Open Innovation in practice

NGen Collaboration Days the ‘secret’ to advancing Canadian manufacturing

By Robbie MacLeod

The age of closely guarded industrial secrets has passed and has been overtaken by a global economy that has begun to embrace the concept of open innovation.

Open innovation is a term used to promote an information age mindset toward innovation that runs counter to the secrecy and silo mentality of traditional corporate research labs. The benefits and driving forces behind increased openness have been noted and discussed as far back as the 1960s, especially as it pertains to R&D co-operation.

With open innovation as a core tenant of its business model, NGen curates and co-invests in game-changing projects led by consortia that involve manufacturers, technology providers, academics, and more. At NGen, we are of the mindset that world-leading advanced manufacturing capabilities will not be built by single companies alone but rather through collaborations that leverage subject matter expertise and know-how to develop unique engineering solutions to some of the world’s most pressing challenges. 

Recently, NGen announced a funding package to support the development and adoption of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning Solutions in the manufacturing sector. You might think that it would be easy to deploy grant funding for issues that have such transformative potential in the manufacturing sector – but there are major caveats…

FACT: Only 24 per cent of Canadian manufacturers collaborate with other organizations on a regular basis. 

Canadians may be friendly as the stereotype implies, but not friendly enough. In research undertaken before the creation of NGen, we found that companies in our manufacturing sector do not work together to achieve common business objectives. 

Furthermore, when companies do decide to invest in advanced technologies, Canadians have a dismal track record. 

FACT: 45 per cent of manufacturers that invest in advanced technologies in Canada do not achieve their business objectives. 

Canadians are great at building start-ups and developing new technologies, but when it comes to growing these innovations at scale in a commercial setting, we have a lot of work to do. This big issue is preventing us from realizing our full potential in advanced manufacturing. 

Collaboration Day 

To facilitate collaboration and support the successful development and deployment of advanced technology solutions in manufacturing environments, NGen has organized and hosted annual Collaboration Days since 2019 which have yielded tremendous results to date in terms of building our pipeline of world-leading companies as well as developing new and innovative market-proven solutions. 

Prior to each Collaboration Day, NGen deploys its boots on the ground. NGen’s project development team is comprised of employees who have spent time in industry and have a lay of the land of Canada’s manufacturing and technology ecosystem. In advance of each Collaboration Day, the team scours the country for the best-use cases and potential partnerships to engage on projects. By working with companies that have early-stage project concepts suitable for Supercluster funding, NGen is able to curate connections that bring together complementary capabilities from across Canada and, in turn, develop more impactful project plans. 

Collaboration Days offer project leaders an opportunity to pitch their ideas to a broad audience with the end goal of identifying partners with complementary capabilities that will help develop successful project bids. Alternatively, these events also offer technology and service providers opportunities to pitch their capabilities that may be needed to develop robust project consortia. 


Since its inception, NGen has hosted Collaboration Day pitches from world-leading companies such as ArcelorMittal Dofasco, Hydrogenics, ATTAbotics, Darwin AI, KUKA, Rockwell Automation, and many more.

As a result of facilitated networking sessions, all participants at Collaboration Days have the opportunity to connect with presenters and build well-rounded, resilient project consortia that are delivering real world results for Canada’s Advanced Manufacturing sector.

In addition to project pitches, NGen is also home to a collaboration portal which allows companies to list their project ideas and capabilities on an open marketplace for project development.

Through Collaboration Days, NGen has been able to invest $230 million in 165 projects involving 372 industry partners and 252 academic and research partners which has been leveraged to a total of $538 million in new R&D investment from industry. Connections and collaborations are at the core of our business and the results are beginning to speak for themselves.

Case Study: ArcelorMittal Dofasco Collaborates to Revolutionize Steel Production

For decades, steelmakers have looked into a vat of molten steel to determine when it’s ready to cast into slabs. Now steelmaking is going digital.

The ArcelorMittal Dofasco led consortium, including IBM Canada Ltd., Tenova Goodfellow Inc., and i-5O Canada, is creating a smart technology platform to digitally transform ArcelorMittal Dofasco’s secondary ladle metallurgy facility. The project will advance the capabilities and understanding of the digitalization process in a heavy manufacturing environment.

Key findings will be gained in the areas of process execution required to implement intelligence, the standards required to enable the flow of data, as well as the impact on the workforce. This is especially critical as all global industrial economies are racing towards these goals.

In addition to the key members of the consortium, the project also brings together research and collaboration partners from McMaster University, Mohawk College, University of Toronto, University of Windsor, Western University, the National Research Council, Natural Resources Canada, Haltech Regional Innovation Centre, Mitacs, and Prosensus

“Collaboration is key to becoming a global leader in advanced manufacturing technology. NGen’s support encouraged the inclusion of SMEs and Canadian suppliers that would not have been otherwise included. The NGen framework enabled collaboration between many partners to accelerate completion and meet the diverse technical needs of the project,” says Roger Tang-Poy, Vice President of Technology, with ArcelorMittal Dofasco.

For an inside look at NGen’s most recent collaboration day, visit to watch a recording of the event, browse our capabilities database and become an NGen member for free.

Robbie MacLeod is Director, Strategic Communications at NGen: Canada’s Advanced Manufacturing Supercluster.