Cascade Manufacturing had a challenge. The designer and fabricator of irrigation products had built a game-changing irrigator wheel for the farming industry, but was having some engineering issues with it. That’s when Matt Waldner turned to Red River College, which has an applied research program for partnering with industry.
Typically, such irrigation systems use a steel rim with an air-filled rubber tire, but the tires go flat and replacing them can cause significant downtime for operations.
“We wanted a better product that was more reliable, so we turned to steel,” Mr. Waldner explains. “With steel wheels, you don’t have to worry about flats anymore, but we had problems with micro-fracturing of the material. After one season, the wheel broke.”
So he packed up his prototype and took it to Red River College’s Technology Access Centre for Aerospace and Manufacturing (TACAM).
“TACAM advised us on the project, and together we came up with a better design to eliminate micro-fracturing,” Mr. Waldner says. “We’re now using the least amount of material, and we’ve also calculated a life cycle with specific material. We built a prototype, put it on a test facility and it passed.”
Director, Red River College’s Technology Access Centre for Aerospace and Manufacturing
Now Mr. Waldner can go ahead and sell the product with confidence. And he’s thankful to the college for the help.
“I just happened to hear that they provide services like that,” Mr. Waldner says. “Once we contacted them with questions about micro-fracturing, they opened their schedule to do a project with us. It exceeded expectations. We just wanted something that wouldn’t fracture, but, in the end, we got a product that was completely redesigned.”
For its part, TACAM, which is part of a network of 60 technology access centres co-ordinated by Tech-Access Canada and funded by NSERC, considers itself an innovation hub.
“We add value,” explains Dele Ola, TACAM’s director. “We provide access to capabilities, facilities and equipment that aren’t available elsewhere in the region. We invest in the future of manufacturing, and we try to be the early adopters.”
In projects such as the one with Cascade, the college gains by maintaining some rights for research and for training its students using the findings emerging from the project.
In working with Cascade, TACAM researchers used computer models the company had created and put them through mechanical-analysis software to simulate the environment into which the wheels would go. The company manufactured new bolted wheels based on the analysis and tested them. All held up well and passed the field testing.
Dr. Ola says his team will work on as many as 40 to 50 research projects over a typical year. He has 13 full-time staff members who leverage public funds for such undertakings, though the companies typically pay a portion of the total bill, depending on the size of the project.
Simon Potter, director of research partnerships and innovation at Red River College, says applied research, such as the projects undertaken from TACAM, are what distinguish the college from universities.
“At the college, because we’re so focused on education and training, we really have to make sure that our applied research actually supports that,” Dr. Potter says. “My definition of applied research is research that the community has the capacity to utilize in some way. That’s our unique value proposition – we work very closely to ready the community for innovation. We lay the groundwork in the community, and that community can be [a small group of] Indigenous entrepreneurs or a large aerospace and manufacturing company.”
Dr. Potter, who’s only been in the job for a few weeks, hopes the college can continue to broaden the number of companies with which it works and bring projects from one TAC to another to collaborate.
Advertising feature produced by Randall Anthony Communications with Colleges and Institutes Canada. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.