The MMRI collaborates with the Aerospace industry to both develop its students as well as aerospace technologies.

Stephen C. Veldhuis

DIRECTOR, MCMASTER MANUFACTURING RESEARCH INSTITUTE, MCMASTER UNIVERSITY

May 11, 2017

Could you briefly introduce the McMaster Manufacturing Research Institute?

The McMaster Manufacturing Research Institute (MMRI) works collaboratively with its industry partners to solve advanced manufacturing challenges. Our focus is on enhancing productivity, quality and cost competitiveness while supporting product innovation and sustainability. My specific area of research is on surface engineering; utilizing adaptive surfaces with self-protecting properties to improve tool life and process performance.

Academic programs at McMaster are closely linked to research through our unique problem-based learning approach which was developed at the McMaster medical school in 1969.  This approach to engaged learning has become an international standard for student-centred pedagogy.  Our close collaboration with our aerospace partners’ strengthens this by exposing our students to meaningful research challenges making them job ready upon graduation while also preparing them to make a lifelong contribution to this industry.

MMRI covers various different industries. How important is aerospace for the institute?

Aerospace encompasses 30% to 40% of our activity in the MMRI and directly complements our automotive, energy, mold/die and biomedical manufacturing research. The MMRI works closely with OEMs, engine providers and the aero parts supply base through a range of research programs, many of which are supported by matching government funding initiatives.  Based on this strong support for innovation a lot of aerospace R&D takes place in Ontario.  We see our role as leveraging Ontario’s natural strengths in advanced manufacturing to develop competitive processes which ensure that the innovative products coming out of R&D programs are competitively manufactured here in Ontario and supplied globally.

What challenges are aerospace companies in Ontario currently facing?

Aerospace companies are facing a host of challenges including: increasing production volumes with tight price pressure, rising customer performance expectations, stringent energy and environmental regulations and continuously tightening quality targets. Addressing these involves manufacturing, but manufacturing is complex; subtle changes in materials and manufacturing processes having a big impact on cost, quality and product performance.  Safety in aerospace is paramount as there is no opportunity to pull over to the curb to fix something when flying, this impacts how new ideas and technologies are developed and implemented.

For these reasons manufacturing research at the MMRI takes a highly collaborative and integrated approach to problem solving bringing together industry, academic and government lab researchers spanning material science, design, manufacturing and inspection/test. Within this context the MMRI plays an important role in de-risking technology investments by validating and demonstrating new processes and technology to ensure smooth implementation and maximize return on investment.

The automotive industry has been quick to implement automation technologies, whereas aerospace has been more conservative. How valuable would investment in automation be for aerospace companies?

Automation needs to be different in aerospace. By nature of their production volumes, cars are designed to facilitate automation while aircraft have tighter design restrictions and involve materials and structures which do not lend themselves to the same levels of automation. In aerospace people are integral to the job and need to be accommodated. Thus for aerospace we are recommending collaborative automation, which is specifically designed to empower Ontario’s highly trained and skilled workers to enhance their productivity, not replace them.

Another challenge for Ontario is bridging the gap between industry and academia. How strong are your links with partner companies?

Manufacturing is a hands on exercise with industry needing to see technology working before gaining buy in. However, it is also complicated enough to require the level of analysis that academics can provide. At the MMRI we combine these by performing the detailed science based research then validate and demonstrate the technology on our industry scale equipment.  Our staff also work closely with our industry partners to support full scale implementation at the industry partner’s site.

What makes Ontario a global aerospace hub?

Talent and critical mass are the main factors in Ontario being a global aerospace hub. Aerospace is a priority in Ontario and the MMRI has benefited greatly from related industry, government and university investment in advanced manufacturing R&D infrastructure and talent development. Strategic investments by our government partners heavily leverage industry investments both in terms of accessing existing infrastructure and talent and also by providing matching funding on research performed at the MMRI and through generous R&D tax credits. This strategic thinking has allowed Ontario aerospace activity to reach critical mass making it very easy for a new company to come and fit into the ecosystem.

What are MMRI’s goals for the next three to five years?

Over the next three to five years the MMRI aims to continue to grow its interactions with industry, implementing our research results to benefit companies operating in Ontario. We have already had great success but now we have an opportunity to accelerate it with strong industry and government support. Through this focused initiative my goal is to meaningfully contribute to a highly collaborative, engaged and globally competitive aerospace industry in Ontario.

 

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