NRC's Advanced Manufacturing program: helping Canadian businesses meet Industry 4.0 challenges

- Ottawa, Ontario

In response to the launch of the Global Innovation Clusters by the Government of Canada in 2017 to help build first‑rate innovation ecosystems, the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) developed 5 funded collaborative research and development (R&D) programs to support the initiative. One of the NRC's Cluster Support programs, which includes the Advanced Manufacturing program led by the Automotive and Surface Transportation Research Centre, was created specifically to foster innovation and facilitate technological transfer in the field of advanced manufacturing. The NRC's Advanced Manufacturing program aims to assist the entire supply chain in the ground transportation and aerospace sectors by spearheading breakthrough research to improve production processes and efficiencies, and ultimately create better products for the benefit of all Canadians.

Since the beginning of the program, the NRC's team has worked closely with industry and academia to achieve results on 3 levels in support of Canada's Next Generation Manufacturing cluster, namely by providing R&D expertise and facilities, awarding grant and contribution funding to collaborators, as well as by leading multi‑client industrial R&D groups.

Adapting to a changing world

The rapid technological evolution and growing environmental issues that have characterized our world in the last decades have brought major challenges to the manufacturing industry. The complex changes that companies are facing today are such that this new context is considered the fourth industrial revolution. Indeed, for many companies and organizations, adapting to what is also referred to as "Industry 4.0" or "smart manufacturing" has proven to be a daunting task since this adaptation can sometimes mean a complete change in ways of doing things. In fact, evolving from traditional manufacturing techniques to taking advantage of digital manufacturing technologies to improve production processes and performance requires specialized know‑how that cannot easily be acquired.

To help industry meet these challenges, the NRC's Advanced Manufacturing program was designed with clear objectives and an extensive service offering intended to position Canadian businesses as leaders in smart manufacturing. With its services, the NRC can support innovation through its expertise in the following areas: polymer and composite products manufacturing, metal products manufacturing as well as digital manufacturing technology.

Collaborating to achieve high‑impact R&D

During the last year, the Advanced Manufacturing program team collaborated on various multi‑partner projects to support the R&D needs of companies taking part in Canada's Next Generation Manufacturing Supercluster.

One project example, led by ArcelorMittal Dofasco, is conducted with the goal of developing sensor technologies for digitalizing a hot‑ladle steel production process to minimize manual intervention, reduce process variation, and improve final metal properties, which is key in saving costs and increasing steel quality in industries such as the automobile industry.

A second project example, led by CG Belle Industries Inc., in collaboration with Spectral Devices Inc., will help develop an advanced manufacturing process to remove various coatings from metal surfaces using laser technology, eliminating the need for the toxic chemicals or hazardous materials typically used in this application. This will help in preventing workers from being exposed to hazardous materials and will reduce the environmental impact of the process.

As part of these projects, the NRC is providing leading‑edge research, technical and engineering services to help its collaborators develop smart technological solutions to meet their challenges.

Supporting advanced manufacturing innovation  

Over the last year, the NRC also awarded grant and contribution funding to 11 academic institutions, not‑for‑profit and SMEs through its Advanced Manufacturing program. As an example, this support allowed the NRC to partner with the University of Waterloo (UW) to develop the enormous potential of metal 3D printing technologies.

The partnership combines the UW's Multi‑Scale Additive Manufacturing Lab extensive expertise in metal advanced manufacturing process optimization with the NRC's decades‑long experience in materials science and metal powders development to enable research from powder to part. To support this collaboration, the NRC funded $2.6 million towards the acquisition of equipment for UW, which will be housed at the new NRC Mississauga facility and the university.

Building ecosystems to foster innovation

On a different level, the NRC contributed to building highly productive ecosystems by leading a number of industrial R&D groups. These multi‑client groups are collaborative initiatives that bring together member companies and various partners across supply chains to share the benefits, costs and risks associated with R&D projects while providing access to NRC experts and facilities.

In 2020, the NRC's Automotive and Surface Transportation Research Centre launched 2 new industrial R&D groups: METALTec and CLIP Glazings. The METALTec group was established with the objective of building a research community that catalyzes innovation in the metal fabrication sector in the digital era, while CLIP Glazings, or the Canadian Lightweight Initiative on Polymer Glazings, initiated activities to support lightweight and cost‑effective polymer glazing applications for the automotive and transportation industries.

Creating synergy, leveraging collaboration

The NRC is well positioned to support advanced manufacturing innovation through diverse expertise, the ability to establish collaboration with industry and academia, and a long‑term holistic approach. In support of Canada's Next Generation Manufacturing Supercluster, the NRC's Advanced Manufacturing program enables collaborators to access its know‑how and facilities to address technical issues through research and development. It enables collaborators to raise their digital maturity, assist them in implementing emerging and innovative technologies, reduce product time to market, increase technologies transfer, improve environmental footprint, and create novel value‑chain networks.

If your company is facing manufacturing challenges or if you want to know more about our capabilities in advanced manufacturing, please visit our program page.

The Advanced Manufacturing program is one of 5 Cluster Support programs bringing together NRC researchers and facilities with academia and industry to help support innovation, growth and development in each industry. Grant and contribution funding is provided through the NRC's National Program Office for collaborators who offer complementary expertise, including academic institutions and small and medium‑sized enterprises. The NRC is leading the way on supporting collaborative R&D to address issues that affect Canadians today and into the future.

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