PLANT

Next Generation Manufacturing: A supercluster update

NGen's goal is to enable capabilities no individual company or organization can achieve on its own.

July 9, 2020   Jayson Myers

It has been two years since Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains announced Canada’s Advanced Manufacturing Supercluster. It’s time for an update.

As CEO of Next Generation Manufacturing Canada – NGen for short – I have a vested interest in the industry-led, not-for-profit that leads the supercluster. I’m the guy who’s responsible for realizing our board’s vision of positioning Canada as a world leader in advanced manufacturing, and for how the $230 million dollars in federal government funding is spent.

I’m also incredibly proud of what the NGen team has achieved as we have scaled up our operations, navigated the rules around government funding, and launched initiatives that are already building unique advanced manufacturing capabilities.

Early on, NGen’s board, led by Linda Hasenfratz, set the strategic objectives. They told us NGen needs to be transformative – to focus on building advanced capabilities that confer a competitive advantage on Canadian industry, recognizing digital technologies are revolutionizing manufacturing.

To be transformative, NGen needs to support collaborative initiatives by leveraging Canada’s technology and manufacturing strengths, our skilled workforce, and the business, networks and funding supports. The goal is to enable capabilities no individual company can achieve on its own.

Our initiatives have to be applied, focusing on later-stage technology development and testing, and have significant commercial potential. They need to strengthen connectivity and contribute know-how, tools or test beds that build advanced manufacturing capabilities across Canada.

NGen launched its membership drive early last year inviting all companies, organizations and individuals making a contribution to advanced manufacturing. Data describing members’ capabilities are used to identify partners for innovation projects and new commercial ventures. And membership has expanded from the founding 100 to more than 2,000 as we continue to grow.

An open call for project proposals was launched a year ago. NGen reimburses 44% of the eligible costs in collaborative projects that build world leading manufacturing capabilities and that offer significant benefits to Canadians. Any NGen member can propose a project or apply to be a partner funded by the supercluster. All projects go through a short but rigorous review process and are assessed by panels of independent industry experts.

Granted, it’s a tall order to meet NGen’s project approval criteria, but that hasn’t stopped companies with really exciting projects from moving ahead. To date, we have six projects on the go and more than 40 in the pipeline. Current projects involve more than 40 partners from across Canada, mostly small and medium-sized manufacturing and technology companies, and all but one led by SMEs.

I’m impressed by the level of ambition. Our projects will develop a faster, less expensive process to manufacture life-saving stem-cell therapeutic treatments. Whole new electronics, digital and knowledge supply chains will be developed around the digitization of primary metal manufacturing. New manufacturing processes will be developed for high tech devices, metal forming and large-scale additive applications. Complex tooling will be developed to remedy environmental problems in oil sands extraction. And, personalized implants will be manufactured for children’s orthopedic surgery.

That’s a good start, but we’re always looking for new proposals. One of the lessons we’ve learned is that amazing things happen when companies come together to do something they could not achieve on their own, but is ground breaking.

Most manufacturers that invest in advanced technologies fail to achieve their business objectives. Small technology companies find it difficult to scale up their operations for lack of customers and supporting infrastructure, while everyone is challenged to source the people with needed skills.

These challenges will not be met unless new ways for manufacturers, technology companies, schools, research centres, supporting business and financial services, and business networks find new ways to collaborate. NGen will support new industry-led initiatives to enhance workforce education and training, and de-risk technology investment decisions. This includes helping to equip companies with the tools they need to reconsider business strategies, increasing throughput and improve processes, understanding what’s needed for the successful deployment of advanced technologies, and identifying partners with capabilities that help them compete and grow.

Start by visiting www.ngen.ca. Become a member – let everyone know your capabilities and interests in finding partners that might help grow your company. Propose a project or apply to become a partner in a project funded by NGen. Above all, stay connected to a community that’s dedicated to building advanced manufacturing capabilities. Our economy and Canadians depend on it.

Jayson Myers, the CEO of Next Generation Manufacturing Canada, is an award-winning business economist and advisor to private and public sector leaders. E-mail jayson.myers@ngen.com. Visit www.ngen.com.

This article originally appeared in PLANT Magazine’s May-June 2020 print issue.


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