Manufacturing. Revolutionized.

Canada is poised to thrive in the new manufacturing economy, Prairie companies can lead the way

By Rob MacLeod

The past year can be characterized by a single word: change

We’ve changed the way we do business, how we stay connected, and how we see global value chains. 

It is important to note, however, that many of these changes were afoot long before the pandemic put the global economy in a stranglehold. The COVID-19 crisis aggravated business conditions that were already challenging manufacturers such as weakening global demand, concerns around supply chain resilience, falling oil prices, growing protectionism, and heightened cybersecurity risks. 

At the onset of the pandemic, the Canadian economy saw a contraction of 20 per cent – a period that was especially challenging for manufacturers, characterized by a drop in output of one-third. 

Manufacturing operations around the world are being disrupted not only by the impacts of the pandemic, but also by intense global competition, personalized customer expectations, stringent regulatory environments, and rapid advances in technology. 

Whether you call it Industry 4.0, advanced manufacturing, or the fourth industrial revolution, one thing is clear – the business of manufacturing is changing and the pandemic has served to accelerate the agents of change – smart technology platforms, connected factories, near-shoring, and supply chain traceability to name a few. 

While changes to the global operating environment will bring significant disruption, Canadian manufacturing is well positioned to respond and take advantage of new opportunities. 

The Canadian Opportunity

Canada has a strong foundation in advanced production technologies and the essential tools like artificial intelligence, machine learning and digital technologies that constitute a modern manufacturing operation. 

Canada is also home to world-renowned research centres with leading capabilities in strategically important areas like advanced materials and next generation computing.

Although manufacturing output is down, recent data shows that, as of September, Canada has seen the fastest rate of manufacturing productivity growth in 20 years. Our advantage lies in our pool of diversified and agile manufacturing capabilities led by a highly capable, modern workforce. 

The key to our success is in our ability to connect the dots and foster a culture of operational excellence. 

About NGen

NGen is the industry-led, non-profit leading Canada’s advanced manufacturing supercluster, which is founded on the principle that the transformation to advanced manufacturing will enrich the lives of Canadians, delivering better products and good jobs while generating the economic growth essential to a better future.

NGen is committed to building world-leading advanced manufacturing capabilities in Canada through collaborative partnerships that integrate our research, technology,
and manufacturing strengths to accelerate the development, deployment, and adoption of new technologies in manufacturing. 

Canada is a manufacturing nation that can claim a position of global leadership by focusing our efforts on a shortlist of priorities.

Industry-led investments 

Canadian innovation policy has long focused on early-stage technology-push incentives in lieu of supporting the downstream commercial applications of new tech. While this approach has helped foster a vibrant technology and start-up community, it has also resulted in stranded intellectual property and has left start-ups to find their own ways to commercialize – often through offshoring or foreign acquisitions which are accompanied by an exodus of taxpayer-funded innovations whose economic benefits are reaped beyond our borders. 

Superclusters are unique in their demand-pull approach to commercialization. By focusing on strategic, market-driven opportunities that involve the industrial applications of new technologies and processes, superclusters are simultaneously de-risking technology development and deployment while incentivizing Canadian innovators to grow their businesses at home in Canada. This approach is connecting both the users and the producers of technology to encourage innovation driven by market needs.

Connections & Collaboration

In the new manufacturing economy, world-leading solutions will not be built in silos. 

The advent of Industry 4.0 means that manufacturers are becoming solutions providers. A majority of Canadian manufacturers do not collaborate meaningfully or on a regular basis, but with more integrated supply chains and the outsourcing of inputs and services, innovation partnerships are transforming supply chains into value networks. 

Key to Canada’s success will be incentives that promote collaborative innovation partnerships which leverage strengths across industry sectors to develop more valuable, integrated solutions that can be commercialized around the world. 

NGen works to promote Canada’s research, technology and manufacturing capabilities on the world stage but
also domestically to improve the awareness of risk sharing opportunities in our own backyard. 

Operational Excellence 

“To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail” – Abraham Maslow 

The productive management of manufacturing enterprises will take on an increasingly important role as the bevy of digital tools and technologies grows and promises an evergreen range of solutions. 

Successful advanced manufacturing operations are managed by those who understand where to apply new technologies to eliminate waste and generate value not only for the customer, but further downstream for the customer’s customer. 

NGen recognizes the role that effective business management will play in creating the globally competitive companies of tomorrow. That’s why we’re making investments in workforce development and management education through ecosystem development initiatives like AmpUp.

NGen in the Prairies 

With a national mandate, NGen has had the privilege to work with some of Canada’s best and brightest companies to solve a variety of complex challenges in areas like healthcare and the environment. Our experience in the Prairies has been no exception. The following project snapshots demonstrate some of the exciting collaborative initiatives being led by NGen members in Western Canada. 

Protecting the Environment

Exergy Solutions leads a consortium that includes Suncor Energy and Precision ADM. The consortium is developing additive manufacturing solutions to reduce the environmental impact of oil sands industrial users. The project will develop new oil sands and mineral processing technologies aimed at reducing energy intensity and enhancing reliability, as well as cleantech to drastically reduce water usage and potentially eliminate tailings ponds. The project lays the groundwork for industrial additive manufacturing technology across Canada, potentially creating multiple spin-off business opportunities – both in terms of other sectors, as well as the manufacturing facilities to serve these sectors.

Improving the Quality of Orthopædic Surgery

A consortium, led by Orthopædic Innovation Centre (OIC) and including partners Pega Medical, Numalogics, Conceptualiz, and Precision ADM, is developing a fully integrated platform expected to result in the provision of customized medical devices that can be manufactured ‘on demand,’ simplifying surgeries, expediting the length of healing and return to function, and improving patients’ quality of life. The project will revolutionize the manufacturing of orthopædic implants by integrating medical science, precise imaging, virtual design and testing, with industrial 3D printing. The new made-to-order implants will offer an alternative to off-the-shelf, standardized devices. In addition to ensuring a better fit, the personalized 3D printed medical implants are expected to be comparable in cost to factory-produced models.

Enhancing Digital Services for Saskatchewan’s Mining suppliers

The Saskatchewan Industrial Mining Supplier Association (SIMSA) represents over 200 mining suppliers that are responsible for over $10 billion in revenues, $8 billion in GDP, and impacts over 23,000 jobs. With the support of NGen, SIMSA is creating a new digital platform, SIMSA Digital, that will allow members and members’ clients to continue to do business together by digitizing current practices and developing new partnerships and business opportunities. The new platform also allows SIMSA and its members to link virtually to other mining industry associations across Canada, encouraging innovation and collaboration with new partners in both traditional and non-traditional industry sectors.