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Applied learning program a boon to students and industry

New federal funding support for applied research and development activities at Georgian College will benefit local businesses and give students hands-on experience.supplied

Students at Georgian College are getting real-world experience in cutting-edge research and manufacturing companies are benefiting from the students’ help.

Applied research and development activities at the Barrie, Ont., post-secondary institution have been helping local companies since 2010. But the college recently received a major cash injection from the federal government for its competitive smart manufacturing program. The $2-million grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, through its college and community innovation program, will be disbursed over a period of five years and will go a long way to support local small- and medium-sized companies as they look for ways to digitize their products or processes with the goal of increasing productivity, efficiency and competitiveness.

Mira Ray, director of research and innovation at the college, says any manufacturer looking to digitize portions of its business or seek help in product development can apply to work with the college through this program.

“Because this program is based on the concept of digital transformation, you could call it ‘equal-opportunity’,” Dr. Ray says.

The program is clearly useful to manufacturers, who can access help from young minds that may have new ways of thinking. And society always benefits when manufacturing becomes more efficient, but how does the college benefit? In innumerable ways, Dr. Ray says.

“I always start with students,” she says. “We are a post-secondary institution so our goal is always to provide students with the education, knowledge and skills they’ll need when they ultimately leave the nest. The Competitive Smart Manufacturing program enables our students to work hand in hand with industry partners and allows them to apply their school-based learning outside of the classroom. It also gives them an opportunity to maybe learn new processes or tools, and gives them a chance to network and connect with industry – people who could be future employers or future references. They’re able to connect with industry in new and different ways.”

Tim Syrianos quote icon

... our goal is always to provide students with the education, knowledge and skills they’ll need.

— Dr. Mira Ray, director of research and innovation at Georgian College

The concept, she says, is experiential learning, through which students can see their learning put into practice, with direct, real-world results.

“I see it as learning in a safe environment,” Dr. Ray says, “because they have their faculty mentor to help them problem-solve and develop solutions for industry. It’s also giving them the opportunity to communicate with the outside world in a way they would not during their regular course-based activities.”

One such project involves Environmental Systems Corporation (ESC), a Barrie company that is looking to expand its product and service offerings by leveraging technology. The company manufactures “clean rooms” that ship across North America.

Clean rooms are often used by companies that include pharmaceutical manufacturers or cell phone manufacturers. They are environmentally controlled to a high degree to make sure nothing interferes with the sensitive business processes. For example, temperatures have to be held steady in pharmaceuticals to make sure biological reagents remain stable; in computer parts manufacturing, building circuit boards requires a clean room with no particulates in the air.

To further expand the control of the rooms it builds, ESC wants to provide SaaS-based dashboards and mobile applications to allow its sensors, smart HEPA filters and other environmental controls to empower its clients to make better decisions and improve efficiency.

“ESC is looking to collaborate with Georgian College to develop a smart gateway application and the web-based interface for its clean rooms to aggregate all these data points into a centralized system,” Dr. Ray says. “They’ll be able to see them in real time. You can imagine a pharmaceutical company that’s making immune globulin intravenous drugs. If anything goes wrong in those rooms, they could potentially lose $1-million worth of inventory. If they know there’s a problem before it happens, they can do preventive maintenance and take care of the issue before anything goes wrong.”

And the Georgian students will be able to be part of this exciting innovation.

Produced by Randall Anthony Communications. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved in its creation.