Over the past decade, the Collège communautaire du Nouveau-Brunswick (CCNB) has greatly increased its efforts to support and promote technological integration and innovation initiatives from the province’s industrial and manufacturing industries. As such, it has become a key strategic partner at the centre of economic development for both its region and the province.

Today we’ll look at a specific section of CCNB’s Bathurst operations, the Metal Innovation and Technology Transfer Centre (MITTC).

The MITTC’s mission is to support entrepreneurs, researchers, instructors, and students interested in the economic development of the metal industry in New Brunswick and Atlantic Canada. During its relatively short lifespan, the centre has worked with industry to create a number of innovative projects from scratch, add value to existing products, and help save costs on processes.

To learn more, Opportunities NB (ONB) spoke with Alain Doucet, Acting Manager – MITTC.

ONB: Can you give us an overview of the MITTC?

Doucet: We offer a variety of services including the development of mechanical process, mechanical prototyping, concept validation, and development of assembly processes.

Ultimately, the MITTC is here to support the industry.

Whenever there’s interest coming from the industry, the call comes to me and I negotiate the project. We decide what the project will look like, assign it a budget and timeline, and research how and where we can get financing for it. More often than not we can secure 75 to 80 percent on the dollar to help with a project, which mostly just helps recover our salaries.

Whenever we finalize a project start date that project is given to one of our project managers. If it involves building a prototype, that’s transferred to our fabrication shop.

We also have two instrumentation technologists for those projects that involve any automation or electrical components. There are two fabricators on staff that can weld, cut, bend, etc. We also have machinists build a variety of components for various prototypes.

ONB: Tell us about the collaboration with the NBIF, specifically its Innovation Voucher Program.

Doucet: That partnership has been very successful from the beginning, and it’s really evolved. I think it’s important to emphasize how straight-forward it is for industry to apply. Industry folks can speak to the NBIF, or they can come directly to the source, which are post-secondary institutions and/or research facilities. Either can be approached but the industry has to apply; they have to take the initiative, we don’t do it for them.

We can help put together information for them as well. There are budgeting milestones, and other important documentation we can provide to get them ready. Once it’s been submitted to NBIF, they can expect about a two-week turnaround for a response. The cap for the program is $100,000. So NBIF can provide up to $80,000 to cover 80% of the cost of R&D services. We’ve been very successful with that program thus far. I think this past year alone we’ve have seven projects going through it.

ONB: Which notable successes have come from that program?

Doucet: Los Cabos Drumsticks is the first one I’d mention, as NBIF has them featured on their website. We’re working with Los Cabos to develop an automated drumstick sorting machine to be integrated into their production. It’s not only about fabricating the drumsticks either; their industry is evolving and there’s increasing desire to pair drumsticks. Pairing can be by wood type, by weight, and even by pitch.

We have two machine projects currently in development with NBIF to pair by weight, pair by pitch, check cylindricity of the sticks, and add the logos. The first machine grabs one stick at a time and brings them through the process, bringing the stick from station to station. What it’s doing is checking cylindricity using a laser; if it’s rejected it goes into a reject bin, and as you move down the stations the logo goes on. Finally, it’s weighed and sorted by weight. If it’s not in the desired weight range it will be dropped in a different bin. Once they’re sorted, we bring them to a second machine. With it we’ve experimented with using a small hammer to strike them, analyze the information, and categorize by megahertz; that’s how you pair by pitch.

G.E. Barbour Inc. is another notable example. As part of a project with them we have a specialist helping Barbour optimize their production line; it’s doing great so far. Their company has been a big part of New Brunswick for quite some time. They have a variety of products, including King Cole tea, a local staple. I recently visited their facility actually, and that’s the first smell you encounter, which is pretty great.

We’re also working with Leading Edge Geomatics; they integrate scanning systems into airplanes. We’re helping them with the structure of the scanning equipment that gets fastened to planes. We’ve also done work with Rogers Electric Motor Service, Les Industries Corriveau, Kan-Go-Roo Playgrounds and Superior Tanks.

ONB: Let’s talk about ONB’s role with CCNB/MITTC.

Doucet: The first real involvement I had with ONB was in working together on a strategic plan. Back around 2011, (Regional Director) Donald (Hammond) was at the table to help us position ourselves. The focus was really on becoming more self-sufficient.

It’s evolved to having the province step up on financing certain projects, at least partially. Some clients can come through us for partial financing. We would be a subcontractor, put together prototypes, and help find financial aid through NBIF. In those cases, we would be the applicant. So clients could deal with ONB and the province for financing things like job creation, while leveraging the funding we could receive for the actual project. That could come from the NBIF, or even organizations like Natural Sciences & Engineering Research Council, or the National Research Council – IRAP.

Whenever we’ve taken part in trade missions, ONB was also at the table to help us coordinate. They also helped us put together the Atlantic Welding Technology Centre initiative. That was going to replace the MITTC, but now with the help of ONB, it’s actually evolved to become its own add-on here at CCNB.

ONB: What do you see as benefits of living and working in New Brunswick?

Doucet: Our best-kept secret continues to be our people. It may not be evident to some outside the province, but there really are a lot of innovative people here in New Brunswick. When you’re in our line of work, you really get to see it in action every day. The challenge has been bringing those innovative ideas to the point where they’re commercializable, and that’s also an opportunity for us. It’s a good feeling for my team and I to see New Brunswick companies grow with our help, and we’ve seen real successes on that front.

ONB: You’re from Bathurst originally but have lived and worked elsewhere, what brought you back?

Doucet: Yes, I was in Ottawa for seven years. My wife and I really wanted to get married in New Brunswick though; she’s from here as well and attended CCNB. We really couldn’t see ourselves raising a family in a big city centre, so we wanted to come home to a rural community. I had no solid employment leads lined up when we moved home, but we still came back. Fortunately, one of my CCNB instructors from back in the day was still here and heard I was back in province. They were trying to fill a position in order to really push the MITTC, so he reached out.

ONB: How do you get the messaging out about the great things you’re doing in the MITTC?

Doucet: We’ve been able to successfully market ourselves through our partners like NBIF; they mention CCNB-assisted success stories on their own website. Being referenced by our financial partners alone has done quite a bit to raise awareness about the great things we’re doing here.

ONB: We touched on this in our talk with Dr. Sylvain Poirier, but can you comment on industry input on CCNB/MITTC curriculum development?

Doucet: We’ve grown quite quickly here; we weren’t that present in the industry even five years ago. So the feedback that we’re suddenly getting from industry can and will be used to help shape curriculum moving forward.

As an example, when I started this role the software packages they were using here for CAD (Computer-aided design) were, in my opinion, somewhat obsolete. When I worked in the industry myself, we used software called SolidWorks, which was widely used but not as well-known here in Atlantic Canada. I pushed that software here so we taught it to our instructors, and now they’re teaching our students. So bringing real-world industry knowledge into our own curriculum is absolutely a priority. That relationship will only get stronger.

Find more information on the MITTC here.

Update: Alain recently received the 2016 R3 Innovation Award for Excellence in Applied Research from the NBIF for the work he has done to increase the profitability of New Brunswick industry. See the NBIF video below.

Cover image via CCNB Bathurst.