Working with industry and social sectors, Canada’s colleges and institutes train 1.5 million learners of all ages and backgrounds.
The challenge originated halfway across the world, yet the answer was found at Mohawk College of Applied Arts and Technology in Ontario. When a headlight bracket of a vintage Rolls Royce in New Zealand was damaged, the owner reached out to a fellow car aficionado in possession of the same model in Canada.
The question was how to replicate the broken part when the original moulds for such car parts have long been lost and creating plans with computer-aided design would be too time-consuming. Fortunately, this is the kind of problem Mohawk’s Additive Manufacturing Resource Centre (AMRC) is equipped to tackle. Stephanie Childs, a mechanical engineering co-op student, explains the solution: “The local owner brought the part to us. We scanned it and printed off a replica.”
What sounds like an easy fix involves a highly specialized process of taking a physical part, changing it to a digital file and then creating a physical – and functional – object with the region’s only metal 3D printer. It’s the kind of work Ms. Childs gets excited about. “Seeing a project go from concept to working part, that’s what I love,” she says.
The same process applies to additively manufactured products, Ms. Childs explains. Industry partners bring design concepts and work with the AMRC team to convert them into a part, which then can be improved upon using the new technology. The outcome helps companies that operate in a variety of sectors.
Such close partnerships with industry, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises, are the hallmark of Canadian colleges and institutes, which, last year alone, worked with over 6,300 partners in all sectors, says Denise Amyot, president and CEO of Colleges and Institutes Canada (CICan).
These efforts towards developing new or adapted products, services, technology and processes contribute to the competitiveness of Canada’s businesses, she believes. In colleges and institutes across the country, research initiatives are underway to provide answers to challenges in areas like natural resources and energy, environmental science, health, information and communications technologies, manufacturing and social innovation.
Students at Niagara College, for example, have created an award-winning non-alcoholic beer, inspired by a request from Mothers Against Drunk Driving. A Red River College team developed a line of frozen gluten-free poultry products. And students at NAIT researched the role of peat moss in the reclamation of abandoned wells.
“Last year, we had over 32,000 students involved in applied research,” says Ms. Amyot. “This represents only three per cent of our student body; just imagine the potential that still exists.”
Colleges and institutes’ contribution to the economic well-being of their partners is well known and appreciated, she adds. In fact, applied research projects at colleges and institutes currently receive more support from the private sector than federal government funding.
And it’s not only the industry partners who reap the benefits – students also gain relevant applied research experience and skills that prepare them for their careers. For Robert Gerritsen, professor at Mohawk’s faculty of mechanical engineering technology, the Additive Manufacturing Resource Centre is aptly named. “It’s a resource not only to industry, but also to our students,” he explains.
The state-of-the-art equipment represents a substantial investment in a technology that Dr. Gerritsen believes will gain increasing relevance in the future and thus contributes to the college’s mandate to “produce future-ready students.”
Students not only get a chance to implement cutting-edge additive manufacturing technologies – they’re also familiar with traditional methods and can determine which are more applicable. Ms. Childs, for example, has gained a lot of experience towards her goal of a career in the aerospace industry. It started with her Grade 12 high school project, when she built a wind tunnel for studying dynamic lift theory. When she entered college, she financed her tuition payments by working as a welder. Now, she gains hands-on experience in the lab as a co-op student. “It gives me the chance to work with aerospace parts and understand their unique properties,” she says.
Ms. Amyot believes that graduates who are capable of using state-of-the-art equipment and are familiar with industry processes have a natural advantage when they seek employment. It is not uncommon for industry partners to recruit the students they’ve worked with – there is confidence that the graduates can add value to the company from day one.
In addition to hands-on experience, students also benefit from a creative and entrepreneurial approach to problem-solving, which are essential for gaining an edge in today’s market place and can give them valuable tools if they want to start a company, says Ms. Amyot. And due to their close connections to industry and communities, colleges and institutes have developed a feedback loop that allows them – and their students – to succeed.
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