Alberta a go-to destination for manufacturing innovation: experts
Province full of resources for firms looking to get ideas into production
EDMONTON—Plenty of resources exist in Alberta for manufacturers looking to access specialized equipment and know-how to get their ideas off the ground, according to a panel of experts.
Speaking at the Western Manufacturing Technology Show (WMTS) in Edmonton, a group of six innovation specialists touted Alberta as a hub for research and development— an ideal location for manufacturers and innovators alike to advance their products.
From innovation centres at colleges throughout the province to regional networks that provide full-service product development and incubation for entrepreneurs, Alberta has it all.
“We are a catalyst for innovation in Alberta, for Alberta,” said Karen Young, executive director of partnerships and collaborations with Alberta Innovates Technology Futures (AITF).
According to Young, AITF is an arm’s length government body that works to encourage entrepreneurial activity in the province through the development of knowledge-based industry clusters and the facilitation of commercializing new technologies for a broad spectrum of industries.
AITF offers more than 100,000 square metres of product and process development facilities and a 300 hectare research farm, three greenhouses and 36 growth chambers on a fee-for-service basis for research and development, specifically in the areas of petroleum, environment and carbon management, and bio and industrial technologies.
Just one of the many innovation outlets in Alberta, AITF also takes on the role of umbrella organization for the Alberta Regional Innovation Network System (ARINS), which reaches throughout Wild Rose Country.
That network, which spans from Lethbridge and Medicine Hat to the south, up through Calgary, Red Deer and Edmonton in central Alberta and to Grande Prairie in the north, relies on strategic geographical locations for small and medium-sized firms around the province looking to gain access to a host of programs and services to help grow their businesses.
“One of the benefits in the province of Alberta is we’re not only focused on manufacturing and technology in Edmonton and Calgary,” said Dr. John Wolodko, portfolio manager of advanced materials with AITF. “The regional areas have a lot of vested interest as well as contribute significantly to the province in terms of economic activity.”
Located in Grande Prairie, about 450 kilometres northwest of Edmonton, the Centre for Research and Innovation (CRI) is one member of the ARINS network that provides innovation services and applied research for inventors, innovators and researchers in a key economic region of the province.
While home to only five per cent of the population, the Peace Region surrounding Grande Prairie provides 40 per cent of all patent inquiries in Alberta, making the CRI a tremendous asset to those looking to commercialize their ideas.
Through the CRI, which is associated with Grande Prairie Regional College (GPRC), innovators can learn how to develop products and ideas for the marketplace while utilizing facilities and faculty members with expertise in a variety of areas.
Take a trip southeast of Grande Prairie on Highway 43 and innovators can access similar research and development tools and services through the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) and its NovaNAIT applied research and technology centre.
Prototype development and product testing are just a few of the areas NovaNAIT specializes in, with a variety of centres and labs created for students but available to industry.
Also located in Edmonton—with a co-location in Calgary—is the Alberta Centre for Advanced MNT Products (ACAMP), a not-for-profit organization that offers specialized services to micro nano technology clients.
With more than $12-million in equipment and 26 engineers on staff, ACAMP doesn’t work in the development side of innovation, but jumps in after the idea phase, according to CEO Ken Brizel.
“Design for manufacturing is what we’re all about,” Brizel said.
Operating between Edmonton and Calgary is the Central Alberta Regional Innovation Network (CARIN), which partners with Red Deer College to help develop new innovations and technologies in the area.
CARIN also offers a full suite of tools and expertise to manufacturers, including business strategy consulting and access to advanced equipment like 3-D printers.
According to CARIN’s technology development advisor Michael Kerr, taking advantage of the business operations support is something many manufacturers could benefit from, whether due to lack of time or know-how.
“Companies in the manufacturing side are very good at manufacturing, but what they tend to struggle with is working on the business,” Kerr said.
According to Kerr, one service that occupies the majority of his time is helping firms figure out whether their ideas have the potential to take off.
“An idea or innovation without a market is more like a hobby than a business,” he said. “So one of the things I probably do the most is help companies with market assessment, understanding the market (and) what are the potentials.”
What you get when you tie all the organizations together under ARINS is a network that has firms’ best interests in mind and works hard to fill in any gaps SMEs and innovators may have.
“The innovation network is about serving the companies, not the companies serving the bureaucracy,” said Bob Hall, manager of innovation services with Grande Prairie’s CRI.
From its innovation centres and networks to product development and much more, Alberta is full of resources to help manufacturers propel their ideas forward.