The state-of-the-art innovation centre at Canadore College is helping entrepreneurs release their ingenuity and help businesses grow.
The desire to fulfill a specific need often spurs innovation. Take the example of Mel Peddie's company, WB Melback, which specializes in industrial maintenance and support. In addition to its other services, the New Liskeard firm repairs thermal presses used in the production of oriented strand board (OSB), an engineered, wood-based panel.
The company, which also offers project management and general contractor services to the mining, forestry and energy sectors across Canada, is often called in when normal wear and tear results in dents, cracks or weak points in a thermal press impacting product quality. Because the system must be shut down and cooled before welders are able to do repairs by hand, the process represents significant lost productivity time for affected OSB producers. With 30 years in the business, Peddie was convinced there had to be a better way to tackle the problem, and what's when an idea began to germinate.
A little more than two years ago, Mel turned to Canadore College's Innovation Centre for Advanced Manufacturing and Production (ICAMP) for help in bringing his concept to life. Since that time, WB Melback Engineer Joel Sullivan has been working closely with Evan Butler-Jones, Sarah Rienguette and Joel Dempsey from ICAMP to design, test and fabricate various systems and working assemblies.
The Centre was established in the fall 2013 with a $1 million FedNor investment that enabled Canadore College to renovate the space required, purchase state-of-the-art equipment and install the necessary information technology infrastructure. Simply put, ICAMP helps translate the innovative ideas of local businesses into products and services. There, companies can access cutting-edge technology and resources to more quickly go from the drawing board to manufacturing and production.
"We liken it to a serious sandbox for industry where companies seeking to design or modify products or processes can come and play with technologies. It's a low risk and low investment environment that frees innovators and entrepreneurs to focus on product and process advances, and release their ingenuity," explained George Burton, President of Canadore College.
"As of November 30, 2015, we have completed 200 projects for more than 50 companies, and we have another 15 projects underway which are being driven by 14 new companies. As part of our initial business plan, we had projected 40 jobs over three years and I am pleased to report that by November 30, 2015, we had created 88 new jobs and helped retain 27. Clearly, it's a good investment by all partners," added Burton.
Today, thanks to the expertise, software, and fabrication facilities at ICAMP, Peddie's company is testing a new system to do automated repairs to thermal presses. His innovative idea consists of an electronic scan that determines the exact location and nature of any defect, which then conveys that information to a robotic arm that does the repairs.
"We're already getting calls from people in the industry who have heard about what we're developing and are chomping at the bit to see how it works," enthused Peddie. "Not only will it create new business for us but it will benefit those in the forestry industry by reducing their downtime and enhancing product quality."
Prior to opening ICAMP, Burton says the expectation was that the innovation centre would attract primarily those businesses in the manufacturing or advanced manufacturing sector; however its appeal is proving to be much broader. He says client companies span the gamut from mining to aerospace, and from transportation to retail, with a sports product or two thrown in for good measure. And demand for service continues to grow.
"It took a leap of faith by our college and board, partners, funders and industry, and it's one that's paying off, helping us to rapidly expand our applied research programming, as well as help our business community evolve and grow," concluded Burton.