Mohawk lab praised as hot spot of 3D revolution
Wsaterloo Record file photo
Jayson Meyers, President of Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, says the key to adopting additive manufacturing is de-risking the technology's up-front costs.
By Steve Arnold
A 3D technological revolution is sweeping through Canadian manufacturing and a new Mohawk College lab is being hailed as one of its hot spots.
The college's Additive Manufacturing Resource Centre, opened in January, was praised Thursday by federal cabinet minister Gary Goodyear as a key to reviving the country's struggling manufacturing sector.
"This is a trend that cannot be ignored," the minister responsible for the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario said after touring the facility. "We must seize the opportunities that are out there to become more globally competitive.
Goodyear was keynote speaker at the opening of a daylong technical conference on 3D printing, also called additive manufacturing. Sponsored by Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, the session was billed as the first to focus on issues around the emerging industry.
3D printing is increasingly being used to produce things like auto parts, surgical instruments and even prosthetic limbs. A laser reads a digital image and then a physical product is formed by depositing hair-thin layers of powdered metal or plastic the way a paint brush layers paint.
The Mohawk lab has already been credited with keeping Stemmed Implant Technology from moving to Kentucky to access 3D printing for its new dental implants.
The bottom line for the technology, Goodyear said, is that Canadian manufacturers will be able to adapt their products quicker as the need of their customers change.
"Time is of the essence. We can't wait two years for a manufacturer to decide to make a change," Goodyear said. "We have to ask what can we do to help you make that change right now so you can stay in the game or stay ahead of the curve."
The federal government, through FedDev Ontario, has provided millions of dollars in support for 3D printing and other forms of advanced manufacturing. Mohawk alone has received $11.5 million in recent years.
For Jayson Myers, president of Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, that money is critical to getting new technology adopted.
"We have to overcome the challenges of adopting this new technology," he said. "What we have to do is de-risk the introduction of new technology because of its upfront cost.
Goodyear agrees with that point, noting "We can't afford to miss an opportunity because banks won't take that chance."
Goodyear and Myers both said support for the manufacturing sector remains crucial for an economic sector that has been seriously challenged in recent years.
Nowhere has that challenge been more evident than in Hamilton, where manufacturing employment fell 26 per cent between March 2001 and March 2015. The total number of jobs in the sector shrank from 31,300 to 23,100 according to Statistics Canada measures of occupations in processing, manufacturing and utilities.
Local employment in that sector plunged following the recession that struck in 2008, diving to a low of 15,100 by April 2010 before starting a slow recovery.
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