What has been dubbed the fourth industrial revolution is presenting exciting opportunities for Ontario's brightest minds and world-renowned research institutions to redefine manufacturing.

Professor Peter Warrian, former Chief Economist of the Province of Ontario, describes himself as "an unbridled optimist when it comes to Ontario and its future." Currently a Senior Research Fellow at the Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto; Professor Warrian is on a mission. He is travelling the province to uncover the firms that are punching above their weight. He then probes to understand their development, to learn how the delicate mix of talent, knowledge and capital combine to produce a company poised to excel on a global stage.

3-D printing is part of a major shift to microstructural manufacturing

Warrian is especially interested in firms that are using 3-D printing technology, not simply to develop clever copies of everyday objects, but to provide solutions that enable leaps in product development. "Most of what people get excited about is based on polymers or plastics," Warrian explains, "These days, you can actually take a photo with an app on your smartphone and it will break down the object into a 3-D model that you can bring to the Toronto Reference Library and print." This type of 3-D printing is helping marketers while reducing product development cycles. "But my concern," says Professor Warrian, "is that you still have to make the stuff, and that's a different technology. I don't want all of the hype to be on the plastics side, because that's not going to get us to the manufacturing stage."

Additive manufacturing, which is the industrial version of 3-D printing, is ideal for producing niche items. "It is not going to replace Ford's mass assembly line," explains Professor Warrian. “The sweet spot for production numbers is around 1,000 to 10,000 parts annually. It is at its best for relatively low volume, high customization and high geometric complexity of manufactured parts." Additive manufacturing and its more glamorous cousin -- 3-D printing -- are but one part of a major shift in production to microstructural manufacturing in which the microstructures of the materials drive the performance of the final product. You can't see the key processes like you could in old fashioned 'metal-bashing' so that is why you need software.

Ontario additive manufacturing success stories

During a recent conversation, Professor Warrian enthused about some of the Ontario firms that are using this cutting-edge technology to overcome the kinds of challenges that just a short time ago were viewed as impossible.

Magna-Cosma International

Aurora-based Magna-Cosma International and ArcelorMittal received the 2014 Innovation PACE Partnership Award for Manufacturing Process and Capital Equipment after Magna-Cosma reengineered its tooling to hot-stamp the door ring as a single piece. The innovation takes advantage of advanced steels and software for added strength while reducing weight, thus improving fuel economy.

L3 Wescam

With the help of advanced 3-D printing, L-3 WESCAM designs and manufactures industry-leading multi-spectral and multi-sensor imaging and targeting sensor systems used by military, homeland security and law enforcement agencies worldwide.

ComDev International Ltd.

As a global leader in the design and manufacture of space hardware and systems, Com Dev leverages 3-D additive manufacturing to produce parts in shapes and sizes once thought impossible. Com Dev CEO, Michael Pley explained the significance in an interview with local media: "[This] is perfect for space components because every mission is a bit different, and it allows us to have that flexibility in our manufacturing process to achieve that."

Amino North America Corporation

Amino North America calls itself the world's only sheet hydroforming production facility. Traditional stamping presses employ male and female dies to stamp parts, where hydroforming uses high-pressure water instead. It takes advantage of advanced steel and aluminum properties to enable new design concepts for OEMs as well as reducing weight and processing steps. Located in St. Thomas, Ontario, the company has provided cost-effective solutions to multinational firms, including Ford-Lincoln.

Hyphen Services

Hyphen Services, a spin-off of Christie Digital Systems Canada is a leader in 3-D printing /additive manufacturing technology, with capabilities in quick turn prototyping and functional production parts as well as various environmental testing services. Originally Christie was a Canadian company that was purchased by a US mechanical film projector company whose parent company was Japanese based. Ontario's highly skilled workforce has ensured its operations remain firmly planted in Kitchener-Waterloo.

Professor Warrian says confidently, "Most of the big things that are going to happen [in manufacturing] will not come from two kids in a garage. It will be built upon existing capacity, and it is present here in Ontario."

 

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