheduling and marketing.
  • Georgian teamed up with a sawmill in cottage country to improve its cost base, product quality and energy efficiency. The work of the team resulted in multiple recommendations that could not only make a direct impact on the business but also the environment.
  • Beaver Rock Roastery has worked proactively to address environmental concerns associated with the K-cup product – using a recyclable version and actively researching biodegradable options for future production. Demand has increased and we worked with them on upgrades and improvements for the cupping machines to improve their safety, efficiency and scalability.

Which area of the college does the program operate out of? Our Competitive Smart Manufacturing program operates out of the Alectra Centre for Research, Innovation and Commercialization (C-RIC) in Georgian’s Peter B. Moore Advanced Technology Centre at the Barrie Campus. The college invested funds, contributed by individual donors and local industry partners, to equip the C-RIC with most of the infrastructure required by the program to operate. This grant will help to grow our equipment through the addition of automation and advanced manufacturing technologies.

What’s the future of Competitive Smart Manufacturing at Georgian? Georgian is leveraging the NSERC grant and support of employers, industry partners and donors to invest $6 million in Competitive Smart Manufacturing initiatives over the next five years. We want to partner in the success of local manufacturers, which will ultimately benefit our students, graduates and our communities.

Read the announcement from June.

Research and Innovation at Georgian

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