By Dr. Larry Rosia
Disruptive technologies, external factors such as globalization and international trade pressures, and shifting business models are just a few of the things forcing change across many sectors. Manufacturing is no exception.
Manufacturers are critically important to Saskatchewan’s economy. According to the Government of Saskatchewan, manufacturing makes up seven per cent of the province’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In 2017, the most recent year statistics are available, manufacturing shipments totalled $16 billion.
The strength of the manufacturing sector is its people, for they are the ones who keep the industry innovative. As part of our mission to educate students and provide skilled and successful graduates, Saskatchewan Polytechnic is focused on ensuring that companies have access to graduates with the skills and experience they need to be competitive.
Applied Research Expertise
Collaboration is, of course, a key component to innovation. Manufacturers that partner with Sask Polytech are discovering that collaboration has the power to unleash incredible value. This is especially apparent with companies that choose to partner with us on applied research projects.
Applied research is different than theoretical research that many universities undertake. Applied research enables companies to solve real-world problems.
For example, Vega Stone, a Saskatchewan-based company that manufactures high-quality stone and brick veneer made for Canadian winters, is currently collaborating with Sask Polytech to develop a new environmentally friendly, economical lightweight aggregate for its light concrete mixture. The aim of the project is to develop a new aggregate mixture from crop residues in order to lower production costs.
Program Advisory Committees
Everything Sask Polytech does is based on industry demand and participation. Our focus on applied, industry-aligned learning—where students receive hands-on training to complement coursework—is a major reason graduates are able to hit the ground running once employed. It is also why 95 per cent of employers say they would hire a Sask Polytech graduate again.
Strong ties with business and industry are vital to this. Sask Polytech works hand-in-hand with professionals and industry experts through our Program Advisory Committees. These committees are composed of approximately 700 experts from businesses around western Canada, who let us know where labour markets are headed and what skills graduates need to succeed.
Industry was instrumental in the decision to launch our Innovative Manufacturing diploma program. Companies identified a need for multi-skilled workers—workers who need the education and right skills, particularly ones that are technology-focused, to adapt to the changing manufacturing landscape.
Now entering its second year, the program offers a wide range of skill-based training in all aspects of the manufacturing industry, including design, CAD/CAM drafting, Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machining, welding, fabrication, robotics, 3D printing, and project management.
Innovative Manufacturing Centre
While programming is important, having modern, up-to-date facilities is also necessary. A great example of this is our Innovative Manufacturing Centre (IMC).
The IMC is an integrated, multi-campus network of facilities that incorporate established and emerging manufacturing methods and technologies. The IMC includes:
• Teaching facilities furnished with state-of-the-art CNC and manufacturing related technology-based equipment.
• Teaching and research facilities focusing on automation technologies such as robotics and mechatronics.
• Non-destructive testing and metallurgy facilities.
• Facilities for biomaterials testing and prototyping.
• State-of-the-art additive manufacturing (3D-printing) equipment.
For industry, the IMC is a resource like no other, available to start-ups, small- to medium-sized businesses and large manufacturers serving international markets.
Agricultural equipment manufacturers, for example, can access the latest tools, equipment and expertise to improve production methods and test new ideas, such as experimenting with bioplastics to make lighter, stronger, more environmentally friendly components for their products.
Another facility we are extremely proud of is the Research, Additive Manufacturing and Prototyping (RAMP) Facility, located on our main Saskatoon campus.
The RAMP Facility, which is a key component of the IMC, is the most advanced additive manufacturing (3D printer) facility in Saskatchewan. Sask Polytech has been on the leading edge of 3D printing since 1995—back when it was known as rapid prototyping.
Today, the RAMP Facility has the capacity to print in almost a dozen different materials. It contains the only metal 3D printer in the province, as well as a waterjet cutter and a portable 3D scanner.
Manufacturers that are interested can arrange prototyping and research projects through the RAMP Facility. Such arrangements not only help the companies, but they allow Sask Polytech students to work with industry partners, gain valuable experience and learn to use advanced equipment, preparing them for work after completing their programs.
Gene Haas Manufacturing Technology Lab
In May 2019, Sask Polytech officially opened the Gene Haas Manufacturing Technology Lab at Regina campus, which includes a new computer lab, 16 CNC lathes and other machining centres. New CNC machines were also purchased for Saskatoon campus.
The Gene Haas Manufacturing Technology Lab is used by Innovative Manufacturing program students, CAD/CAM Engineering Technology, Mechanical Engineering Technology, Machinist, Welding and Welding Fabricator students and professionals working in the manufacturing industry.
The lab is an excellent example of how students—tomorrow’s workforce—can benefit from the generosity of forward-thinking business leaders. In 2017, the Gene Haas Foundation (named for the founder of Haas Automation Inc.) gifted Sask Polytech $435,000 to pay for renovations and construction at Regina campus to accommodate the installation of new Haas Automation equipment.
Innovation and the changing nature of work and learning are topics that preoccupy much of my time and thinking. Much of what I read and my conversations with business leaders across Canada have led me to conclude that our labour market will continue to be challenged to have the skilled workers it needs.
As disruption forces changes across manufacturing, Sask Polytech will remain focused on ensuring that our graduates have the skills to keep the sector innovative, strong and competitive far into the future.
Dr. Larry Rosia is President & CEO of Saskatchewan Polytechnic, leading the province’s primary provider of technical education and skills training. Saskatchewan Polytechnic serves 28,000 distinct students and offers programs that touch every sector of the economy.